PERRIS, Calif. — Kyle Larson finished off another spectacular year and added a feather to his cap by winning Thursday night’s 72nd Turkey Night Grand Prix at Perris Auto Speedway.
The Elk Grove, Calif., driver picked up his sixth USAC Mopar National Midget Series win of the year in the first edition of the famed race run on dirt since 1998.
Newly-crowned 2012 Mopar National Midget champion driver Darren Hagen set a New Track Record in qualifying and led the field to the green, pacing the opening three laps of the 98-lapper.
Two-time “Turkey Night” winner Jason Leffler roared by for the lead on lap four, but he encountered problems and faded, returning the lead to Hagen on lap eight.
Larson tracked down Hagen and took the lead on lap 22. Shortly after, Larson’s teammate Bryan Clauson also made his way by Hagen as the leaders worked through heavy traffic. Clauson caught his teammate quickly and slid under Larson for the lead, but Larson countered every time to retain command.
The first caution finally flew for Chad Boat on lap 32, as he shredded a left-rear tire while running seventh. Clauson dogged his teammate after the restart, as Tracy Hines was moving to the front after starting 12th. Just after Hines moved to third, Clauson caught the turn-one wall and flipped on lap 79 while running second.
The final 20 laps became a war of conservation as tires came into play. Hines continuously pressured Larson but never could solidify the top spot. On multiple occasions, Hines slid up in front of Larson only to see the 20-year old driver right back under him. Just after making a massive move to the outside of Larson, Hines came off turn-four to the white flag with a flat right-rear tire.
With race rookie Ryan Bernal behind him, Larson restarted without issue and completed the final circuit to notch the huge victory while locking up the 2012 Mopar National Midget owner’s championship for the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports – Toyota TRD No. 71 Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
“I was really trying to be patient early in the race. I was worried about blistering my tires early, so I rode the bottom a little bit early. I followed Hagen for a bit before I got by him, but I was still kinda riding. Then, Bryan (Clauson) came and threw some sliders at me in the middle part of the race. I had to change my line up a little bit as the rubber came in, and I really did not want Tracy (Hines) to beat me again this year. I was looking at all the people who have won this race, A.J., Parnelli, Brent Kaeding, and it’s cool to add my name to that trophy,” Larson said.
Jerry Coons Jr., who started 17th after qualifying 31st to begin the night, snuck under Bernal on the final corner to come home second in the Dooling Machine Products — Impact by MasterCraft No. 63 Spike/Esslinger.
“Rusty (Kunz) gave me a good car every time we went on the track. I was trying to go forward early, and really didn’t think the track would take rubber, but once it did I really just got in cruise mode after I got into seventh or eighth. I could see the tires of the guys in front of me and knew they were racing pretty hard. I ran real straight and got pretty conservative, and found ourselves in a good spot at the end, so I ran hard to get second there at the end,” Coons said.
Bernal came home third while wrapping up the “Don Basile Rookie of the Race” award in the King Racing Products – A&A Precision Machine No. 73 Ellis/Wirth Fontana.
“We started really deep, but it was a long race. I slowly picked cars off, and just had to be smooth towards the end. It was a crazy race. I had to keep it straight and actually drove it like a quarter-midget once it took rubber. It’s really cool to win the rookie award, though. Some really great race car drivers have won it before me, and it’s great to run so well in my first Turkey Night,” Bernal said.
Former Western States Midget champion Nic Faas finished fourth in the King Racing Products – A&A Precision Machine No. 72 Spike/Wirth Fontana, while Shane Golobic rounded out the top-five in the Carson R&D – Astro Titanium No. 26 Spike/Esslinger.
Brad Kuhn finished sixth to secure the Western States Midget owner’s championship for Mason Cook, while Shannon McQueen wrapped up her Western States Midget driver championship by finishing 18th.