INDIANAPOLIS — Talk about a redemption. Kyle Larson was well on his way to winning this past Sunday’s Verizon 200 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before a couple of late cautions ruined those prospects. Three nights later, he was celebrating in victory lane on the inside of the 1/4-mile dirt track tucked into the third turn of the IMS oval instead.
It came in almost as wild fashion as the last Pursuit Race win that he had in 2019 when he was literally the last man standing.
On Wednesday night, 26 cars started but 11 of them were collected in an opening lap crash in Turn 2. It wasn’t as bad as an 11 lap Midget crash would seem as Aiden Purdue spun ahead of the field and collected almost half the field behind. A lot of the cars had no where to go but by stopping in the middle of the crash and the rule stating that if you’re collected in a caution that you’re out and can’t continue on even without much damage, it eliminated a lot of heavy hitters.
Spencer Bayston, Chris Windom, Logan Seavey, Buddy Kofoid, Thomas Meseraull, Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott were among those collected.
After the first round of cuts on Lap 5, pole sitter Jerry Coons Jr. and Chase Randall were eliminated as Coons dropped one spot but by the nature of starting on the pole, the only way he was going to win this exhibition race was to lead flag-to-flag.
Kyle Cummins then took over the lead on the initial lap after the restart and would dominate for most of the way. Cole Bodine’s night was cut short after making contact with Justin Grant on Lap 9. A lap later, Conor Daly stopped in Turn 3 and he too was out. Two more laps after that, Daison Pursley spun in Turn 4 and exited the race as a result leaving just a handful of cars remaining.
In the final five lap shootout, Cummins led Grant, Chase Briscoe, Larson and Tanner Thorson. Not long after we went green, Grant hit the cushion in the fourth corner and lost second place to Larson. Then, coming to the white flag, Cummins spun in Turn 4 which brought out the final caution and handed the lead to Larson who was charging hard prior to that.
Larson, held off Thorson for his second straight Stoops Pursuit Feature victory. He started 16th in doing so. Thorson, came from 18th while 22nd place starter Brady Bacon finished third.
“It would’ve been tough to get by him with the line that he was running, but I put a couple good corners together there to track him down a little bit,” Larson said. “Then, he just over-rotated there. I got lucky, for sure.”
Grant and Zeb Wise rounded out the top five as they were the only ones running at the finish.
The Stoops Pursuit capped off an exciting first night of grassroots racing at the Racing Capital of the World. The evening began with hot lap sessions, followed by heat races, which help set the field for Thursday’s qualifying.
Heat race winners Wednesday night: Cole Bodine, Chase Randall, Tyler Courtney, Purdue, Grant, Timms, Day and Cummins.
The night was punctuated by NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon, who served as the honorary starter for the Stoops Pursuit. Gordon also turned exhibition laps in a Clauson-Marshall Racing USAC Midget in front of the passionate short track racing fans, which he hadn’t done in 30 years, as well as waving the green flag to begin the Stoops Pursuit race.
“I’m just so thankful and thrilled for Clauson Marshall Racing and Driven2SaveLives for making this all happen, as well as IMS, and mainly all the fans for coming out and supporting dirt tracks and short track racing,” Gordon said. “That was a lot of fun.
“This is a challenging racetrack. I have a whole different perspective for these drivers right now. That cushion is real. That’s not a cushion; that’s a wall. I wasn’t going to leave here if I didn’t put that right rear on the cushion.”
Fittingly, Gordon was so excited about his role that he stayed for the entire event and waved the checkered flag to crown Larson the winner. Larson drives for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series, where he has five wins this season at the team with which Gordon earned 93 wins and four Cup Series championships.
Next year, Gordon will move into a leadership role at Hendrick Motorsports as the organization’s vice chairman. But before he does that, Gordon was surprised with a special announcement in front of the Shaw Grandstands after his exhibition laps.
Gordon, the 1989 USAC National Midget Series rookie of the year, 1990 USAC National Midget Series champion and 1991 USAC Silver Crown Series champion, was inducted into the USAC Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Other members of the Class of 2021 include all-time racing greats Dan Gurney, Jay Drake, Galen Fox, Johnny Vance, Doug Caruthers, Ray Nichels and Joe Shaheen.
The Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink continues Thursday with another jam-packed day of racing at The Dirt Track at IMS. Public gates open at 4 p.m., with hot lap sessions starting at 5 p.m.
Qualifying races begin at 6 p.m., and Main races at 7:45 p.m. will whittle the massive field of 72 cars down to 26 starters for the 39-lap feature event honoring the late Bryan Clauson, which begins at 9:30 p.m.
Tickets are still available at IMS.com and at the gates. All Shaw Grandstand seats are reserved, and tickets start at $44.