NorCal Racing

Kyle Larson wins his third Turkey Night Grand Prix (actually on day after Thanksgiving)

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Kyle Larson—nearing the halfway point of Friday night’s 98-lap feature at California’s Ventura Raceway, while running fifth—nearly saw his Turkey Night Grand Prix end in shambles after going hard into turn 1.

Somehow, someway, the Elk Grove, California, native regained his footing, kept his foot on the throttle and carried on as if it was just part of the game plan.

Obviously, it wasn’t, but Larson welcomes a challenge and responded to it in kind throughout the night, beginning with his qualifying run. After being a favorite to win the pole for the event, postponed from Thanksgiving Day by rain, Larson uncharacteristically spun on his second qualifying lap, relegating him to 16th fastest and forcing him to carve through the field if he was to reach the pinnacle once again.

Larson seemingly took it all in stride, even on a racing surface that had been deluged by heavy rain over the past three days that made the 1/5-mile oceanside bullring a giddy-up, bucking bronco style ride from the word go.

With all those challenges facing him—and even a lengthy precipitation delay during the night’s qualifying races—it still seemed inevitable that Larson was going to be a factor regardless if he started midpack, on the tail or in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with one arm tied behind his back. That’s just how good Larson has been of late behind the wheel of a Midget.

None of these things could prove a hindrance to Larson, who won the prestigious race for a third time, joining Ron Shuman (8), Billy Boat (3) and Christopher Bell (3) as one of the Mount Rushmore figures to win the event on at least three occasions following previous victories in 2012 and 2016.

“I’ve always run well at the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Larson said. “To get another one feels great. I had to work hard for this one—everybody did, just to get to the checkered flag. It was extremely rough, but fun, too, because it was challenging; and the ruts changed all throughout the race.”

All those challenges aside, the largest thorn in Larson’s side was teenage sensation Cannon McIntosh, who was making his first Turkey Night Grand Prix appearance and was a prime contender to become the first driver since Warren Mockler in 1986 to win in his very first Turkey Night appearance.

McIntosh led the field for a race-high 67 laps until Larson went full bore to the topside around him in turn 3 following a restart with 11 laps remaining to lock down his 19th career USAC National Midget win, equaling him with Jerry Coons Jr., Stan Fox and Jason Leffler for 33rd all-time.

“Cannon, I feel, definitely had the best car. He was really fast,” Larson said. “But I noticed during the caution right before I got by him, his right rear radius rod had broken. I knew that would affect his balance some. I was able to get around 1 and 2 good, and then get around him in 3 and 4.”

The key for most was to avoid the pervasive perilousness that had entrenched so many on this night with 98 physically and mentally demanding laps that were a test of endurance. Pole winner Kevin Thomas Jr., was the enforcer early on, leading the first 20 circuits of the A-Main until a lap-21 restart that saw McIntosh hang 10 on the topside of turn 2 to drive past both Spencer Bayston for second and Thomas for the lead in the blink of an eye.

Moments later, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., endured the first of two Maalox moments, first flipping on lap 22 in turn 1 and again on lap 28 in turn 3. Thomas himself flipped on the 70th lap while running fourth in a tussle with lapped traffic.

Following the red for Thomas, it became just a common core sprint race with 29 laps to go and third-running Larson beginning to surge. With 22 laps remaining, second place Bayston hit a hole in between turns 3 and 4, knocking him sideways. Larson immediately pounced to the inside of Bayston to rip second away, the pair banging wheels as Larson scooted past to then lie just 0.75 second behind leader McIntosh.

That gap closed rapidly, Larson painting the 08 on McIntosh’s tail tank with a hint of chrome from his front bumper midway down the back straight with 12 laps remaining.

Just as traffic began to play a starring role, that bit part was cut from the ending when eighth-running Jesse Colwell stopped on the front straightaway on lap 87 to bring out the yellow flag. McIntosh was routinely high-quality on restarts in clean air while Larson seemingly made gains in traffic; but that didn’t hinder Larson from driving around McIntosh in a one-on-one match on the 88th lap in turn 3 to secure the lead.

As Larson extended the interval to two seconds over McIntosh, 2019 USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget champion Tyler Courtney flipped wildly on the front straight to necessitate a red flag and an ensuing green-white-checkered restart and finish. It took two attempts for the GWC, but Larson was in control throughout. Though McIntosh’s wounded machine put up a fighting effort at the end, it was just not enough to run down Larson.

Larson closed out his fourth series victory of the season by 0.893 second over McIntosh, Bayston, Jason McDougal and Carson Macedo in his Kyle Larson Open Wheel/Lucas Oil/iRacing/Finley Farms/King/Speedway Toyota.

Three seems to be a magic number for Kyle Larson. The win marked just the third occasion in USAC National Midget history that a driver won the final three races to conclude the season (Billy Boat 1995 and Larson in 2012).

For McIntosh, a native of Bixby, Oklahoma, a second-place run was much needed after a succession of peaks and valleys that saw the 16-year-old win his first career USAC National Midget race in March at the Southern Illinois Center to go along with several bits of bad luck and incidents that plagued the team throughout 2019. But it was a solid run nonetheless although, like their season as a whole, they had to fight tooth-and-nail to score their hard-earned runner-up result to earn Don Basile Rookie of the Race honors.

“My legs—I couldn’t really feel them there at the end,” said the driver after the first 98-lap race of his young career. “I was just trying to maintain a good pace. You can’t really just run out and go your hardest for the first 30, so I was just trying to be patient and smooth. I knew something was wrong toward the end, I just didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t affecting it too bad, but it happens; it’s part of racing.”

Meanwhile, Robert Dalby of Anaheim, Calif., wrapped up the 2019 USAC Western States Midget championship following a 26th place finish on Friday night to win by a final margin of 29 points over Cory Elliott. Dalby then announced his intentions to move himself and his racing operation to Indiana to chase the National trail in 2020.

Friday’s race marked just the sixth occasion during the USAC era, 1956-present, that the Turkey Night Grand Prix had not been run on Thanksgiving night. It had been 36 years since the last time, when it was run on Friday in 1983.

RESULTS

USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK NATIONAL & WESTERN STATES MIDGET RACE RESULTS: November 29, 2019 – Ventura Raceway – Ventura, California – 79th Turkey Night Grand Prix – 1/5-Mile Dirt Oval

FATHEADZ EYEWEAR/WOODLAND AUTO DISPLAY QUALIFYING: (Top-10 Locked into the Feature) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5, Petry-12.409; 2. Chase Johnson, 25x, Malloy-12.464; 3. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry-12.477; 4. Spencer Bayston, 19, Hayward-12.520; 5. Rico Abreu, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.549; 6. Michael Pickens, 1NZ, RMS-12.631; 7. Gio Scelzi, 84, Tucker/Boat-12.634; 8. Cannon McIntosh, 08, Dave Mac-12.645; 9. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-12.673; 10. Carson Macedo, 21, Tarlton-12.737; 11. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.752; 12. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.757; 13. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.774; 14. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.776; 15. Jason McDougal, 71m, FMR-12.787; 16. Kyle Larson, 1K, Larson-12.796; 17. Ethan Mitchell, 08m, Dave Mac-12.803; 18. Ben Worth, 5G, Alexander-12.831; 19. Buddy Kofoid, 97K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.851; 20. Daison Pursley, 98, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.862; 21. Carson Garrett, 15x, Garrett-12.888; 22. Jake Swanson, 73K, Ford-12.923; 23. Colby Copeland, 27w, Wood-12.930; 24. Cory Elliott, 11E, Elliott-12.932; 25. Carson Sousa, 01, Dalby-12.932; 26. C.J. Leary, 13, Gile-12.951; 27. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.983; 28. Kaidon Brown, 97w, Wood-12.987; 29. Jesse Colwell, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.018; 30. Ronnie Gardner, 68, Six8-13.018; 31. Justin Grant, 4A, RAMS-13.059; 32. Ryan Bernal, 77w, Wood-13.062; 33. Shane Golobic, 17w, Wood-13.108; 34. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., 17JR, Clauson/Marshall-13.134; 35. Andrew Layser, 47BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.137; 36. Damion Gardner, 4, Klatt-13.143; 37. Jake Bubak, 27B, Bourke-13.147; 38. Robert Dalby, 4D, Dalby-13.161; 39. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-13.165; 40. Brady Bacon, 73T, Ford-13.194; 41. Holley Hollan, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.197; 42. Maria Cofer, 71s, Campbell-13.234; 43. Dylan Ito, 73, Ford-13.244; 44. Karsyn Elledge, 1, Tucker/Boat-13.272; 45. Robby Josett, 73x, Ford-13.273; 46. David Prickett, 15DJ, Neverlift-13.284; 47. Daniel Robinson, 57D, McCreery-13.294; 48. Aaron Reutzel, 87, Tucker/Boat-13.304; 49. Chris Windom, 17BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.310; 50. Nick Drake, 7R, Ruston-13.328; 51. Chad Frewaldt, 4F, Frewaldt-13.476; 52. Johnathon Henry, 1x, LKK-13.511; 53. Terry Nichols, 1p, Nichols-13.555; 54. C.J. Sarna, 20, Sarna-13.566; 55. Mark Chisholm, 56x, Chisholm-13.580; 56. Dillon Welch, 81, Tucker/Boat-13.580; 57. Randi Pankratz, 8, Pankratz-13.590; 58. Matt Streeter, 3F, Finkenbinder-13.615; 59. Kyle Beilman, 31B, Beilman-13.618; 60. Tyler Edwards, 17s, Swanson-13.638; 61. Jake Morgan, 45, Morgan-13.780; 62. Mike Leach, Jr., 33, Leach-14.188; 63. Casey Hicks, 5H, Hicks-14.195; 64. Ron Hazelton, 15ws, Hazelton-14.368; 65. Bryan Drollinger, 71D, Drollinger-14.507; 66. Audra Sasselli, 1p, Nichols-17.696; 67. Emilio Hoover, 9H, Hoover-NT; 68. Chris Sheil, 91, Mason-NT.

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