Tanner Thorson emerged out front on lap 27 after a thrilling battle that saw three different leaders in the last six laps and then held off fellow Toyota driver Buddy Kofoid at the checkered flag to win the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series 2020 finale at Merced Speedway, Saturday night. Earlier in the evening, Chris Windom became the seventh Toyota driver in the last eight years to win the USAC National Midget Championship once he earned the appearance points after taking to the track for hot laps.
Thorson’s victory was his third in the final seven races after joining forces with the Tom Malloy/Trench Shoring team. It also marked the 39th national midget feature win of the season by a Toyota-powered driver, including the final 11 USAC events.
Kofoid started the evening’s 30-lap feature on the pole, looking for his third win on the five-race western swing. The 18-year-old Penngrove, Calif.-native, settled into the top spot on the opening lap with Tyler Courtney, Spencer Bayston, Thorson and Kyle Larson rounding out the top five.
Kofoid would hold down the top spot for the first half of the race before Thorson would take the lead on lap 16 and continue to lead on lap 17 before Kofoid would power back to the front on lap 18.
By lap 24, Courtney would overtake Thorson for second and then made a major run at the lead as they came back to the stand virtually side-by-side with Kofoid having a slight lead. The duo continued to battle with Courtney leading Kofoid by a half-car length on lap 25. Running the high side through turn four, Kofoid would reclaim the lead on lap 26, but the battle was far from over. Kofoid led Courtney down the back straight, but Courtney would throw a slider at him through turn three with each going high through three and into four. At that point, Thorson would take advantage of the battle in front of him and dive to the low side through four to take the lead on lap 27.
Kofoid would distance himself from Courtney and close back in on Thorson as the white flag waved. Thorson opened up a gap coming out of turn two, but Kofoid had one last run at him coming out of turn four, closing right up on Thorson’s tail, but fell just short with Thorson taking the victory by just .130-seconds in a Toyota one-two finish. Courtney would place third, with Larson finishing fourth.
“I can’t say enough about this team,” said Thorson. “I saw those two (Kofoid and Courtney) start to get to each other and I went underneath and made the best of it. It’s just a great way to end the year. I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a lot of great people behind me who helped make this possible.”
Carson Macedo, Cannon McIntosh and Justin Grant placed seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, to give Toyota six of the top-nine finishers. Behind them, Windom would bring his Tucker-Boat Motorsports entry home in 17th-place after suffering early mechanical problems but he had already clinched his first USAC National Midget Championship, making him just the seventh driver in history to win the USAC Triple Crown with titles in National Midget, National Sprint Car and Silver Crown.
The Toyota Midget car program will kick off the 2021 season with the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, Jan. 11-16, at the Tulsa Expo Raceway in Tulsa, Okla.