Story By: CURT CAVIN / INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY – SPEEDWAY, IN – Kyle Larson can indeed take a bump.
The driver who has dominated U.S. motorsports over the past three months handled the competition again Thursday night on The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, surviving late-race contact in a battle for the lead to win the third Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink.
The USAC Midget National Championship race honoring the late Bryan Clauson, an Indiana native who made three Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge starts on the oval track surrounding this quarter-mile stretch of dirt, tested Larson completely, particularly in the final couple of restarts. The NASCAR Cup Series star was running second and on the Turn 4 cushion with five laps to go when Thomas Meseraull slid into him.
The contact was hard enough to break Meseraull’s right front wheel, ending his night after leading much of the race. Larson, who was unscathed, still had work to do – he had to get around and then hold off Justin Grant and a charging Brady Bacon in what he described as “chaos” on the 38th of 39 laps.
Larson said he almost gave away the race trying to hold off Grant in a side-by-side battle, but a solid final lap rescued him.
“I had a thought of what I wanted to do, and I kind of screwed it all up on that last restart,” he said. “I slid myself (high) a few times, and I shouldn’t have been doing that, but I knew Justin was on top in (Turns) 1 and 2 there.
“I slammed the curb every time in (Turn) 4, and then Brady got to my inside and Justin was there. It was just wild. I did not do a good job there on that restart but thankfully put a decent last lap together and snuck through for the win. I’ll take it.”
Larson earned $15,000 for the victory, and it continued his run of success since winning NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 30. Since then, he has won four additional Cup races, the Kings Royal and Knoxville Nationals in a sprint car and the Prairie Dirt Classic in a late model. Larson opened the year by winning the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals.
Larson also won Wednesday night’s IMS preliminary race, known as the Stoops Pursuit, which came with a $3,000 prize. He also won that event in 2019, but this was his first main event win at IMS.
Larson said it was “cool to win this race and honor Bryan,” the Noblesville, Indiana, driver who lost his life five years ago this month following a crash in the Belleville Midget Nationals.
“This event has grown into something really big, and I’m glad to be part of it,” Larson said while thanking IMS management, including owner Roger Penske, who was on hand for a second straight night. “Putting a little bullring here in the infield is really cool.
“These midgets are so much fun and so fun on a little track like this. This is the perfect midget track. (IMS) did such a good job building this place — the size, the dimensions, the banking, the dirt, everything. The track build is great, so hats off to the whole crew here.
“That was so much fun.”
Grant didn’t completely agree with Larson.
“Man, I hate running second to this guy,” he said, smiling. “He’s good; I don’t have to tell you guys. But man, he’s good playing the slider game and doing that (high line) in (Turn) 4. He does it as good or better than anybody.
“We had a couple of chances there (to beat him) and didn’t get him played quite right. I had to take a pretty big bomb to get out in front of him there in 3 and 4 … just a ton of fun.”
Meseraull finished 24th in the 25-car field despite leading much of the 39-lap race. The race distance is in honor of Clauson, who often carried that number on his race car.
Cup Series driver and Hoosier Chase Briscoe finished 11th in the main event, with USAC champion Chris Windom 21st after recovering from a flip in Turn 3.
Reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott was bounced from the field in the B-Main, slowing to a stop while running 12th. Jason McDougal’s car came to a stop with slight contact alongside him. Elliott finished 18th. Logan Seavey won the race, giving him two in a row after also winning the C-Main. 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman’s night came to an end after he finished 14th in the C-Main.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Conor Daly was eliminated in the second D-Main after finishing seventh. Only the top three drivers advanced to the C-Main.
The qualifying race winners were Bacon, Cannon McIntosh, Tyler Courtney, Kevin Thomas Jr., Emerson Axsom and Windom.
In hot laps, Spencer Bayston posted the night’s only official lap under 12 seconds. His time was 11.964 seconds. Larson, who turned the exact same time in Wednesday’s hot laps, was sixth at 12.135 seconds.
Clauson Marshall Racing teased the crowd gathered at The Dirt Track at IMS with a renumbered car for the night’s action. It bore No. 18, leading to speculation that a mystery driver such as Kyle Busch, who carries the number in NASCAR, might arrive to participate.
Alas, a driver’s name appeared on the car honorary starter Jeff Gordon drove in exhibition laps Wednesday night. The name on the car: Roger Penske, the IMS owner who has experienced 18 victories in the Indianapolis 500. Although Penske might have wanted to don a helmet and drive a midget, he did not.