Justin Grant earned his second consecutive USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series’ victory, but it didn’t come easily as he had to hold off a late charge by Tanner Thorson to win Tuesday night’s feature event at Merced Speedway.
It marked Grant’s third victory in seven races on the USAC Western Swing and the fourth of the season for the California native. It was the 28th win for a Toyota-powered driver in USAC Midget car competition this season.
Thorson and Grant would start the race from the front row and the duo stayed in the top two throughout the 30-lap feature with Thorson taking the lead on the opening lap. Grant would stay right with him, trading slider after slider for the top spot throughout the opening five laps, but Thorson would hold the advantage at the flag stand.
The two leaders were separated by just .05 seconds after five laps when Grant would dive down under Thorson coming out of turn three to take the lead on lap six by .01 seconds. Thorson would continue to keep up the fight, but Grant would settle into the top spot while USAC point leader Buddy Kofoid ran third.
Through the midway point of the caution-free race, Grant stretched out more than a second lead, but he began to hit heavy traffic on lap 18, allowing Thorson to close quickly. With 11 laps remaining, Thorson cut the margin to just 0.6 seconds. With just eight laps remaining Thorson had pulled side-by-side with Grant, cutting the lead to 0.1 seconds as they diced through traffic. Thorson made one last big charge with three laps to go, but Grant was able to hold him off, then stretched his lead out over the last two laps to win by approximately six car lengths. Kofoid would finish third, followed by Emerson Axsom and Cannon McIntosh as Toyota-powered drivers captured four of the top five finishing positions.
With his third podium finish in the last five races, Kofoid stretched out his USAC point lead over defending series champion Chris Windom, who placed 11th, to 41 points with just two races remaining. A total of 168 points are still available over the two events.
USAC is back in action Wednesday night at Merced Speedway before closing out the 2021 campaign with the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway, Nov. 27.
Justin Grant, RMS Racing: “I’ve had a great RMS Racing midget all year. I feel like we’ve got a little bit of momentum and, with this USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget Series being so close, that can turn your whole year around. Over the first 10 laps, this was probably the best car I’ve ever driven. It was good to be able to hold Tanner off. This NOS Energy Drink Midget Series is so tough. It feels great to win. It’s very rewarding.”