Joliet, IL — Not that Kyle Larson needs any extra motivation when he straps into a Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian midget, but any little bit that’s added to the equation just makes it that much more difficult for the competition.
In the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car feature that preceded the night’s midget feature, Larson was leading when, under a red flag, the Elk Grove, California driver was disqualified from the event for having a crew member outside of the designated work area.
When the time came to jump back in the midget for the late-night cap, there seemed to be no stopping Larson. By the end of the first lap of Saturday’s USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget “Summer Slash” feature at the Dirt Oval at Route 66, Larson was contending for the lead. All this after starting sixth by virtue of setting quick time in his first ever visit to the 3/8-mile dirt oval.
Larson just missed the lead by a wheel at the line on both laps one and two as he rolled the bottom and series Rookie Jesse Colwell ripped the top. Colwell hung tough, but on the third lap, Larson set up Colwell for a slider, clearing him in turn two to capture the lead.
From there, Larson set off toward a half-straightaway lead that was deleted on lap 10 when USAC Triple Crown champ J.J. Yeley snagged the turn four curb, sending him into a violent crash down the front straightaway. Yeley spiraled three times through the air before landing and flipping once more, coming to a rest just shy of the flag stand. Yeley escaped without injury.
The common assumption was Larson was in a zone of his own. However, following the lap 11 restart, defending series champ Logan Seavey, who started 12th, was on the prowl, melting Larson’s advantage down to two car lengths by lap 13. Seavey pasted himself to Larson’s trail and, on lap 15, dove to the bottom of turn one, sliding up to the top in turn two to snare the lead.
“I felt like I was running good laps,” Larson recalled. “Then, Logan threw a slider on me. I guess I was running 90 percent. I was like, ‘crap, I got to step it up,’ and that’s when I started making mistakes.”
There was no mistake on the following lap on behalf of Larson. Seavey, though, bobbled atop the turn four cushion on lap 16, allowing Larson to get a run on the bottom, which he used to slide Seavey back into turn one to regain the advantage up front.
On a lap 24 restart following a Cole Bodine turn three spin, Seavey’s pursuit of Larson fell apart just as it resumed. Seavey snagged that same turn four curb that had bitten others throughout the night, riding like a bucking bronco for a moment before continuing on. That allowed Larson to break away and series point leader Tyler Courtney to capitalize with a slider of his own in turn two for second.
The curb was definitely something that had weighed on Larson’s mind during the feature. But he found a countering measure in the second half that kept his mind slightly at ease.
“I was just so scared of the curb off of four,” Larson said. “It was really tall. These midgets, when they hit it, it’s difficult to be consistent. There in the last half, I just started following it around and it was definitely a lot easier to run, and I could have more straightaway speed.”
However, the deck was reshuffled when third-running Seavey spun in turn two with less than two laps remaining that set up a green-white-checkered finish. Larson was perfection as soon as the green dropped, riding the rim over the final two laps to take a 0.775 second win over Courtney, Tanner Carrick, Chris Windom and Kevin Thomas, Jr.
The win was the first of the season for Larson, who had made two previous starts during the recent “Indiana Midget Week.” It was also the 16th victory of his USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget career, equaling him with Rico Abreu, George Amick, Billy Cantrell, Lee Kunzman, Bobby Olivero and Henry Pens for 39th all-time.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Dirt Oval at Route 66 were Kyle Larson (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Jason McDougal (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Tyler Thomas (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Tanner Carrick (AutoMeter Third Heat Winner), Ace McCarthy (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Jason McDougal (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Zach Daum (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Jake Neuman (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
Results: 1. Kyle Larson (6), 2. Tyler Courney (5), 3. Tanner Carrick (11), 4. Chris Windom (9), 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (4), 6. Tyler Thomas (10), 7. Tucker Klaasmeyer (8), 8. Jerry Coons, Jr. (7), 9. Jason McDougal (19), 10. Tanner Thorson (14), 11. Jesse Colwell (1), 12. Zeb Wise (2), 13. Zach Daum (13), 14. C.J. Leary (21), 15. Holley Hollan (23), 16. Karsyn Elledge (20), 17. Chad Boat (3), 18. Zane Hendricks (17), 19. Cole Bodine (18), 20. Ace McCarthy (22), 21. Logan Seavey (12), 22. Thomas Meseraull (16), 23. J.J. Yeley (15). NT
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman