MERCED, Calif. – In crunch time, you’ve got to deliver the goods if you want to reap the awards.
Buddy Kofoid brought the hammer and nail to California’s Merced Speedway on Wednesday night and, ultimately, arrived one step closer to sealing up the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship in the penultimate round of the series.
The Penngrove, Calif., native took control of the feature with 14 laps remaining, then prevailed following a bevy of late-race restarts to score his sixth series victory of the season in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/Mobil 1 – TRD – Toyota/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
Kofoid extended his lead to 47 in the series’ title race entering the season finale this Saturday night at southern California’s Ventura Raceway for the Turkey Night Grand Prix, where another standard Kofoid performance would cement a championship season.
Kofoid maximized his effort, and point total, to open and close the curtain on the evening at Merced, earning his long-awaited first USAC National Midget fast time during Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying with a new one-lap track record run of 11.635, erasing the mark of 11.714 set by Carson Macedo 24 hours earlier.
Winning and winning often are two traits that make championship seasons easier to come by. After going more than five months sans a feature win, Kofoid broke through with a score at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway on Nov. 16 and one more for good measure, five races later.
Kofoid’s Merced win included a hurdle that had stood in his way for over a calendar year after finishing second in both of his two most recent USAC National Midget feature starts at the track dating back an entire calendar year.
“It’s really cool to get my sixth win,” Kofoid said. “We were close here last year, so I’m glad that we could be one spot better and pick up another win. We got some more points, which is crucial going into Ventura. But there’s nothing like winning; it’s pretty damn cool.”
Kofoid started his race from sixth while CB Industries teammates Jade Avedisian and Kofoid’s championship challenger, Chris Windom, occupied the front row. Windom nailed the start and tore around the outside of Avedisian to take over the top spot.
By lap seven, Kofoid had clawed his way to second with a slider of Avedisian between turns three and four. Avedisian, the 15-year-old Californian making just her sixth career series start, wasn’t gunshy on trading barbs with Kofoid as she countered Kofoid’s move with one of her own in turn one on the eighth lap, retaking the lead briefly before Kofoid got the last word a half-lap later in turns three and four on the cushion.
A lap past halfway of the 30-lap distance, Kofoid tracked down Windom, diving underneath the defending champ in turn three to occupy the spot briefly, but Windom turned down with great zeal and blitzed past Kofoid off the fourth corner to maintain the lead by a half-car length.
Suddenly, on lap 17, seventh starting Tanner Carrick became a player in the game, crawling the bottom to position himself in third place alongside Windom in turn two. However, Kofoid kicked a shine and split between the pair at the exit of two, promptly shooting out the other side and into the lead while Carrick slotted into second ahead of Windom.
“When Chris gets out front, he can set a really good pace himself and, sometimes, it’s hard to beat them when they’re in clear air,” Kofoid explained. “I felt like I could run the top really hard in turns one and two. If anything, I thought we were kind of even in three and four, then it just got too far around, so I just started sliding myself and picking it up off and it started to work. Luckily, (the track surface) started getting dark and I could see it taking rubber, so I got back up at the right time.”
Carrick’s thrill ride came to a crashing conclusion while running second, 1.1 seconds behind Kofoid, with seven laps to go. At that moment, Carrick snagged the turn one cushion, sending him spiraling upside down over the banking and through turns one and two, to grandmother’s house we go. Carrick walked away unscathed.
While Kofoid decidedly had everything check at the front of the field, Avedisian cut in between the championship contenders on the lap 24 restart to put herself into second and in a prime position with a shot at becoming the first woman to ever win a USAC National Midget feature event.
Thomas Meseraull (17th) walked away from a lap 26 flip in turn two, setting up a restart with five laps remaining that saw Kofoid once again establish the alpha role as the leader of the pack while Avedisian and Windom tussled it out for second, each taking their respective turns in front of the other until both Windom (top) and Grant (bottom) simultaneously jetted by Avedisian for second and third at the exit of turn two.
Meanwhile, those two were just a distant note to Kofoid during the final stretch, stretching out to a comfortably pleasant 1.529 second victory over Windom, Grant, Avedisian and Logan Seavey.
Windom’s title defense now sees just a small glimmer of hope following Kofoid’s recent tear. Windom makes note of the little things that have compounded of late in comparison to point leader Kofoid throughout USAC’s western tour in November following the Canton, Illinois driver’s runner-up finish.
“They’re just on their game now,” Windom said of Kofoid and KKM. “We aren’t on top of it. I made a couple mistakes at Placerville, and we just haven’t been that good here. I felt really good the first part of that race, then we ran out of tire, and I was just barely hanging on for second at the end. Luckily, we still ended up second to keep it alive going into Ventura, but Buddy and his crew are on top of their game. They deserve where they’re at. We’ll go to Ventura, and you never know what can happen; we’ll give it our best.”
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