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Justin Grant celebrates victory on his birthday. (Ivan Veldhuizen photo)

Grant Spends Birthday In Victory Lane

SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. — Justin Grant had his cake and ate it too on Friday night at Arizona Speedway.

Grant’s 31st birthday happened to fall on the same day as the opener for the 54th annual Western World Championships Presented by San Tan Ford and Grant delivered himself a present by snagging his second USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship feature victory of the year in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota.

“I haven’t won nearly enough in it, so it feels good to get a win tonight,” Grant exclaimed. “This thing was awesome, and I could just go to town, pounding the cushion there.  It got pretty far around and pretty curby there in one and two.  Buddy was running the bottom there and kinda showed me, and I was able to get back by him and get to the bottom.  This thing could go anywhere.”

Before the 24-car field even reached turn one on lap one, eighth-starting Emerson Axsom launched into a moon shot, gaining major altitude after flipping into the catchfence between turns one and two before landing hard on the track surface of the third-mile dirt oval. 

Grant started from the pole but found himself relegated to second on the opening lap to Eliason and, ultimately, to third just before the midway point as Logan Seavey pulled alongside on the back straightaway, then counterpunched Grant’s turn three slider by cutting a diamond back under at the exit of four to move into the runner-up position.

“I got off the bottom there on the start and I felt like, ‘man, this thing is pretty good,’” Grant recalled. “But the top got cleaner and faster than I thought it was going to.  I tried to slide (Eliason) on a restart and got to bouncing and let Logan go by us.”

With just eight laps remaining, heartbreak hit the second-place car of Seavey whose right rear tire went flat entering the cushion in turn one. Seavey was unable to make the call for the restart, seeing his bid for victory end abruptly with a non-indicative 20th place showing, subsequently placing Grant back in the hunt in second place for the final eight lap flourish.

“I got to the top and just tried to pick my spots on the cushion there and see what made speed and what didn’t to start trying to track Cory down,” Grant explained.  “I’m always better when the cushion gets cleaned off. Once it gets slick below, I can usually find some speed, so I just bided my time waiting for that slick line to get cleaned up to where I could pick and choose my marks and try to get this car to victory lane.”

That moment had its foundations rooted on the lap-23 restart when Grant followed Eliason through turns one and two, then dove to the bottom in three and four only to see Eliason counter back underneath and stave off Grant’s advance at the line by a single car length.

Eliason, who was making his USAC midget debut, immediately invaded the groove one lane off the bottom of turn one on lap 24, sending his car trampolining up the race track, allowing Grant, Kofoid and Kevin Thomas Jr. to zip by and occupy the top-three positions while Eliason free-fell to fourth.

Kofoid attempted to pounce immediately, charging to the low side of turn three and sliding past Grant only to see Grant cross over and motor back by. In turn one on the following lap, Kofoid flashed low, but Thomas got even lower, so low in fact that the infield photographers even felt the need to take a step back.

Clearing Thomas was Kofoid who regrouped, regathered and returned for another run at Grant with four laps remaining, sliding across the nose of Grant once more turn three, but only momentarily, as Grant answered the challenge, cut back under and regained the position at the exit of four, then beelined to the bottom of turn one, thus preventing a retaliating slide job courtesy of Kofoid.

Grant stretched his lead out to eight car lengths over Kofoid, whose race transformed into a quest to keep Thomas behind him, which he did quite successfully.

Grant beat Kofoid to the checkered flag by .917 seconds, with Thomas, Eliason and Tanner Thorson rounding out the top five.

Kofoid erased a 13-point deficit to reigning series champion Chris Windom and the two enter Saturday night tied atop the standings.

To see full results, turn to the next page.

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