Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 18, 2013

Midgets heat up Speedway

Bell tops Larson in exciting feature.

By BRETT BOWMAN Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — The 2013 version of Indiana Midget Week for the USAC Honda National Midget Series had been cluttered with frustrated fans and officials after a pair of subpar events. Those who witnessed all five shows agreed wholeheartedly that the best was saved for Sunday night at the Kokomo Speedway.

Late in the week, the parking lot at the track and the ticket booth were submerged in water. A yeoman’s effort by track workers paid off when a large crowd gathered to enjoy the Midget Week finale that saw young Chris Bell capture the feature as well as the title of 2013 Midget Week champion.

The tone was set early when both Kyle Larson and Rico Abreu eclipsed Dave Darland’s two-year old USAC midget track record. Larson was the first to better Darland’s mark of :13.149 when he piloted Keith Kunz’s Curb Records/Agajanian No. 71K to a time of :13.063. Abreu upped the ante a few cars later, also piloting one of Kunz’s cars, the No. 67K, with a pass of :13.009.

Fans who had complained about track conditions at the previous few stops for Midget Week were treated to an appetizer during the heat races as cars were all over the track. Once the green fell on the feature, things got really interesting as Brad Mosen rode the rim all the way around the ¼-mile bullring to pace the field the first 21 laps.

Larson, who finished second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Michigan Speedway, was in hot pursuit as he searched all over for a line to get past Mosen. Using the bottom of the track, Larson slipped by the Australian standout on the 22nd lap and it appeared he was well on his way to the win.

Bell, also from the Kunz stable and one of Larson’s best friends, was hooked up flawlessly on the high side and when Larson nearly flipped, Bell took the lead on the 27th lap. Bell then had to hold off the persistent Larson the remaining three laps to secure his second win in the previous five nights.

“This is my first time racing here and this place is great,” said Bell. “That was awesome racing with Kyle out there. In the early going I could see Mosen up high and Kyle was strong on the bottom. I was watching them and to see what they were going to do, then when I got to second place I just decided to go for it. When I ran the B-main I got to try some different things and see just how hard I could push the car around this place. I tell you what, this is an awesome car and engine because I don’t think I let out of the throttle at all during the race. This car did a helluva job.”

Larson’s second-place run proved bittersweet.

“I’m glad for Bell,” said Larson. “He’s one of my best friends and a great teammate. It just kind of stinks finishing second. I’m getting tired of running second. I just got into [turn] one a little hot and about turned the car over, but I saved it and that was all he really needed. He had a great car and it was a fun race.”

Caleb Armstrong was third, Mosen fourth and Zach Daum fifth. Brady Bacon, Bryan Clauson, Jerry Coons Jr., 2012 Midget Week champ Darren Hagen and Kevin Thomas Jr. completed the top 10. Thomas was awarded the Hard Charger of the race after starting 22nd. Darland was 12th.

Only minutes after finishing second, Larson had a chance to redeem himself as he climbed back into a non-wing sprint car for just the fifth time since a nasty crash at Eldora during the 2012 4-Crown Nationals.

Behind the wheel of the Indiana Underground No. 37RW, the phenom started inside the fifth row for the 25-lap A-main. The first 14 laps saw Clauson in the Tony Stewart Racing/Chevy Performance/Kistler No. 20, Robert Ballou and Larson separate themselves by nearly a straightaway advantage as they jockeyed for the lead. Ballou led the first six circuits before Clauson took the point with the other two in hot pursuit.

With Clauson riding the rim out front, Larson slipped by Ballou for second with just 10 laps remaining. Each lap Larson managed to whittle away at Clauson’s lead, finally getting alongside with less than five laps remaining.

Coming to the white flag, Larson made the right choice with lapped traffic as he split a pair of lapped cars while Clauson had to lift ever so slightly. That was all Larson needed to score the win.

“I sort of felt like this track owed me one,” said Larson. “When I was here with the World of Outlaws I think I should have won that one but I got tangled up with a lapped car when I was leading. Then the midget race earlier [Sunday]. To be honest, when I saw that Clauson was out front I didn’t really like our chances. He’s pretty much the man to beat when it comes to racing at Kokomo. But the track was great and there were three and four grooves to run in. I’m just fortunate that I chose the line I did on that white flag lap with the lapped cars.”

Shane Cottle turned in an impressive performance, finishing third with Ballou and quick-qualifier Wes McIntire trailing him in the top five. Coons was sixth, Scotty Weir seventh, Darland eighth, Logan Jarrett ninth and Jarrett Andretti 10th. Former track champion Dustin Smith was 17th.

A scary moment occurred on the fourth lap of the feature when Kokomo’s Josh Spencer took a nasty flip in turn one while battling for third. His Half Moon Restaurant and Brewerey/Colescott’s Mobil One No. 66J landed on top of McIntire’s car and sustained heavy damage. He was transported to the hospital for evaluation.

Spencer posted on his Facebook page later that he was home, but suffered a concussion and was very sore.

Craig Walker led from green to checkered in the 15-lap Street Stock feature, but had to fend off a determined Brandon Roundtree down the stretch to become the first two-time feature winner of the season.

In the closing laps, Roundtree was all over the rear bumper of Walker’s No. 3W. The pair made contact down the front stretch on the white flag lap, but Walker was able to fend off the challenge.

“I might have pinched [Roundtree] there a little bit,” said Walker. “But, he got into my left rear quarter pretty good a couple of times too. I just got out front and got into a rhythm and didn’t really hear anything then he was right there with me.”

David Short was third behind the pair and Bryan Martin fourth. Dave Hurst rounded out the top five. Landon Miller was sixth, Glen Gamblin seventh, Kaleb Nutter ninth and Gary Mock 10th among local drivers.

The track returns to action June 30 with the Thunder Car Showdown.