KOKOMO, Ind. — Rico Abreu made a statement on the opening weekend of Honda National Midget racing as he swept the inaugural “Kokomo Grand Prix” with Saturday night’s 40-lap feature win.
The St. Helena, Calif., made it his sixth career win as he led a podium sweep for the potent Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team.
“What a great weekend and great team to be associated with,” Abreu said. “This is definitely the best midget team in the country, and they deserve it. Midget Week last year was a confidence booster for me, and ever since then, we’ve been up front a lot. It’s not easy to do that in this group. What a great track to win at, and to sweep the weekend.”
Michael Pickens and Bryan Clauson led the field to green, but Tyler Courtney shot from row-two to the lead on the opening lap, just before a red flag came out for rookie Spencer Bayston in turn-one.
After another caution two laps later, Kevin Thomas Jr. clawed past Courtney to take over the point. Just a few laps later, defending national champ Christopher Bell got rolling on the high side and took the lead on lap nine. On lap 14, Bell bounced through turn-three with what turned out to be a broken right-rear stop. Under the yellow, Thomas Jr. went to the work area with a flat right-rear tire. Both restarted.
Clauson assumed the lead for the restart, but Abreu was wound up on the top and immediately took the lead of turn-two on lap 14. The two pulled away from the field, with Clauson closing back in as they started to put cars a lap down. Just as Clauson seemed ready to pounce, caution returned with 13 laps to go.
With less than ten laps to go, Clauson hopped through turns one and two while running second, leaving third-running Pickens and top-five-running Darren Hagen with no place to go. All three cars were done for the night. Bell was on the move after the restart, climbing to third behind Thorson before a final caution set up a dash to the checkers for the three teammates.
Abreu did not separate much from Thorson, who had a run low off turn-four coming to the white but could not get close enough to pull the trigger, as Abreu won in the Toyota TRD – Curb Records No. 97 Bullet/Speedway Toyotas.
“I fell back on the start, and the track was so green, I didn’t quite know where to go. I got going and then the top cleaned off, and I got to the lead after Bell’s bad luck. The long green was a challenge, but I had to just pick them off one-by-one, and I saw Bryan flash inside me once. The top in three and four was pretty far around, and I knew he’d be good on the bottom there. I just had to finish strong and be mistake-free. You have to respect this place; I left this place last year in an ambulance and leaving this year with two wins,” Abreu said.
It was Thorson’s best-career National midget finish after starting 13th in the Kunz/Curb-Agajanian – Toyota TRD No. 67 Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
“I fell back even farther than where I started early in the race, but I started picking them off by halfway. I got to Rico and it was like old times. I could hang with him, but I had to get back up to the top where he was in one and two, and he was better there. Running up front with guys like my teammates is huge for my confidence. It’s great to go out knowing I have the best car owners and crew chiefs in the business,” Thorson said.
Bell completed his comeback from the earlier trip to the work area by rounding out the podium in his Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports No. 71 Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
“There’s some nights where you run third and you’re happy with it, and there’s another nights where you’re disappointed. I know we had a car to win the race. It was a bummer, breaking a stop like that. Luckily, we were able to get it fixed and get back out there to salvage. We were looking at taking a big hit in points, but they were ready to fix it, so hat’s off to them,” Bell said.
Tracy Hines finished fourth and Tyler Thomas rounded out the top five.