Buddy Kofoid overtook Kyle Larson with just three laps to go, then held off his Keith Kunz Motorsports (KKM) teammate to win the 30-lap USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series’ November Classic at Bakersfield Speedway, Tuesday. The win was Kofoid’s second in a row in USAC competition and allowed him to clinch the USAC Rookie of the Year award.
While Kofoid and Larson waged an epic 10-lap battle upfront for the win, there was just as much excitement behind them in the USAC championship hunt. Point leader Chris Windom climbed from the 20th starting position up into the top 10 by lap 21. He moved up to seventh on lap 29 before finally passing Ricky Stenhouse for sixth in the final corner to gain the three championship points he would need to maintain the series point lead by just one point over Tyler Courtney. The Tucker-Boat Motorsports Toyota driver can now clinch his first USAC National Midget title simply by competing in the season’s final two events at Merced Speedway this weekend where they will award appearance points only, with 50 points for each driver who competes.
Larson, who was a late add to the KKM line-up, began the race on the outside of the front row next to pole-sitter Chase Johnson. He would make a strong run on the high side into turn one moving into the lead before Johnson would slide him back through one and two. Larson countered in going low through two and the two ran side-by-side down the front straight, with Larson holding the advantage to lead lap one. Johnson continued to fight for the lead with a turn two slider on lap two, but Larson went back under him and once again was able to hold him off coming to the flag stand. Behind them, Kofoid ran third, one spot ahead of Tanner Thorson as Toyotas held down the top four positions.
After the first two laps, it was all Larson as he maintained the lead while distancing himself from the field. By the midway point, he had opened up more than a full straightaway lead over Kofoid, who took over second on lap 15, but a lap 18 red flag would bunch the field and change the entire complexion of the race.
On the restart, Kofoid would go low into one, only to see Larson slide him back and maintain the lead. The two ran side-by-side down the backstraight before Kofoid would eventually go outside-in to lead lap 19. Larson appeared to take the lead back on lap 21, only to have another red flag reset the order back to the end of lap 20.
On the restart, Kofoid ran the high side through one, while Larson went low through one and threw a slider for the lead into two as the two cars made contact, with Larson taking over the point position. Johnson continued to run third, one spot ahead of Courtney in fourth, while further back in the field, Windom had moved up to eighth, needing to finish no more than three positions behind Courtney to maintain the point lead.
Kofoid would continue to throw sliders at Larson for the lead, but each time Larson was able to cross back over to maintain the position. Finally, on lap 28, Kofoid would go high through turn four, with Larson making a slight error as he stayed low and Kofoid was able to take over the top spot. Larson continued to attempt passes to retake the lead, pulling up alongside Kofoid coming out of turn three on the final lap, but Kofoid powered back past him coming to the checkered flag for the win. Meanwhile, Windom had passed Thorson for seventh on lap 29, but still needed one more spot to regain his point lead and he would get it, as Stenhouse had a problem coming out of turn three and Windom drove past him for sixth and put himself in position to clinch the title this weekend.
“That yellow definitely played out in my favor,” said a victorious Kofoid afterward. “We’ve been really strong of late and I had a really good car tonight. Kyle’s one of the best in the world. Growing up in California and following a similar path in racing, I always looked up to Kyle. Racing with the best, it can only make you better. I can’t thank KKM, Mobil 1 and Toyota enough for this opportunity.”
The USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series closes out the 2020 season with a double-header at Merced (Calif.) Speedway, Nov. 20-21.