GAS CITY, Ind. – One night after finishing a lap down with an ill-handling race car, Justin Grant wired the field to win the second round of USAC’s Indiana Midget Week at Gas City I-69 Speedway on Wednesday.
Grant got the jump on the initial start from the outside pole, seizing command of the race from fellow front-row starter C.J. Leary, and held off several late challenges from 16-year-old Cannon McIntosh en route to victory at the quarter-mile black dirt oval.
Wednesday night’s win was Grant’s first USAC victory with RAMS Racing, the fourth of his NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series career and his first triumph during Indiana Midget Week.
It marked a welcomed turnaround for Grant, who opened his week Tuesday night at Montpelier Motor Speedway with a disappointing 18th-place finish.
“Suffice it to say, Justin Grant had a toolbox issue last night and we came back and made sure that didn’t happen again tonight,” Grant told SPEED SPORT after the race. “What’s great about this team is the people who are constantly building you up. At Montpelier, I really let my car owners and my team down in our race prep. But the first text message I got after the race was from (car owner) Rick Young, who said, ‘I’m not upset in the least. Every time I see that car on track, I’m proud of it. Go win tomorrow.’
“I’m proud to say that we took Rick’s encouragement and did exactly that,” he added. “I felt really good out of the gate. It was a little tight, which was a good thing, but the track really came to us in a hurry. … I actually got worried after the first caution because I thought we were too good too early, but it was OK.”
That might have been a bit of an understatement from Grant, as he jumped out to a hefty lead over Jason McDougal in the first two laps before the caution waved for a stopped Jesse Colwell in turn three.
After the field was restacked, Grant picked up right where he left off, running away from McDougal as a surging McIntosh used a power move off turn four to take third from polesitter Leary on the fifth round.
It took 10 more laps before McIntosh would have a chance at the runner-up spot, but he got his opening when Shane Golobic spun high in turn four to bring out the night’s second of three yellow flags. Though Golobic got refired and continued, the fast qualifier’s chances at a good finish evaporated at that point.
McIntosh, meanwhile, kicked his quest into high gear on the next restart. He rolled past McDougal to move into second before Colwell spun to bring out a lap-16 caution, then did his best to stay with Grant when the green flag waved again with 14 to go. That was to no avail, though; Grant was just too strong.
The final shot for McIntosh came courtesy of back-to-back cautions with two laps left. Tucker Klaasmeyer stalled in the fourth corner to set up a green-white-checkered finish, where McIntosh got a run on Grant for the lead before the latter driver chopped down in turn one to defend the position.
“On the second to last restart, I let the motor get loaded up and it didn’t take off,” Grant recalled. “Then I got tight, missed the bottom and was hanging off turn four and down the frontstretch … and I thought we were in trouble. Fortunately, our car was good enough and I was able to get back to the bottom of (turn) one quick enough and shut the door on that.”
Grant didn’t squander a second chance to get the restart right, after Karsyn Elledge and Jerry Coons Jr. crashed in turn four before he could come around for the white flag. He jetted away from McIntosh when it counted and held off the Oklahoma teenager on the second green-white-checkered attempt, crossing the finish line in front by .197 seconds.
McIntosh was duly pleased, however, after a stronger qualifying effort on night two of Indiana Midget Week led him to a far more solid finish than he had in the opener.
“I was definitely happy to have another shot at Grant after he chopped me, but I didn’t have too much in the way of brakes at the end, so I’m just happy to come away with a great finish,” said McIntosh. “This comes back to qualifying, though. We were buried on Tuesday and didn’t want to have that happen again. Thankfully tonight, we started where we should have and made moves at the right times.”
After starting fifth and dropping back as far as ninth on the opening lap, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson rallied to complete the podium for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports.
McDougal faded to fourth at the finish and Tanner Thorson completed the top five.
Michael Pickens, who was running third before the first lap-29 restart, ran out of fuel on the final restart of the night and fell out of contention for the win. He was relegated to 22nd in the final finishing order.
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