PARAGON, Ind. — The prevailing storyline during the opening night of Indiana Midget Week on Tuesday at Paragon Speedway was the struggle of the young Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports driver roster.
The midget racing super team brought seven drivers under the age of 22 to the six-night Hoosier State sojourn and it was clear from the start that, though, the group had speed, there were rough patches as well.
That was evidenced by 17-year-old Cannon McIntosh’s flip during hot laps, and while McIntosh was able to rally in a backup car and ultimately transfer through his heat race, several of his teammates weren’t as lucky.
Zeb Wise, the final car to qualify, got into turn one with a little too much speed and turned his No. 97 over in the middle of the corner. Wise endured a heavy barrel roll before his car came to rest.
While he was OK and later came back out in a backup car to race his way through the C-main, Wise’s night ended in the B-main after he was unable to work his way into the top six.
“Any time you switch between two cars (midgets and sprints), I feel like there’s an adjustment period and it showed in qualifying,” Wise explained. “I drove it in there too straight and a little too hard, kind of like I would have the winged car, and ended up going upside down pretty hard.
“That’s just part of it. We did our best and didn’t quite make it into the show, but we passed some cars and gave it a shot,” he added. “The track started cleaning off and taking rubber around the top in the B and I was trying to work the bottom. The outside came in more than I expected, but we did what we could.”
Max McLaughlin, who was making his midget debut with KKM at Paragon, also suffered from a subpar qualifying effort.
After he, too, was relegated to the C-main, McLaughlin worked his way into a transfer spot in that 10-lap contest before he caught an infield tire in turn two and flipped.
“I definitely learned a lot. We passed a lot of cars in our heat, but the way this format works, qualifying is so key,” said McLaughlin. “It’s crazy; it’s the first time I’ve dealt with a format quite like the USAC format. Having to run the C because we qualified badly was tough, but I got rolling well on the bottom and just had to check up a bit and tagged the tire. Just not what we wanted.”
The highest-finishing KKM driver was Buddy Kofoid, who ran ninth in the feature.
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was a pleasant surprise on the Paragon podium, earning a third-place finish in the No. 17jr for Clauson/Marshall Racing at the three-eighths-mile dirt oval.
Stenhouse landed in the invert Tuesday night and ran among the top five all race long, advancing onto the podium when third-place Gio Scelzi flipped during the closing laps.
Earlier in the night, Stenhouse raced side-by-side with his longtime friend and eventual winner, Kyle Larson, who passed Stenhouse near the midpoint in the feature.
“Our NOS Energy Drink No. 17jr was really good all night,” Stenhouse tipped. “I felt like I was a little rusty in qualifying and the heat race, but we really got rolling in the feature and the car just kept feeling better and better. When they started battling really hard, I thought I might have had a chance at running second, but third was where we ended up.
“All in all, it was a good solid night and we had a lot of fun. It was good to be back (at Paragon) after 13 years.”
• Speaking of Larson, the numbers behind his current winning streak are nothing short of incredible.
Larson has won six consecutive dirt-track races — three All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car features, two World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series features and Tuesday night’s NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series event at Paragon — and shows no signs of slowing down.
His Tuesday-night score is also the eighth straight midget victory Larson has earned in the United States. Larson won the last three USAC features in 2019, swept his preliminary night and the finale of the Gateway Dirt Nationals in December, and then added a Chili Bowl preliminary win and the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals finale to his win list as well back in January.
Larson will chase his next triumph Wednesday night at Gas City I-69 Speedway.
• Among those who just missed the cut to advance to the feature at Paragon was RMS Racing’s Clinton Boyles, who finished seventh in the 12-lap B-main and was one spot short of the sixth and final transfer position.
Boyles has been building speed with Dave and Matt Estep over the last month since debuting with the team.
“I got up to the transfer, but I was late to the rubber up top and it bit us,” Boyles said. “The driver just has to be better and more aware of things like that, but I’m excited to get to Gas City Speedway tomorrow! It’s a place where we have a lot of laps and I really think that can play in our favor.”
• On Wednesday at Gas City, the pits open at 3 p.m. ET, the grandstands follow at 5 p.m. and hot laps kick off at 6:45 p.m.
Sprint cars are also in action throughout Indiana Midget Week.