Sporting a black eye but a smile too, Kyle Larson made an emphatic return to the winner’s circuit in the Huntly International Speedway 40 Lapper – Round 4 of the United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series.
The tight quarter-mile track an hour south of Auckland had a good crowd in attendance for a series that had many storylines including Larson’s crash and speculation of his return.
The NASCAR star missed the penultimate race of the year at Baypark Speedway as well as the final hitout for 2019 at Western Springs Speedway. His absence and return was kept relatively quiet, confirmation of whether he would race at Huntly Speedway only officially came when he walked through the gates with gear bag in hand.
Larson’s absence and subsequent return wasn’t the only story doing the rounds. The departure of fellow NASCAR driver Christopher Bell who returned to America after crashing on Boxing Day at Western Springs Speedway was the talk of the town, locally and abroad.
The night got underway with Heat 1, an incident-free affair that went to Angola Indiana’s Zeb Wise in his first race at Huntly Speedway. He was followed by Australian Travis Mills and West Auckland’s Brock Maskovich in the Magnum Motors King-Toyota.
Heat 2 had a multicar incident when Brett Jnr. Morris and Zach Daum’s cars touched entering Turn 3 on the first lap. That sent Morris’s car rolling across corner entry. Several cars were forced to avoid and crashed themselves in doing so. David Pellow, Max Guilford and Kane Buck were all victims.
Shayne Alach also failed to finish Heat 2, which was won by newly crowned World 30 Lap Derby winner Tyler Courtney followed by Hayden Williams and current series point leader Zach Daum.
Daum’s teammate for the International Midget Series Logan Seavey got above the narrow race line and spun in Heat 3 to bring out the caution.
Fellow American Chris Windom crossed the line first but was relegated two positions for a jumped start. Windom persevered through a less than ideal series to date. The win was awarded to Maskovich with Peter Hunnibell second.
An incident-free Heat 4 was taken out by Michael Pickens in his refurbished King Chassis he had bent two nights earlier at Western Springs. Pickens was followed by Larson and an on-form Williams.
Daum took out Heat 5 with Ryan O’Connor second ahead of Courtney who started near the rear.
The track starting to widen out as the 10-lap Semi-Main took to the track. Shayne Alach rode the wheel of Hamish Dobbyn sending his car crashing into the wall. Also in the wars again was Morris who, for the second time, found himself inverted. Nathan Howard also involved and out of the race. Guptill, Seavey, Dobbyn and David Pellow all transferred to the 40-lap A-Main.
As the 20-car field was set an error was realised and Australian Midget driver Robert Heard on his first visit was added to the rear of the grid to correct the error.
The grid was set, Courtney and Maskovich in row one ahead of Daum and Wise then Williams and Larson.
Courtney won the start. With the inside lane proving faster Daum followed into second place. Maskovich came down to the low line in third. With fresh rubber and tails full of fuel, the field lifted wheels down the straight with some bouncing in the turns.
Courtney led with Daum, Williams, Maskovich and Larson in the top five after a brief intermission. Williams lost two spots to Maskovich and Larson but recovered well to regain both spots immediately.
Pickens from his 12th starting spot passed Wise and Larson for fifth momentarily before fading through the field to finish 14th
As the race continued Courtney’s right rear tyre began to delaminate and break apart. With less than five laps to go the car became un-drivable and made its way to the infield after dominating the race.
This gave Daum the lead who was fighting for position with Williams. Willams found himself spinning, however fortunate for a yellow flag to appear, placing him sixth but more importantly bunching the field closer.
Larson who had picked off both Wise and Maskovich in traffic and into third found himself inheriting outside the front row for the restart with six laps remaining.
At the start, Larson stayed alongside Daum and passed him around the outside. Behind them, Williams did the same to Maskovich and drag raced him down the front straight to the line to take the final podium spot.
Aaron Hodgson was fifth with Seavey, Guptill, Matthew McCutcheon, Jeremy Webb and Kaidon Brown all finishing in the top 10.
“I got lucky with Sunshine [Courtney] getting a flat and Hayden Williams spinning at the same time and me getting by Zeb, also at the same time to allow me to restart on the front row,” Larson said after the race.
Of his pass on Daum he said: “I could see he was running the bottom for a few laps before we got that caution so I knew I was going to have to try and squeeze around him and thankfully he left me enough room. It’s cool to get the win after everything that happened on Boxing Day.”
The Series now returns to Western Springs Speedway for the final two rounds with todays race being the 40-Lap King of the Springs.
Catch all the action from this meeting on demand at www.speedshifttv.com