Larson Keeps Rolling As Midget Week Begins

0
8849
Larson Keeps Rolling
Kyle Larson in action Tuesday at Paragon Speedway. (Eli Kaikko photo)

PARAGON, Ind. — Kyle Larson returned to NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series competition on Tuesday night for the opening round of Indiana Midget Week, and it was as if he’d never left.

After winning the last three USAC national midget races of the season in 2019, Larson added another trophy by coming out on top of a late scramble with Tanner Thorson at Paragon Speedway.

Larson led the final four laps Tuesday night to notch his 20th career USAC National Midget Series win and first of the season, extending one of the most incredible streaks in modern motorsports history in the process.

The 27-year-old has won in the last six dirt-track races he’s entered, spanning three different series and two disciplines. Larson won five 410 sprint car events — three with the All Star Circuit of Champions and two with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series — prior to Tuesday’s midget score.

Larson set fast time in qualifying with a track record at the three-eighths-mile oval, transferred through his heat race and started sixth in the 30-lap feature, but he didn’t stay back there for long.

The Elk Grove, Calif., native cracked the top three by lap eight, then stalked leader Gio Scelzi and runner-up Tanner Thorson’s intense battle for supremacy through traffic.

Scelzi led the first 10 rounds until Thorson put a big slider on Scelzi to take command on the 11th circuit.

Moments later, Chase Johnson got upside down in turn two to bring out the red flag, setting up a restart with Thorson out front over Scelzi and Larson lurking in the third position – waiting to pounce.

After two laps of dueling sliders with Scelzi and a subsequent caution for the stalled car of Brady Bacon on lap 13, Larson made his move forward on the ensuing restart with a textbook slider on Scelzi to take second coming to the halfway signal.

Once Larson got to second behind Thorson, it was a battle of two former Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports teammates – one now driving for Hayward Motorsports and the other for Tucker/Boat Motorsports.

Larson found a diamond line in turns three and four that allowed him to trim the gap to Thorson, closing within half a second on lap 19, but a red flag for the flipped machine of third-running Scelzi with nine laps left erased any remaining deficit and set up a Thorson v. Larson duel at the front of the field.

Larson chucked the immediate slider on the lap-22 restart, but after touching wheels with Thorson, the latter was able to hold serve out front. A slider attempt on lap 25 failed too, and Thorson pulled away by eight tenths of a second over Larson down the backstretch.

Despite that gap, however, Larson wasn’t done.

Larson ran Thorson down at the end of the 26th lap and used a big run to pitch a daring move to the bottom of turns one and two on lap 27. Once he cleared Thorson off turn two, it was game, set, match.

Kyle Larson celebrates in victory lane at Paragon Speedway Tuesday night. (Eli Kaikko photo)

From there, Larson pulled away down the home stretch to collect not only his sixth win in his last six dirt-track starts, but also his eighth straight midget victory in the United States – following on from his USAC hat trick to end 2019, his sweep of the Gateway Dirt Nationals and his Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary and finale wins in January.

“That was a fun race right there. (Turns) one and two were a lot of fun, throwing slide jobs like we were able to do,” Larson said in victory lane. “Getting to race hard with a lot of my friends up front was really cool. The car just kept getting better and better throughout the race, especially at the end, when there was a little bit of patchiness in the rubber off the exit of both corners. I happened to open my entry up on the last restart (going) into one, and ended up being able to make up a lot of time on Tanner.

“I threw the slider on him inside five to go and he didn’t leave me much room, so when I got my opportunity again, I didn’t leave him any room at all either,” noted Larson. “It was fun racing. I’ve waited a long time to come to Paragon and get my chance to race, so I’m glad I could add my name to the winners list here.”

Thorson hung on to record a second-place finish in the OilFire No. 19, but was disappointed he couldn’t put together enough speed down the home stretch to hold Larson at bay.

“We brought a new package here, and it worked; we were just one spot short tonight,” said Thorson. “Hats off to Kyle and his team. That’s pretty badass, what he’s doing right now. I tried to get it away from him, but gave it back. Sometimes that’s what this racing is all about. We tried some new stuff, and I think what we’ve found will be pretty badass once we fine tune on it a little bit.

“We’ll see if we can pick up the win tomorrow (at Gas City), but this place (Paragon) is awesome.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the podium, followed by Chris Windom and Justin Grant.

Tanner Carrick was sixth, ahead of Tyler Courtney, hard charger Logan Seavey, Buddy Kofoid and Kevin Thomas Jr.

Indiana Midget Week moves to Gas City I-69 Speedway on Wednesday. Justin Grant is the defending winner of the Gas City Midget Week event with RAMS Racing.

To view complete race results, advance to the next page.