From Richie Murray
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (August 1, 2022) — Quite simply, you can’t keep Kyle Larson down.
That’s been evident throughout his entire racing career, and also was on full display during his first pavement midget start in nearly a decade during Monday’s USAC Midget Special Event at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Larson was penalized following the first two attempts to begin the 30-lap feature when race officials deemed that he was a tad too quick on the trigger and jumped the start.
Prior to the third attempt, Larson’s punishment was a one row penalty, which moved him from the inside of the second row to the inside of the third row. That try was also aborted due to a turn three spin by 13th running Blake Brannon.
The fourth try proved to be the charm for the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, Calif. as he raced his way from fifth to third on the first scored lap.
In short order, Larson chased down second-running Kody Swanson for second off the bottom of turn four at the end of lap two, then scurried under leader Todd Bertrand at the exit of the second turn on lap three to grab the lead, a position he never relinquished in his Jerome Rodela/Rodela Fabrication – Trench Shoring Company/Gerhardt/Ed Pink Toyota.
Larson’s first pavement midget appearance in nine years proved fruitful as he earned his second career IRP midget victory, winning for the first time in 11 years, nearly to the day, back in 2011.
The drive was a dream, and the car was a dream to drive as the Californian wheelman and the Californian car owner teamed up for the first time, and the result was a dream match.
“This is such a beautiful racecar,” Larson praised. “It’s kind of a dream to get to be able to run it. I’ve always seen this car, and everything that Jerome works on is just beautiful. We were really fast, and I hope to get to do it again someday.”
Once gaining the lead, Larson pulled away to a substantial half-straightaway advantage in just the first five laps, which translated to a full two second lead and did it all while racing his own race.
“I went back to fifth and I knew my car was really good from the start,” Larson explained. “I just wanted to get to the lead and set my own pace. Every time we hit the track today, I got looser and looser. Jerome made a lot of adjustments to tighten me up and I felt really good to fire off. I actually got tight there towards the end, and for the last half, I was really tight.”
However, once Santos cleared Bertrand for the second position on lap six, the May IRP midget winner began making major headway in his full-on pursuit of Larson.
What blossomed into a 1.9 second lead for Larson was aggressively chopped as Santos knocked a tenth off Larson’s lead each time around the .686-mile paved oval in the ensuing laps – to 1.8 seconds on lap eight, to 1.7 on lap nine, to 1.6 on lap 10 and to 1.5 by lap 11.
Just as soon as Santos worked his way into play as a challenger to Larson, it all came to an abrupt end as he dropped off the pace dramatically before pulling into the infield on lap 17. From there, Larson expanded his lead to an increasingly insurmountable 5.561 seconds, never to be headed again.
In the end, Larson pulverized the field by a 6.521 second margin with Kyle O’Gara second and Nick Hamilton third. Hard charger Cole Carter (Brownsburg, Ind.) finished fourth after starting in the 14th position. Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) rounded out the top-five.
“I ran hard the whole time,” Larson said. “I had no idea where second was behind me. I saw that Kyle (O’Gara) got to second and I didn’t know if he was running me down or what. I just tried to run hard the whole time but also wanted to conserve our right front tire and get the win.”
While Larson captured the $5,000 top prize, Kyle O’Gara (Beech Grove, Ind.) backed up his June IRP midget victory with another consistent run and a fine runner-up performance in his SFHR Development/Chick-Fil-A – Speedway Indoor Karting – Business Art Designs/Beast/Stanton SR-11x.
Meanwhile, Nick Hamilton (Danville, Ind.) skillfully turned in his best career performance at IRP with a third-place result after starting 11th in his Kenny & Reva Irwin/Kenny Irwin Jr. Foundation – Curtis Motor Sales/Beast/Stanton SR-11x.
Chuck Gurney Jr. (Livermore, Calif.) set the night’s quickest time in qualifying. His most recent fast qualifying performance at IRP came when he timed in as the best overall during the 2010 Night Before the 500.
USAC MIDGET NON-POINTS SPECIAL EVENT RACE RESULTS: August 1, 2022 – Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – Brownsburg, Indiana – .686-Mile Paved Track – Monday Night Racing
QUALIFYING: (Two laps combined) 1. Chuck Gurney Jr., 51, 3 Stooges-42.357; 2. Alex Bowman, 55, Bowman-42.490; 3. Buddy Kofoid, 67, 3 Stooges/Kunz-42.639; 4. Jake Trainor, 29, 3 Stooges-42.749; 5. Kody Swanson, 44, Bertrand-42.769; 6. Bobby Santos, 98, 3 Stooges-42.771; 7. Tanner Swanson, 26, Pierce-42.781; 8. Kyle Larson, 25, Rodela-42.869; 9. Todd Bertrand, 47, Bertrand-43.086; 10. Kyle O’Gara, 67K, SFHR-43.367; 11. Nick Hamilton, 7K, Irwin-43.517; 12. Cody Gerhardt, 60, Western Speed-44.483; 13. Blake Brannon, 40, Western Speed-44.620; 14. Cole Carter, 7, Bertrand-44.672; 15. Dakoda Armstrong, 7A, C & A-44.805; 16. Kevin Studley, 57K, Studley-45.112; 17. Maria Cofer, 57, Abacus-45.306; 18. Toni Breidinger, 80, Breidinger-45.825; 19. Brandon Maurer, 14, Maurer-57.286; 20. Nathan Byrd, 47D, Bertrand-NT.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kyle Larson (3), 2. Kyle O’Gara (1), 3. Nick Hamilton (11), 4. Cole Carter (14), 5. Kody Swanson (6), 6. Tanner Swanson (4), 7. Dakoda Armstrong (15), 8. Todd Bertrand (2), 9. Jake Trainor (7), 10. Maria Cofer (17), 11. Cody Gerhardt (12), 12. Blake Brannon (13), 13. Kevin Studley (16), 14. Bobby Santos (5), 15. Buddy Kofoid (8), 16. Alex Bowman (9), 17. Chuck Gurney Jr. (10), 18. Brandon Maurer (19), 19. Toni Breidinger (18).
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-2 Todd Bertrand, Laps 3-30 Kyle Larson.
NEXT USAC MIDGET SPECIAL EVENT: October 22, 2022 – Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – Brownsburg, Indiana – .686-Mile Paved Track – Howard Companies Championship Saturday