Gas City, IN -- Less than 24 hours after what he termed was a "toolbox issue" that put him behind eight ball just prior to Tuesday's "Indiana Midget Week" opening night feature, Justin Grant found the ultimate redemption by scoring his first USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory of the season in round two of the series Wednesday at Gas City I-69 Speedway.
One way of looking at the six-night stretch of consecutive races that is "Indiana Midget Week" is as a grueling physical and mental test that can take a toll, especially when things don't go as anticipated. On the other side of the coin, an individual can look at the week as chance to immediately redeem yourself again and again, night-after-night, if an issue happens to arise along the journey.
Either way, there's no time to dwell on the past. Another opportunity for success is just around the corner. That's the path the Ione, California driver and his RAMS Racing crew chose to take.
"Last night, it's all over and everybody's upset," Grant recalled. "But, that's why there's more than one race a year. Let's go to the carwash. Let's do our jobs. Let's act like we're ready to win tomorrow."
"What's great about this team is its people constantly building you up," Grant explained. "Last night, I had a huge blunder on my part. I really let my car owners and my team down in our race prep. But the first text message I got after the race was from Rick Young who said, 'I'm not upset in the least. Every time I see that racecar on the track, I'm proud of it. Go win tomorrow.' Having that kind of support system and that kind of backing is huge. Just being able to shake that night off, nobody's more worried about it than you are, so just shake it off and go do your job tomorrow."
When that tomorrow arrived on Wednesday night, Grant went to work from the word "go," leading the troops into turn one from his outside front row starting spot. Meanwhile, pre-race favorite Kyle Larson, who started fifth, was shuffled back to ninth on the opening lap, forcing him into playing catchup mode for much of the 30-lap event.
Following a lap three caution for Jesse Colwell, who stopped in the infield grass at the bottom of turn one, Grant knew he had a good car. One of those indicators came from an unlikely source over the one-way radio.
"I felt really good out of the gate," Grant said. "It was a little tight, which was a good thing, but the track really came to us right out of the gate more or less. After that first caution, (USAC Race Director) Kirk Spridgeon said, 'alright, hustle around' to the second-place car. I thought we must be way out there. It got me a bit worried because I thought we were too good too early. If this thing goes away, we might be in trouble."
There was no indication of that happening any time soon as Grant proceeded to click off his best laps of the race, just less than a tenth off his qualifying time. Grant opened his lead to roughly eight car lengths over Jason McDougal nearing the midway point as the two lone past IMW champs collided at the exit of turn four while battling for eighth. Shane Golobic, the 2017 champ, and Jerry Coons, Jr., the 2007 titlist, made contact with Golobic inheriting the worst end of the deal, stopping, and necessitating a yellow flag.
One lap following the ensuing restart, on the 16th circuit, March "Shamrock Classic" winner Cannon McIntosh slipped into second under McDougal in turn four. Moments later, Colwell spun to a rest in turn four to bring out the yellow. That moment seemed to flip a switch for a pair of previous Gas City IMW winners in Michael Pickens (2017) and Larson (2013).
Justin Grant celebrated his first career "Indiana Midget Week" win Wednesday at Gas City, which was also his fourth career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature victory. (David Nearpass Photo)
New Zealand's Pickens began the second half running sixth while Larson held down eighth. Steadily, the two moved forward nearly in tandem, with Larson hitting the top and Pickens alternating between the bottom and the middle as they worked their way past Tanner Thorson and McDougal, while both Pickens and Larson occupied positions three and four, respectively, with just five laps remaining.
Meanwhile, up front, race leader Grant was enjoying a nice half-straightaway cushion over McIntosh with a first win for the Grant/RAMS combo seemingly within grasp. As Grant saw the white flag on the horizon, however, 16th running Tucker Klaasmeyer slid off the edge in turn four, forcing a green-white-checker finish for Grant, McIntosh, Pickens, Larson and a host of others.
Grant's pattern around the quarter mile was a circle, swinging out to the wall on the straightaways, then straight to the bottom in the turns. He'd keep his NOS Energy Drink - Rockwell Security - MPV Express/Bullet/Stanton SR-11 tighter on the bottom when he heard noise from a trailing car, then opened it a bit wider when the atmosphere became a bit quieter.
However, for Grant, it was anything but quiet on the lap 29 restart.
"On the second to last restart, I let the motor get loaded up and it didn't take off," Grant recalled. Then I got tight, then I missed the bottom, then I was hanging off four, then I was hanging down the front stretch. I'm like 'oh god, here it goes.' Fortunately, our car was good enough and I was able to get back to the bottom of (turn) one quick enough and shut the door on that. I thought, just stick the bottom from here and we'll be good."
That plan would be drafted into action one last time following a Coons and Karsyn Elledge tangle on the front straightaway, forcing one final GWC try where Grant executed perfectly on the bottom to slip away from McIntosh and disallow any move generated from him into one.
Third-running Pickens' bid for a repeat Gas City IMW win evaporated as he ran out of fuel on the restart. At the head of the field, Grant distanced himself from McIntosh by four car lengths with both seeking their initial IMW win. Heading into turn three, McIntosh had a nice run through the middle on entry, then angled his car down toward the infield tires at the exit of turn four. Grant swung just a tad wide at the exit, but it was still good enough by two car lengths to capture his fourth career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory over McIntosh with Larson, McDougal and new IMW point leader Thorson rounding out the top-five.
Contingency award winners Wednesday night at Gas City I-69 Speedway were Shane Golobic (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Tyler Courtney (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner & ProSource Passing Master/KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Holley Hollan (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Logan Seavey (AutoMeter Third Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Andrew Layser (ProSource Hard Work Award & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Ethan Mitchell (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 5, 2019 - Gas City I-69 Speedway - Gas City, Indiana - 15th "Indiana Midget Week" - ¼-Mile Dirt Oval
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Shane Golobic, 17w, Wood-12.349; 2. Jason McDougal, 21KS, Reynolds-12.416; 3. Tanner Thorson, 98, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.421; 4. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-12.450; 5. Justin Grant, 4A, RAMS-12.455; 6. Kyle Larson, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.457; 7. Karsyn Elledge, 1, Tucker/Boat-12.503; 8. Noah Gass, 20G, Gass-12.524; 9. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.561; 10. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.569; 11. Cannon McIntosh, 08, Dave Mac-12.594; 12. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry-12.630; 13. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5, Petry-12.663; 14. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.673; 15. Michael Pickens, 1NZ, RMS-12.701; 16. C.J. Leary, 76m, FMR-12.702; 17. Jesse Colwell, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.720; 18. Zach Daum, 5D, Daum-12.734; 19. Kyle Cummins, 1G, Yeley/Styres-12.735; 20. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.753; 21. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-12.756; 22. Andrew Layser, 47BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.773; 23. Holley Hollan, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.779; 24. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.829; 25. Dave Darland, 36, RMS-12.897; 26. Sterling Cling, 35, Petry-12.923; 27. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-12.928; 28. Cole Bodine, 15, Petry-12.938; 29. Anton Hernandez, 8JR, Wood-12.939; 30. Chris Windom, 17BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.976; 31. Dillon Welch, 81, Tucker/Boat-12.994; 32. Zane Hendricks, 27z, Hendricks-13.080; 33. Michael Koontz, 17x, Koontz-13.093; 34. Justin Peck, 17, Bus-13.106; 35. Brady Bacon, 1ST, Saucier-13.320; 36. Chris Baue, 9, Baue-13.473; 37. Oliver Akard, 41, Akard-13.537; 38. Critter Malone, 7, Seven-13.611; 39. Brent Watson, 17K, Watson-14.561; 40. Davey Ray, 8, Cornell-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Courtney, 2. Klaasmeyer, 3. Leary, 4. Larson, 5. Daum, 6. Coons, 7. Welch, 8. Hernandez, 9. Koontz, 10. Ray. 2:05.54 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Hollan, 2. Bodine, 3. Colwell, 4. McIntosh, 5. Pickens, 6. Cummins, 7. Hendricks, 8. Bacon, 9. Watson, 10. Windom. 2:05.68
AUTOMETER THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Seavey, 2. Wise, 3. Golobic, 4. Grant, 5. Gass, 6. Thorson, 7. Layser, 8. Cling, 9. Peck, 10. Akard. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas, 2. Boat, 3. Elledge, 4. McDougal, 5. Carrick, 6. Darland, 7. Mitchell, 8. Malone, 9. Baue, 10. Meseraull. 2:06.32
C-MAIN: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Bacon, 2. Mitchell, 3. Peck, 4. Koontz, 5. Baue, 6. Watson, 7. Malone. 1:43.50
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Thorson, 2. Pickens, 3. Coons, 4. Carrick, 5. Layser, 6. Daum, 7. Mitchell, 8. Darland, 9. Bacon, 10. Cummins, 11. Cling, 12. Gass, 13. Hernandez, 14. Windom, 15. Welch, 16. Peck, 17. Koontz. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Cannon McIntosh (3), 3. Kyle Larson (5), 4. Jason McDougal (4), 5. Tanner Thorson (7), 6. Tyler Courtney (15), 7. Zach Daum (12), 8. Tanner Carrick (13), 9. Chris Windom (23), 10. Zeb Wise (18), 11. C.J. Leary (1), 12. Logan Seavey (14), 13. Andrew Layser (22), 14. Holley Hollan (17), 15. Shane Golobic (6), 16. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (16), 17. Karsyn Elledge (10), 18. Cole Bodine (21), 19. Jesse Colwell (11), 20. Jerry Coons, Jr. (8), 21. Tucker Klaasmeyer (19), 22. Michael Pickens (9), 23. Chad Boat (20). NT
**Akard flipped during the third heat.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Grant.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/PROSOURCE HARD CHARGER: Tyler Courtney (15th to 6th)
PROSOURCE HARD WORK AWARD: Andrew Layser
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Andrew Layser
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Ethan Mitchell
NEW USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Courtney-593, 2-K. Thomas-512, 3-Wise-488, 4-Seavey-483, 5-Leary-458, 6-Windom-455, 7-Boat-416, 8-Carrick-401, 9-Klaasmeyer-389, 10-Colwell-341.
NEW INDIANA MIDGET WEEK POINTS: 1-Thorson-144, 2-Courtney-137, 3-McDougal-130, 4-Seavey-126, 5-Wise-121, 6-McIntosh-119, 7-Grant-110, 8-Golobic-109, 9-Carrick-106, 10-Thomas-95.
PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Courtney-11, 2-McIntosh-10, 3-Coons-9, 4-Layser-9, 5-Wise-8, 6-Thomas-7, 7-Boat-7, 8-Daum-6, 9-McDougal-5, 10-Carrick-5.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: June 6, 2019 - Lincoln Park Speedway - Putnamville, Indiana - 15th "Indiana Midget Week" - 5/16-Mile Dirt Oval
USAC Press Release
Photo Credit: David Nearpass