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Justin Grant in control of Indiana Midget Week

MIDGET WINNER: Indiana Midget Week feature winner Justin Grant, Ione, California, tools around Gas City/I-69 Speedway during Wednesday evening’s program.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

GAS CITY — While Justin Grant had complete command of the USAC Indiana Midget Week feature at Gas City/I-69 Speedway, he didn’t ease into victory circle Wednesday evening.

The Ione California driver in the field took advantage of his front row starting perch and led all 30 laps to capture his first Midget Week victory. Yet, five caution periods allowed the field of top open-wheel drivers to catch up, and Grant had to hold off 16 year-old Cannon McIntosh in a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.

“When you’re out front leading and the track is changing you don’t know what it’s doing and you don’t want restarts,” Grant said. “But (the cautions) were keeping us out of traffic and that was good, too, and it all worked out.”

In the accompanying sprint car feature, Kevin Thomas Jr., Cullman, Alabama, had a near wire-to-wire victory and rebounded from a disappointing performance in the Midget Week race. Thomas Jr. started second and took over the lead from polesitter Brady Bacon on the second lap.

Kole Kirkman, Kokomo, led all 15 laps and won the first ever 600cc micro-sprint race staged at Gas City from pole position.

Although Grant, 28, won for the first time in a midget at Gas City, he has been one of the track’s most successful sprint drivers over the past decade. Grant has six feature sprint wins, all non-USAC, with the last in 2014.

Grant out-dragged polesitter C.J. Leary to end the first lap and went on to build a more than 2 1/2-second lead before yellow flags began to slow the race. On each restart, Grant was able to get the jump on the field, but McIntosh made it interesting on lap 28 and was briefly side-by-side with Grant’s race car.

“The car was really really good and I caught the invert right and started on the front row and was able to stay out of trouble and finish it off,” Grant said.

McIntosh, Bixley, Oklahoma, is a rookie in the Lucas Oil POWRi USAC national midget series and already has a feature win at DuQuoin, Illinois, in March. He moved through the field of hard-charging accomplished drivers to take over second place on lap 15 and held it to the end.

Kyle Larson of NASCAR fame had an erratic race and fell back to ninth place before taking advantage of the late cautions to salvage a third place finish. Larson, Elk Grove, California, had won the 2013 Midget Week feature at Gas City.

The top five included Jason McDougal, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, who ran as high as second before settling for fourth, and former USAC midget champ Tanner Thorson, Minden, Nevada. Thorson just began a comeback from a serious highway auto accident in March.

“It was definitely a satisfying win,” Grant said of prevailing over the top field. “We put this team together, Rick Young and Jeff Taylor and I, and it’s real satisfying to get a win for those guys and our sponsors.”

Thomas Jr. was the only driver to successfully qualify for both midget and sprint features, while Thomas Meseraull and Brady Bacon attempted the double but missed out in the midgets. Thomas Jr. limped to a 16th place in the midget feature and had the added indignity of seeing his 2013 10-lap track record of 2 minutes, 6.16 seconds fall in the heat races. Tyler Courtney, the current USAC midget points leader, won his race in 2:05.54.

Yet, it was a different Thomas Jr. in the sprints and he overtook polesitter and initial race leader Bacon, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, on the second lap. Just like Grant in the midget final, Thomas Jr. had to sweat out four caution periods and repeated challenges from Bacon over the 25-lap race before pulling out his fifth career win at Gas City.

Max Adams, Loomis, California, made a late pass to gain a third place podium finish, while Corey Smith, Kokomo, took fourth and Meseraull, Waveland, rounded out the top five. Meseraull was attempting his fourth straight feature win at Gas City but could not overcome a 14th starting position. Smith had finished second in the previous feature race at Gas City on May 31.

Gas City was the second stop on the six-race Indiana Midget Week and Logan Seavey, Sutter, California, was the first feature winner Tuesday at Montpelier Motor Speedway. The series moved to Putnamville’s Lincoln Park on Thursday evening  and concludes at Kokomo Speedway on Sunday.

Thorson leads the Midget Week standings with 144 points and followed by Courtney with 137, McDougal 130, Seavey 126 and Zeb Wise 121.

Gas City is closed this evening but will resume racing June 14 with the “Jack and Jiggs” Classic. The program honors track owner Jack Himelick and former promoter Jiggs Thomason.