Kyle Larson on his way to victory in Sunday's Bettenhausen 100. (Mark Funderburk Photo)
Kyle Larson on his way to victory in Sunday's Bettenhausen 100. (Mark Funderburk Photo)

Larson Delivers During Bettenhausen 100

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Kyle Larson became the 15th driver to win Champ Car races on the three Midwest dirt miles of DuQuoin, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon by winning the 57th running of the Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear.

Meanwhile, Justin Grant reached the mountaintop of the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series, winning the series title aboard his Hemelgarn Racing/NOS Energy Drink – Super Fitness – Hemelgarn Enterprises/DRC/Speedway Ford. It’s the first USAC National driving championship for Grant as well as the first series owner title for Ron Hemelgarn.

Larson joined an exclusive list of winners at all three iconic tracks alongside Jimmy Bryan, Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Tom Bigelow, Pancho Carter, Gary Bettenhausen, George Snider, Chuck Gurney, Jack Hewitt, Jimmy Sills, J.J. Yeley and Kody Swanson.

“I’ve been able to win at all three (of the miles) I’ve been able to race at,” Larson exclaimed. “They’re all really historic races with a long history. In USAC, there’s already so much history, so to add your name to any sort of list and put it in the record books is really cool.”

Larson’s most recent, and only, Springfield Mile appearance came nine years ago in 2011, a fourth-place result. Larson has visited a plethora of racetracks everywhere from coast-to-coast in the near decade since and has won at many of them. For him, Springfield was akin to a new experience all over again.

“Outside of the shape, the banking and the length of the straightaways, I couldn’t remember anything about it,” Larson recalled. “It was fun to be able to run the top early in the race before it took rubber, and once it did, it kind of turned into a pavement race with more strategy.”

Larson started the 100-miler from the outside of the front row as pole sitter Justin Grant raced away to the lead. Fourth-starting Brady Bacon followed suit as he rode the high line around Larson for second. Larson raced back by Bacon around the outside in turn two on the eighth lap, and on lap 11, Larson utilized the same line in the second turn to pull even with Grant, then closed the door by scooting to the inner guardrail to secure the race lead.

Larson was dominant throughout the first 50 laps, holding a 10-car length lead with Grant 1.3 seconds back in second, and Bacon, Jacob Wilson and Shane Cottle running inside the top-five. A 32-lap green flag run allowed Larson to find his rhythm in relative comfort without extensive pressure, helping set up his blueprint for the final sprint to the checkered.

“I like the longer runs just because I feel like you don’t go through a transition with your tires heating up and cooling down, so I feel like it’s easier on the tires and it helps you get into a rhythm too,” Larson explained. “I was happy for the long runs, but happy to get the cautions when we did as well. It was nice to get to the lead early and get there before it took rubber on the bottom. Then, I could kind of ride, save fuel and save my tires and try to get after it there at the end.”

The lengthy green flag run ended when championship contender Kyle Robbins wedged his left front wheel in the turn three inside guardrail on lap 64, ending his day and bid for a title after entering the event third in the standings.

When racing resumed, Larson checked out once again to the tune of a nice two-second advantage following the lap 69 restart ahead of Grant, Bacon, Wilson and Shane Cottle.  Although, Cottle, another title contender, fell by the wayside with mechanical trouble on the 80th lap, putting him out of contention and elevating David Gravel, making his Silver Crown debut, into the top-five after starting last on the grid, 26th, after a penalty was levied against him for requiring a push start to begin his race.

Gravel was now the man on the move as he picked his way to fourth on the 83rd lap past Wilson, then to third after ducking under Bacon in turn two. Meanwhile, Grant, in the midst of chasing a title, wasn’t content to ride around in the waning stages, and instead, closed the gap on Larson to three car lengths with 10 to go as Gravel began tracking both him and Larson down.

On the 95th lap, Larson untangled himself from the web of traffic, discarding with the first couple before encountering rookie Bryan Gossel. Larson shot to the bottom in turn one underneath Gossel, passing him to give himself some breathing room. Grant attempted to get by as well, and nearly got hung up on the rear bumper of Gossel as both cars drifted up the race track.

Gravel jumped through the open door to get to second while Grant shook loose and resumed his race now in the third position, still plenty good enough for a championship run.

Time ran out on Gravel to make a charge, but the time was just right for Larson who raced to his fourth career Silver Crown victory in his 11th start. Gravel advanced 24 positions to finish second to Larson. Grant finished third to capture the USAC Silver Crown championship by 44 points. Bacon took fourth while Jacob Wilson, making his season debut, finished in the fifth position.

While Larson’s celebration commenced on the front straightaway as the race winner, Grant reveled in the reward of totality after claiming the season championship.

“We’ve finished second to Kody a handful of times, so it feels good to win one, finally, for Ron Hemelgarn and Dennis LaCava and Jason, who helps on the car, and everybody involved,” Grant said. “We had a really good car today, and I think we had something for Larson before we got caught up with a lapped car.  I’m a little disappointed we didn’t win the race, but really happy we won the championship and really happy for my guys; they deserve it.  They brought me a great racecar, which was one of the best mile cars I’ve had in long time.  It was a lot of fun today and I’m glad we got it done.”

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