From Richie Murray
MERCED, CA ((November 23, 2021) – Throughout the month of November, Justin Grant has repeatedly shown how the west is won.
Traveling south, east and north throughout the first 31 races on the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship schedule this season, the Ione, Calif. driver managed just one single victory.
In the past seven races, Grant has quadrupled his total to four wins on the season, including three of the last seven, and each of the last two.
The latest of those triumphs came Tuesday night in the first of two consecutive evenings at California’s Merced Speedway where Grant tussled to-and-fro with Tanner Thorson throughout the entire 30-lap distance, securing the spot on lap six, then taking control of the preferred line to stave off the frequent challenges posed by Thorson.
Grant, for the first time in his career, won back-to-back USAC National Midget feature events, and he did it in record fashion during a non-stop, green-to-checkered race that was completed in 6:14.35, demolishing the former 30-lap track record for the series at the quarter-mile dirt oval, a 7:18.810 set by Tanner Thorson in 2020.
The victory, in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota, was the ninth of Grant’s USAC National Midget career, tying him with Billy Boat, Chad Boat, Tony Elliott and Chuck Gurney for 76th place on the all-time list.
Speaking of wins, it was Grant’s 12th overall in USAC National competition this season, tying himself with Thorson for the most in the series. Grant has 4 Midget, 7 Sprint and 1 Silver Crown. Thorson has 7 midget and 5 sprint.
As for the recent flurry of additions to the win column for Grant, he chalks it up to good ol’ fashioned momentum. Once the ball got rolling with an opening night win at Western World on November 12, followed by a 100-lap victory at Placerville on Nov. 20, the air of confidence became paramount for both driver and team, a self-assurance which carried over to even more success at Merced, where the team similarly won last year’s opening night with driver Thomas Meseraull.
“I’ve had a great car all year, but I really think we just finally got a little bit of momentum,” Grant explained. ‘’This series is so tough; everybody’s so, so close. Just catching a little bit of momentum can change your whole year; it can turn your whole year around, and we’ve seen that here.”
Grant began his race from the outside of the front row, alongside Thorson who jumped out to the early advantage at the drop of the green. However, Grant landed a barrage of sliders on Thorson that Thorson was able to counteract three different times throughout the first five circuits.
On lap six, Grant finally found the upper hand when he took a diamond approach between turns three and four. As Thorson slid through the middle, Grant dug in and powered underneath the 2016 USAC National Midget champ at the exit of turn four to lead by a half car length at the stripe.
“The first 10 laps, I had what was probably the best car I’ve ever driven,” Grant revealed. “This thing was just wide open, and I was hardly moving my hands.”
At the halfway point, Grant was in the midst of enjoying the relative comfort of a one-plus second lead as he navigated the topside of turns one and two and the bottom of turns three and four. However, as it goes on long green flag runs, a clear view out in front of him was on the brink of extinction as he continued his rapid descent on lapped traffic.
“Just watching lapped traffic, I was kind of running the top down there, then entering in the middle and coming off the bottom, and it got to where I couldn’t catch lapped cars anymore,” Grant explained. “I wasn’t closing on them and I couldn’t really get around them even if they were slow or just on the bottom, so I knew if I just stayed on the bottom, he was going to have to be a lot better than me to get around me, and I thought our car was good enough, so it wasn’t going to be a problem.”
Down to two car lengths by lap 19 and down to one car length by lap 20, Thorson was now wheel-to-wheel with Grant coming off the fourth corner with eight laps remaining, missing out on the lead by a mere half-car length at the line.
Thorson briefly appeared to have the bottom line to himself as the two entered turn one, but caught a crumb of the berm, and pushing him slightly up the track, erasing all the ground he had deleted from Grant. Five laps later, however, Thorson had caught back up to Grant in turn three, clipping the same pesky berm that wrote the epitaph for Thorson’s second-straight Merced winning bid.
“I tried to run the top a little bit when I was leading down in three and four and tried to peel off,” Thorson stated. “The fastest lane was on the bottom, so it would’ve taken a lot. I got to him at one point getting into turn three and got the left front on the berm and shot my chances right there.”
Grant sensed the pressure and subsequently realized he had to safeguard his position ever so subtly as the laps ticked down.
“We were a little free at the end and I knew I had to protect,” Grant remembered. “I figured Tanner would be getting better; his stuff digs up through the slick pretty good.”
For the most part, Grant’s path to victory down the stretch was unaffected as the lappers went straight to the top while Grant buckled in on the low line, keeping up his momentum through the turns, and in turn, the season, as was the theme of the night.
“I caught a lot of breaks with the lappers moving high and I was able to roll by,” Grant recalled. “I didn’t really break my momentum, which was huge. You don’t want to get into a dogfight with Tanner. He’s pretty good at dogfighting, but so am I. Between he and I, they usually get pretty rowdy. But we avoided that, and we ended up in victory lane.”
With one more clip of the berm between turns three and four by Thorson, Grant was on easy street from there on out as he opened his lead up to seven car lengths by races’ end, eventually closing the evening with a 0.515 second margin of victory over Thorson, Buddy Kofoid, Emerson Axsom and Cannon McIntohs.
“I’ve got to be the luckiest guy in the world, I tell you what,” Grant exclaimed. “I’ve got a smoking hot wife, I’ve got great kids, I get to come out here and drive racecars and lappers just seem to move out of the way. I’m catching inverts all the time. I might be the luckiest guy in the world. I’ll take them how I can get them anyway and I’ll take all the help I can get. I love driving midgets and I love racing this car.”
Thorson (Minden, Nev.) finished second for his best result since winning at Wisconsin’s Angell Park Speedway on September 5. Thorson acknowledges he felt Grant was better at the start but did his best to fend him off at the start to lead the opening five laps in his Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – MVT – Smith Titanium/Spike/Stanton SR-11x.
Buddy Kofoid’s third-place result, coupled with Chris Windom’s 11th place finish, put Kofoid up on Windom in the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship standings by a relatively wide 41-point margin in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/Mobil 1 – TRD – Toyota/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota with now just two races remaining.
Furthermore, new track records were rampant throughout the event with the one, 10, 12 and 30-lap records for USAC National Midgets at Merced falling.
The main man in Tuesday night’s Fatheadz Qualifying was Carson Macedo, who set quick time and a new USAC National Midget track record with a blistering lap of 11.714 seconds, which broke the previous record of 11.838, set by Kyle Larson in 2020.
Chris Windom’s time of 2:00.07 in Simpson Race Products Heat Race One obliterated the previous 10-lap record of 2:06.569, which was set by Thomas Meseraull in 2020.
Macedo’s second track record of the night came during the Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi-Feature, when he paced the field for 12 laps in 2:28.240.
Merced’s former one-lap track record holder and newly crowned NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Kyle Larson suffered engine woes during hot laps and qualifying. He returned for his heat race, driving from 8th to 5th which put him one spot out of a transfer position. In the semi-feature, Larson made a valiant charge from 15th to 8th, missing the final transfer spot and a position in the feature starting lineup by two positions.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: November 23, 2021 – Merced Speedway – Merced, California – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – Midget Madness
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Carson Macedo, 21, Tarlton-11.714 (New Track Record); 2. Logan Seavey, 25, Malloy-11.738; 3. Emerson Axsom, 15, Petry-11.826; 4. Zeb Wise, 37w, Wood-11.884; 5. Cannon McIntosh, 08, Dave Mac-11.932; 6. Mitchel Moles, 07w, Wood-11.947; 7. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-11.969; 8. Buddy Kofoid, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-11.989; 9. Justin Grant, 2J, RMS-11.997; 10. Tanner Thorson, 19T, Reinbold/Underwood-12.001; 11. Jason McDougal, 5T, Alexander-12.016; 12. Brenham Crouch, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.020; 13. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.020; 14. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5, Petry-12.026; 15. Shane Golobic, 17w, Wood-12.053; 16. Ryan Bernal, 87w, Wood-12.056; 17. Jade Avedisian, 86, CBI-12.092; 18. Kaylee Bryson, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.100; 19. Maria Cofer, 57, Abacus-12.115; 20. Ryan Timms, 85T, CBI-12.116; 21. Chris Windom, 89, CBI-12.141; 22. Hayden Reinbold, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-12.141; 23. Jake Andreotti, 00A, Davis-12.148; 24. Chase Johnson, 7NZ, BLS-12.198; 25. Taylor Reimer, 25K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.215; 26. Chance Crum, 26, Rudeen-12.243; 27. Chase Elliott, 9, Larson-12.321; 28. Carson Sousa, 00, Mounce/Stout-12.421; 29. Kyle Beilman, 31, Beilman-12.527; 30. Santino Ferrucci, 16, Dave Mac-12.560; 31. Kyle Larson, 1K, Larson-NT; 32. Chase Randall, 19A, Reinbold/Underwood-NT; 33. Bryant Wiedeman, 01, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-NT (Time of 11.996 disallowed).
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Cannon McIntosh, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Tanner Carrick, 5. Carson Macedo, 6. Taylor Reimer, 7. Jade Avedisian, 8. Bryant Wiedeman, 9. Kyle Beilman. 2:00.070 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kaylee Bryson, 2. Tanner Thorson, 3. Mitchel Moles, 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Hayden Reinbold, 7. Chance Crum, 8. Santino Ferrucci. 2:01.960
INDY METAL FINISHING THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Shane Golobic, 2. Jason McDougal, 3. Emerson Axsom, 4. Maria Cofer, 5. Kyle Larson, 6. Jake Andreotti, 7. Thomas Meseraull, 8. Chase Elliott. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Buddy Kofoid, 2. Ryan Timms, 3. Chase Johnson, 4. Ryan Bernal, 5. Brenham Crouch, 6. Zeb Wise, 7. Chase Randall, 8. Carson Sousa. 2:01.820
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Carson Macedo, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Thomas Meseraull, 4. Brenham Crouch, 5. Zeb Wise, 6. Jade Avedisian, 7. Jake Andreotti, 8. Kyle Larson, 9. Taylor Reimer, 10. Chance Crum, 11. Chase Elliott, 12. Hayden Reinbold, 13. Bryant Wiedeman, 14. Kyle Beilman, 15. Santino Ferrucci, 16. Chase Randall. 2:28.240 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (2), 2. Tanner Thorson (1), 3. Buddy Kofoid (3), 4. Emerson Axsom (6), 5. Cannon McIntosh (5), 6. Shane Golobic (7), 7. Mitchel Moles (4), 8. Logan Seavey (11), 9. Carson Macedo (10), 10. Jason McDougal (14), 11. Chris Windom (9), 12. Zeb Wise (12), 13. Tanner Carrick (16), 14. Thomas Meseraull (13), 15. Ryan Bernal (18), 16. Kaylee Bryson (8), 17. Kevin Thomas Jr. (17), 18. Ryan Timms (21), 19. Jade Avedisian (19), 20. Maria Cofer (20), 21. Chase Johnson (22), 22. Brenham Crouch (15), 23. Bryant Wiedeman (23-P), 24. Hayden Reinbold (24-P). 6:14.35 (New Track Record)
(P) represents a provisional starter
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-5 Tanner Thorson, Laps 6-30 Justin Grant.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Buddy Kofoid-2434, 2-Chris Windom-2393, 3-Justin Grant-2247, 4-Emerson Axsom-2236, 5-Tanner Thorson-2193, 6-Logan Seavey-2074, 7-Thomas Meseraull-1931, 8-Kevin Thomas Jr.-1898, 9-Daison Pursley-1892, 10-Cannon McIntosh-1786.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-211, 2-Chris Windom-204, 3-Tanner Thorson-198, 4-Thomas Meseraull-178, 5-Brady Bacon-170, 6-Logan Seavey-163, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-159, 8-Robert Ballou-131, 9-Buddy Kofoid-117, 10-Shane Cottle-106.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: November 24, 2021 – Merced Speedway – Merced, California – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Jade Avedisian
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Carson Macedo
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Chris Windom
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Kaylee Bryson
Indy Metal Finishing Third Heat Winner: Shane Golobic
Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner: Buddy Kofoid
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Carson Macedo
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Jason McDougal (14th to 10th)
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Jake Andreotti
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Tanner Carrick