VENTURA, Calif. – In a race that featured more plot twists than a Victorian novel, Justin Grant capped an exceptional racing season with a hard-earned victory in Saturday’s 81st Turkey Night Grand Prix for midget race cars at Ventura Raceway.
In chilly air at the one-fifth mile seaside oval, Grant took the lead from Tanner Thorson on Lap 84 of 98 and held it the rest of the way. After Thorson spun in Turn 3 in close pursuit of the race winner with eight laps left, Grant finished 1.367 seconds ahead of charging Kyle Larson, who started 22nd and grabbed the runner-up spot after a restart on Lap 91.
Grant already had secured the USAC Sprint Car Championship, but the victory at Ventura was his most significant in a midget car.
“It feels amazing,” Grant said. “I've been so fortunate this year—and really the last couple of years has all kind of led up to this building the Sprint Car team, helping build the midget team and just getting good, really good people on the Sprint Car side. We've got (crew chief) Dylan Cook, and Kevin Birchmeier (TOPP Motorsports owner) puts his trust in us to go and do our jobs. Here I've got Lacey Doyle, and Clinton Boyles comes with us sometimes.
“He was here and helped me this weekend—this whole swing... We've worked hard to build into this season. It feels good for myself to reap some of the benefits, but especially for our crew, our owners and our partners and everybody that's put their faith in us to go and do our jobs--and put their faith in me to do my job. So it feels amazing.”
The win at Ventura was the latest in a litany of achievements for the 32-year-old driver from Ione, Calif. It was his sixth victory of the season in the Toyota-powered No. 2J.
“We picked up the Sprint Car Championship, Sprint Week 4 Crown, Turkey night—it's a banner year for me,” Grant said. “And whether I'm winning or crash, I'm still here just living my dream and having an absolute blast. So all of this is the cherry on top, just to be in here.”
“It's Turkey night. I was a kid sitting in the stands with my dad watching midgets at Irwindale. I didn't come from a lot of money and never thought I'd ever get to drive one. Then I did start getting to drive some cars, and I didn't think I'd ever actually make a show. So to be a Turkey Night Grand Prix winner is beyond my wildest dreams and I'm just very, very happy.”
Behind Grant and Larson, Bryant Wiedeman ran a solid third, followed by Jake Andreotti and Kevin Thomas Jr., who had edged two-time USAC midget champion Buddy Kofoid for the pole position with a lap at 12. 207 seconds.
Kofoid led the first 44 laps before Cannon McIntosh passed him for the top spot, but Kofoid’s race came to an abrupt end as he was battling Thorson for the third position on Lap 67. Thorson jumped the cushion in Turn 2 and bounced toward the inside of the track.
Kofoid couldn’t avoid Thorson’s No. 88 racer. Contact with Thorson’s left-front tire launched Kofoid’s No. 67 into a series of flips at the transition to the backstretch.
“We ran up front and kind of faded a little bit,” Kofoid said. “I still felt like we were going to be OK with the laps that were left and the track getting slick. A car (Thorson’s) got crossed up in front of me and I just had nowhere to go and got over him. Didn't get to finish the last race of the season so that's kind of disappointing.”
On Lap 70, McIntosh lost control of his No. 8 Toyota in Turn 4 while leading and turned the top spot over to Carson Macedo, who had worked his way into the second position from his seventh-place starting spot.
Macedo, however, bounced into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 77, putting Grant into the lead. After the restart on Lap 78, Thorson passed Grant for the top spot, only to surrender it on Lap 86. Just when it appeared that Grant and Thorson would settle the issue between themselves, Thorson spun while trying to make a move to the inside of Grant. He finished 19th.
“I love racing with Tanner Thorson,” Grant said. “We took the gloves off and went at it. We were pulling every trick in the book out there.”
They also battled with consummate intensity—until Thorson ran out of magic.
After the final restart, Grant opened a lead of more than a second as Larson and Wiedeman battled for second, with Larson prevailing.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion was a late addition to the field, showing up on Saturday—after missing all of Friday’s practice—to drive Chad Boat’s No. 87 entry.
“Just kind of battle of attrition there,” said Larson, a three-time winner of the event. “Wasn't very good, just a lot of cars fell in front of me. Had some things work out and then just kind of said ‘Eff it’ there at the end and ran as hard as I could. I was able to run hard and get to second. Who knows, maybe I get a caution and I can have a shot at Justin, but just didn't get it. So, another second place for me at Turkey night, which is nothing to hang my head about.
“I had read a little stat earlier. I think my worst finish in maybe all 10 of the Turkey nights I ran is fourth. So, an average finish of about second is not bad, but I would have liked to have been one spot better. But thanks to Chad for putting this thing together for me last minute...it still takes a lot of work and effort by everybody on the team. Happy to have some fun, just got to get better.”