By RICHIE MURRAY
MONTPELIER, IN – Kyle Larson pulled off the equivalent of a perfect game in Tuesday night’s opening round of “Indiana Midget Week” at Montpelier Motor Speedway.
Any driver who seemed to take a swing at Larson throughout the night found themselves striking out time-after-time in pursuit of the current NASCAR star whose only planned appearance of Indiana Midget Week came on this night.
Larson came in and conquered his mission, tumbling each obstacle along the way by setting fast time, winning his heat and emerging victorious in the night’s 30-lap feature.
And he did so by setting new one-lap and 10-lap track records along the way. A sweep is a feat that can’t be backed into. Many variables must fall into place and the driver has to be on top of his game, ready to stand on the gas and make the right moves at the right times every moment the opportunity beckons.
“It kind of all starts with your pill draw,” Larson explained. “The whole night has to be good. (Car owner) Keith (Kunz) drew early for me, which was nice. I got quick time, and in the heat race, I was hoping just to get to the top-four because the field was pretty tough. Our car was really, really good and we were able to get to the lead by the white flag lap. Any time you can get a perfect night or a clean sleep, it’s pretty special.”
Larson won the Montpelier round of IMW back in 2016 and set fast time and a new one-lap track record in qualifying in 2017. After a flawless preliminary performance, Larson made quick work at the start of the feature from his sixth-place starting position, charging to third by lap three and to second for good by lap nine.
During a side-by-side battle with Kevin Thomas, Jr., Thomas threw a slider at Larson in turn one. Larson performed a high-wire rope act to perfection, squeaking around the outside of Thomas with space so precious between the pair’s wheels that you couldn’t even slide a dime between the two.
“The beginning was a lot of fun,” Larson exclaimed. “(Kevin Thomas, Jr.) and Justin Grant were throwing big bombs at each other and I was able to get by them. KT started sliding me and I was able to get clear of him before the caution came out just prior to getting the lead. I didn’t expect to get to the front that fast, but I’m thankful that I did.”
Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian teammate Tucker Klaasmeyer dominated the opening nine circuits from the pole, holding a near-full straightaway lead before the yellow fell for a spin by tenth-running Justin Grant.
For the lap 10 restart, some might have expected to see a patented slide job delivered by the second-place driver in turn one. But, Larson had his own plan that paid off.
“The restart went perfect,” Larson recalled. “What I was hoping to do was to get a good run down the front straight and be on his bumper into (turn) one when he peeled off to the bottom and I could have some momentum to get up top. I had a lot of speed around the top, nailed the corner pretty good and was able to clear him down the back straight. I tried not to make too many mistakes. I do a good job of getting overly excited and making mistakes, so I tried to stay calm throughout it.”
Larson appeared flawless and fast, a potent combination and a harsh reality for the competition to overcome when a driver of his caliber is in the zone. By halfway, Larson’s lead was over two seconds. The only thing acting as a thorn in his side were continuous cautions that forced him to replay the restart on several occasions, giving second-place runner and the most recent USAC P1 Insurance National Midget feature winner at Montpelier, Tyler Courtney, chance after chance to challenge Larson, forcing Larson to refrain from playing the same tune each time.
“I had been turning down to the bottom and taking off,” Larson remembered. “When you do it so often, it gets easy to time. On the second to last one, I acted like I was going to do that, then took off up top. I don’t know if it worked out or not, but I didn’t see his nose on that restart, so I felt like that was a decent job. Then, I just tried to change it up again for the final restart by peeling off back to the bottom a little differently and it worked out.”
Courtney was able to hang with Larson close by initially, but over the long haul, Larson gradually extended the lead, extinguishing all possible challengers by race’s end to earn his fifth career Indiana Midget Week victory (tied for second with Christopher Bell and four behind all-time leader Bryan Clauson). His 15th career USAC National Midget win ties him with Don Branson and Larry Rice for 45th on the all-time USAC National Midget win list.
Following 2.178 seconds behind Larson at the finish were KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Tyler Courtney (from 14th), series point leader Logan Seavey, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Kevin Thomas, Jr.
Contingency award winners Tuesday night at Montpelier Motor Speedway included Kyle Larson (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner & Saldana Racing Products Sweep), Tyler Courtney (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner & KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Tanner Thorson (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Jason McDougal (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Chad Boat (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Zane Hendricks (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC P1 INSURANCE MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: May 29, 2018 – Montpelier Motor Speedway – Montpelier, Indiana – 14th Annual “Indiana Midget Week”
QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Larson, 21K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.712; 2. Rico Abreu, 21, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.722; 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 63, Dooling-13.804; 4. Brady Bacon, 76m, FMR-13.809; 5. Justin Grant, 17BC, Clauson-Marshall/Wood-13.893; 6. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.926; 7. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.941; 8. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-13.990; 9. Spencer Bayston, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.993; 10. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.995; 11. Kyle Craker, 76E, FMR-13.997; 12. Jake Neuman, 3N, Neuman-14.058; 13. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry/Goff-14.070; 14. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.086; 15. Tanner Thorson, 3c, Tri-C-14.088; 16. Jason McDougal, 15, Petry/Goff-14.108; 17. Tyler Thomas, 91T, Thomas-14.123; 18. Zane Hendricks, 27z, Tucker/Boat-14.189; 19. Holly Shelton, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.208; 20. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.215; 21. Alex Bright, 77, Bright-14.249; 22. Ryan Robinson, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.282; 23. Brayton Lynch, 1K, RKR-14.288; 24. Matt Moore, 35, Petry/Goff-14.320; 25. Ethan Mitchell, 19M, Mitchell-14.333; 26. Chris Hettinger, 71H, Hettinger-14.377; 27. C.J. Leary, 11AG, Gray-14.444; 28. Gage Walker, 7, Walker-14.447; 29. Andrew Layser, 77x, Bright-14.483; 30. Chase Jones, 33, RayPro-14.508; 31. Zach Hampton, 7K, K & R-14.528; 32. Landon Simon, 24, LSR-14.581; 33. Sam Johnson, 72, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.805; 34. Justin Dickerson, 21D, Dickerson-14.996; 35. Damian Lopez, 21x, Shuman-15.092; 36. Max Guilford, 37, Felker-15.274.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Larson, 2. Bright, 3. Grant, 4. Bayston, 5. T. Thomas, 6. Coons, 7. Johnson, 8. Mitchell, 9. Layser. 2:24.23
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Courtney, 2. Klaasmeyer, 3. Abreu, 4. Jones, 5. Dickerson, 6. Hettinger, 7. Hendricks, 8. Robinson, 9. Carrick. NT
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Thorson, 2. K. Thomas, 3. Lynch, 4. Craker, 5. Leary, 6. Lopez, 7. Seavey, 8. Shelton, 9. Hampton. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. McDougal, 2. Boat, 3. Bacon, 4. Wise, 5. Neuman, 6. Walker, 7. Moore, 8. Guilford, 9. Simon. 2:31.14
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer) 1. Seavey, 2. T. Thomas, 3. Robinson, 4. Coons, 5. Carrick, 6. Neuman, 7. Hendricks, 8. Mitchell, 9. Hettinger, 10. Moore, 11. Lopez, 12. Johnson, 13. Layser, 14. Dickerson, 15. Guilford, 16. Shelton, 17. Leary, 18. Walker, 19. Hampton. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Kyle Larson (6), 2. Tyler Courtney (14), 3. Logan Seavey (7), 4. Jerry Coons, Jr. (13), 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (4), 6. Tanner Thorson (15), 7. Spencer Bayston (9), 8. Zeb Wise (18), 9. Rico Abreu (5), 10. Ryan Robinson (20), 11. Tyler Thomas (17), 12. Brady Bacon (3), 13. Chad Boat (8), 14. Alex Bright (19), 15 Jason McDougal (16), 16. Tanner Carrick (10), 17. Justin Grant (2), 18. Holly Shelton (23), 19. Tucker Klaasmeyer (1), 20. Chase Jones (22), 21. Kyle Craker (11), 22. Brayton Lynch (21), 23. Jake Neuman (12). NT
**Robinson & Hendricks flipped in heat 2. Leary flipped during the semi.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-9 Klaasmeyer, Laps 10-30 Larson.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Tyler Courtney (14th to 2nd)
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Zane Hendricks
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Chad Boat
NEW USAC P1 INSURANCE MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Seavey-199, 2-Wise-180, 3-Boat-169, 4-Courtney-166, 5-Grant-165, 6-Robinson-162, 7-Bayston-157, 8-Bacon-154, 9-K. Thomas-153, 10-Coons-132
NEW “INDIANA MIDGET WEEK” POINTS: 1-Larson-84, 2-Courtney-75, 3-K. Thomas-69, 4-Seavey-68, 5-Thorson-63, 6-Coons-62, 7-Abreu-57, 8-Bayston-57, 9-Wise-54, 10-Bacon-48.
NEXT USAC P1 INSURANCE MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: May 30 – Gas City I-69 Speedway – Gas City, Indiana – “Indiana Midget Week”