After being disqualified in an Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car race Saturday night at the Dirt Oval at Route 66, Kyle Larson came back to win the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series “Summer Slash” feature.
In the USAC National Midget race, Larson set a track record in his first visit to the 3/8-mile dirt oval and started the feature sixth. He was contending for the lead by the first lap and took the lead on the third circuit. His lead grew until Lap 10 when JJ Yeley flipped down the frontstretch. He was uninjured.
Larson and Logan Seavey then dueled for the lead after the race resumed.
“I felt like I was running good laps,” Larson told usacracing.com. “Then, Logan threw a slider on me. I guess I was running 90 percent. I was like, ‘crap, I got to step it up,’ and that’s when I started making mistakes.”
Larson withstood the challenge and went on to win. Tyler Courtney was second. Tanner Carrick placed third.
The victory was the first this year for Larson and the 16th of his career in the National Midget Series.
Consider it an early candidate for finish of the year in motorsports.
NASCAR Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, taking advantage of an off weekend for that series, and Jonathan Beason had a dramatic finish Sunday in the sixth annual Turnpike Challenge at Port City Raceway in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Beason nipped Bell in the POWRi Lucas Oil National/West Midgets race that saw them make contact at the finish line. Bell’s car climbed over Beason’s right rear tire and tipped over after the checkered flag waved, leading the race announcer in the video below to exclaim “Holy smokes!” The margin of victory was 0.020 seconds. It was Beason’s first series win.
“It is pretty neat, but I’m not real happy with myself on how that turned out,” Beason said in victory lane, according to the POWRi series website. “I was quite surprised that Christopher left the bottom open and of course it stuck for me and I got on the gas on exit and it just went right. I don’t want to ever wreck anybody. I’m happy to get the win, and I’m glad we are as fast as him and Keith Kunz Motorsports, but I would rather us both cross the line without hitting.”
Said Bell, according to the POWRi series website: “I needed more than a couple of laps to build my momentum on the top, and I knew that he was good on the bottom, but I didn’t feel like I could outrun him down low, so I felt like my best bet was to stay committed to the top. It’s really cool to come back home and run as good as we have this week, it’s a special feeling for me.”
Bell competed in four POWRi midget races in the Turnpike Challenge in Oklahoma. He won at Creek County Speedway in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, on Thursday. Bell finished second to Logan Seavey at I-44 Riverside Speedway in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Friday. Bell finished third to Seavey and runner-up Tyler Thomas at that track on Saturday. And then there was Sunday’s spectacular finish.
Friday 5: Why Christopher Bell won’t have a full-time Cup ride in 2019
So why wasn’t Bell introduced as the driver of the No. 95 car?
“Between ourselves and Joe Gibbs Racing, we’ve been very intentional about Christopher’s development,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “Was there some conversation? Absolutely. But we collectively decided to stay the course and genuinely believe it will serve Christopher to invest another year (in Xfinity). It’s not going to hurt him.
“One of the challenges of this new alliance is next year we’re … starting from some respects from ground zero (with a new partner in Leavine Family Racing). I don’t think it’s fair to put a rookie driver in the midst of that. This is why Matt will be a good fit. His experience will lend itself to building this alliance and building the level of competitiveness.”
Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing, which will cease operations at the end of this season, in the Toyota camp. But the two teams are very different. Leavine Family Racing is behind where Furniture Row Racing was when it joined Toyota in 2016. Furniture Row Racing had already won in Cup. Leavine Family Racing has not. Even though both are single-car teams this year, car owner Bob Leavine said his team has 35 employees, about half the number that work at Furniture Row Racing. Leavine also said he doesn’t have the budget Furniture Row Racing has.
Wilson’s focus of building Leavine Family Racing is understandable.
Wilson confirmed that Toyota Racing Development will support five Cup teams next year — the four Joe Gibbs Racing teams and Leavine Family Racing — and no more.
But there’s still a way for Bell to run some Cup races next year. Leavine said he planned to ask Wilson about Toyota Racing Development providing an extra engine to run Bell from time to time.
“That’s for them to decide,” Leavine said. “We’re just going to be available if they want to do it to put it all together and make it all work.”
Joe Gibbs Racing, which will provide the cars to Leavine Family Racing, also would have to be able to build cars for those extra races.
Wilson is open to the idea of a second Leavine Family Racing car running at times if it makes sense.
“We’ve not made any definitive plans along those lines but certainly it gives us some options,’’ he said. “The challenge in doing that is making sure that you do it in a manner, not that you expect to win per say, (but) you can risk spreading your resources too thin.
“Next year will be our first year with LFR and the priority needs to be building their capabilities and building their success, so if we have the opportunity to do something creative like that without compromising our primary mission, then we might take a look at that.”
The 17-year-old is fifth in the points in her first season in the series. Is her win and two runner-up finishes this season enough to have her run a Toyota Truck at Martinsville or Phoenix later this season?
“There’s no plans right now to put her anywhere this year,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “We’re still working very closely with Hailie and the family about the right steps, the next steps. I don’t think we’ve made any definitive decisions at this point.”
So what about a Truck next year?
“There’s not a plan,” Wilson said. “You need to put her experience in perspective. She’s literally only run 20-something races on pavement and is 17 years old. She just need mores races, more laps, more seat time. There’s not a burning urgency of we’ve got to get her in a truck.”
A possibility for her could be to move to the K&N Pro Series East next year and run the full season there.
Another Toyota driver looking to move up the development ladder is Seavey, who leads the USAC National Midget standings and seeks to become the third rookie to win that championship.
“We have a lot of faith and belief in Logan,” Wilson said. “What we’ll see with Logan is just more pavement time. We’ve got some great relationships across the Super Late Model ranks and I would expect next year that we give him some more opportunities with (those) races and maybe some K&N and ARCA. He’s definitely on the right track and we’re excited about his potential.”
3. Right from the start
Kyle Busch and wife Samantha have been open about their struggles to have children and that they had to go through in vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in May 2015.
Kyle and Samantha both recently announced that they are wanting to give Brexton a baby sister and said they planned to share all the ups and downs they go through during this process publicly.
“If we only showed the good times, and we only showed when it was a success and went well, that’s not fair to all the women that have (not had stories that have gone like that),” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, and it is a little scary to know that things may come up down the road that may not be as easy as last time, but for all those couples out there that need to go through this or have gone through this and need to know that they’re not alone and need to understand that this can happen to anybody, I think it’s important to start from the beginning this time.’’
Samantha said she has begun taking a shot a night to prepare her body for the process and will be scheduled to have additional shots before the in vitro fertilization takes place.
“I think it was already done” by then, Knaus said of the decision.
Johnson was second and in a position to advance to this round of the playoffs but challenged Martin Truex Jr. for the win and spun in the final chicane. The result was that Johnson lost enough spots and Kyle Larson gained a spot on the last lap to forge a three-way tie among Johnson, Larson and Aric Almirola for the final two transfer spots. Larson and Almirola advanced based on their best finish in the first round was better than Johnson’s best.
“That was … heartbreaking,” Knaus said Thursday of the Roval finish, (but) that was not part of it. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did.
“I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there. I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was ‘go get his ass.’”
Said Johnson: “I was crossing the start/finish line watching the white flag wave when he said that… yeah, that is what we do, we are there to win.”
5. New frontier
With Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus splitting after this season, Knaus will become William Byron’s crew chief.
Byron is excited about the opportunity to work with the seven-time champion crew chief and knows it will push him to be better.
“I think Chad is going to be brutally honest with me, and I’m okay with that,” Byron said Thursday. “I want to succeed in this sport. That’s my number one goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.”
Although Knaus is 47 and Byron is 20, Byron says he sees similarities with Knaus.
“Probably attention to detail,” Byron said. “Type A personality. I don’t like excuses so that will fit well.”
Knaus said he’s “so geeked up” to be working next year with Byron and the No. 24 team, a team Knaus worked for when he started at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993.
Jimmie Johnson said he thinks the pairing of Knaus and Byron will be good.
“I am really excited for William,” Johnson said. “We have chatted quite a bit about it, and I feel that William is a lot like me. He likes to be coached along. I think there are some personalities that liked to be coached and others that don’t thrive or succeed in that environment. William is a lot like me in that he likes to be coached and with Chad’s wisdom and years and experience his intensity and desire to win, I think it could do a lot of good for him.”
Ben Rhodes recorded the fastest time in qualification for the Eldora Dirt Derby with a lap of 86.801 mph, but he will have to wait until after his qualification race to know if he will lead the field to green. With his fastest lap, Rhodes will be credited with winning the pole.
Qualification sets the grid for five heat races with the fastest qualifier starting on the pole in race one. The second fastest qualifier will lead the field to green for the second heat race, and so on.
The top five in each qualification race will advance to the A Main with the winner of race one leading the field to green. The winner of the second heat will start alongside him on the front row.
Rhodes beat dirt midget racer Logan Seavey (86.747 mph) by .013 seconds. Seavey is making his Camping World Truck Series debut.
The two-time series champion is the only former Derby winner in the field. The ThorSport Racing driver claimed his only win of 2017 at Eldora, a reward for having set out to better himself at dirt racing the last few years.
“I feel it’s difficult,” Crafton said Monday in media teleconference. “But a lot of the dirt guys probably don’t think so. I came from an asphalt background, and I’ve raced some dirt in the last four or five years just because I knew we were going to Eldora, and last year I just went and bought my own dirt car, just bought my own modified and went and raced, oh, 12, 15 races last year and put a lot of focus on it just because I thought that was such a cool race to be able to win and get that golden shovel and that trophy and say we won on asphalt, we won on dirt, we’ve won some other places. So that was a very sweet victory for sure.”
He’s winless this season, as he was entering this race in 2017, but Crafton doesn’t see “why we can’t” become the first repeat winner of NASCAR’s only national level race on dirt.
“We definitely should be able to if we put ourselves in the right position,” Crafton said. “There’s got to be a lot of the dirt ringers, if you want to call them that, and the guys that race dirt every week.”
Who are some of the dirt “ringers” who look to prevent Crafton’s repeat bit?
There’s Stewart Friesen, the dirt modified winner turned Truck regular who finished runner-up to Crafton last season.
Dirt modified drivers Kyle Strickler and RJ Otto will also make their series debuts with smaller teams.
“They’re going to be very tough, and hopefully they race with respect and don’t tear you up,” Crafton said. “That’s some of the things that I worry about. A lot of them are coming out here, and it’s going to be their one shot to drive a truck, and they don’t get to go race Martinsville or any other place, and they’re going to get to come to Eldora, and hopefully they respect us like we would respect them if we came into their series on one of their big shows.”
Crafton may as well have been talking about Logan Seavey.
The 21-year-old native of Sutter, California, is a Toyota Racing Development driver set for his NASCAR debut tonight with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Sutter is the 2017 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series champion and currently leads the point standings while driving for Keith Kuntz Motorsports.
“I guess I was the next guy in line,” Seavey told NBC Sports. “I was sitting there talking with Jack (Irving)(Toyota Racing Development’s Director of Team & Support Services) one day and he just randomly said, ‘Hey, do you want to run Eldora?’ Of course the answer is ‘Yes.'”
Seavey has never competed in a race at Eldora and wasn’t expecting to until later this year.
“I think for all disciplines of dirt racing Eldora is the Mecca of racing,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a huge one on the bucket list and like I said before, I never really expected my first time there to be in a Truck. I would have more thought a midget or a sprint car.”
Seavey, who is driving the No. 51 Toyota, once thought the idea of competing in NASCAR as a “pretty far fetched goal” until TRD came calling.
“That path became a lot more clear,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a possibility now. It’s definitely one of my goals, try to make it racing in NASCAR.”
He barely had time in recent weeks to prepare for his first NASCAR race due to his busy midget schedule that included six races (and one win) in four states over 10 days. That resulted in roughly four hours spent at KBM in two separate visits.
But his resources in preparation included Christopher Bell, who earned his first Truck Series win in 2015 at Eldora while racing for KBM.
“He had lot of advice to give me this week,” Seavey said. The biggest piece of advice? “I think it’s just find your limit in practice. You don’t want to have to run real hard in the race and not know how the truck’s going to react. That’s something that happened to him last year. He ran hard in the middle of the race and spun out and wrecked his truck. I think you’re going to have to find your limits in practice … just get as comfortable as possible. That way you can limit your mistakes throughout the race and hopefully come out of there with a clean truck.”
Seavey said there is “definitely a fine line” when it comes to racing his own race and competing for the win against series regulars who are also gunning for points.
“At the end of the day if you want to make it in this sport, you gotta run up front and you gotta win races,” Seavey said. “I think that’s your No. 1 goal, to run up front and win. You obviously want to gain the respect of the other racers, especially if you’re hoping to compete in the series later. But at the same time, you might not get to that series if you don’t run hard and try to win. … But you obviously got to do it with respect and not make other people too mad and make yourself look bad.”