CAMERON, Mo. (July 26, 2013)—Austin Brown led 23 of 30 laps en route to his first feature victory of the season and second of his career Friday in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series at US 36 Raceway.
The 23-year-old driver from Millstadt, Ill., was the leader for three restarts in the final seven laps and wasn’t challenged on any of them. Tyler Thomas of Collinsville, Okla., finished second and Chett Gehrke of Broken Arrow, Okla., was third.
“This (win) is great,” Brown said. “We had a fast car all night. I had to keep them guessing and I changed things up on the restarts.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for Brown, who has four top-fives, but only two more top-10s in 15 events.
“We’ve struggled with the car,” Brown said. “We were hopping last night (at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill.) and fell out with a broken rear end (finishing 14th) and we were still hopping a little tonight. After our heat, my team adjusted the car and I got better on the bottom.”
Brown started on the outside of the front row and led the opening 15 laps. Pole sitter Zach Daum changed his line on the 16th lap, going to the far outside, and passed Brown’s Spike-Esslinger. Daum was leading by several car lengths over Brown when the caution came out on the 23rd lap.
On the restart, Daum’s Toyota-powered Eagle was off the pace in turn one and Brown streaked by to regain the lead. Daum stayed on the track for two more laps before retiring from a loss of fuel pressure.
Garrett Aitken had run in third for the entire race and took over second and Thomas was third. Aitken, a 17-year-old from Paris, Ill., stayed within striking distance of Brown, hoping for a mistake that never came, and seemed headed for a career-best second. But on the final lap, Cody Ledger spun in turn one and brought out the caution.
On the final restart, Thomas went to the outside and roared past Aitken, who was down on power.
“It just started sputtering,” Aitken, who finished seventh, said.
Thomas has also been inconsistent this season. He had four top-sevens in the opening six features, but had a best finish of seventh in the next six races. Thomas crashed hard in a heat race at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill., on July 5. It totaled his Triple-X chassis and forced him to miss the event the next night. He and his crew chief father Brian spent long nights building a new Triple-X and missed only one event. The event at US 36 its fourth. Thomas drove the new Triple-X to seventh at Tri-City after finishing 11th at Wilmot (Wis.) Raceway and 14th at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wis.
“I needed that finish after the long summer we’ve had,” Thomas said. “I don’t think we had a second-place car, but luck went our way. I didn’t have any expectations except to finish. We haven’t had many finishes. Second is definitely a plus. It’s awesome.”
Gehrke celebrated his 29th birthday by passing three cars on the final lap to take third. He’s also had a difficult season. Gehrke crashed hard at Angell Park on May 25, forced to scrap his Skip Matteson-owned Spike. Gehrke owns an underpowered Ecotec-powered Spike and he tried running with it without success, failing to make the feature in four events. Gehrke had raced in only two features in eight events before getting Matteson’s Spike-Fontana back on Thursday, when he finished eighth at Tri-City.
“It hasn’t been much of a season,” Gehrke said. “This was a good night. We ran fourth for a lot of the race, but my left-rear tire began to go flat. I feel back a few positions and then it blew out. I drove slowly on the track and got the caution.”
Gehrke pitted, his crew changed the tire and he got back out without losing a lap.
POWRi championship leader Andrew Felker of Carl Junction, Mo., won his heat, but was unable to start the feature for the second straight night because of a mechanical problem. He finished 16th and saw his points lead over ninth-finishing Daum cut to 90, 2,120-2,030.
The POWRi National Midgets race tonight (Saturday) at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Mo.
POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series feature results (30 laps): 1. Austin Brown, 2. Tyler Thomas, 3. Chett Gehrke, 4. Terry Babb, 5. Seth Motsinger, 6. Cody Ledger, 7. Garrett Aitken, 8. Alex Sewell, 9. Zach Daum, 10. Brian Reick, 11. Colten Cottle, 12. Chad Frewaldt, 13. Jake Blackhurst, 14. Daniel Adler, 15. Parker Price-Miller, 16. Andrew Felker.
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