By: Tanner Watkins
October 21, 2019 | 1:00 PM
Last night’s Indy Elite Series round from Michigan International Speedway had it all – action, excitement, tempers, and a great finish to the seventh round of the 2019 fall championship.
Coming into the second Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Kokomo Triple Crown event of the season, 35 drivers were on the entry list for the 300-mile affair in Michigan. At the end of qualifications, two drivers were cut from the field – including experienced drivers Tim Doyle and Richard Holt.
Henry Bennett was the quickest driver in qualifying, logging a lap at 222.999mph (32.287s) that just edged ahead of Rob Powers (222.951mph) and Adam Dock (222.917mph) to take the top spot.
Riley Thompson, Joshua Chin, and Adam Blocker filled out the first few rows while race-to-race contenders such as Jonathan Goke (26th), Christopher Demeritt (30th), Brandon Trost (32nd) and Bradley Walters (33rd) would all start from the back.
The race opened with 21 laps of green flag racing as Bennett, Dock, Blocker, Powers, and Chad Simpson all sniffed or gained the lead through the initial stint. The first caution period would fly on Lap 22 when Andreas Eik had to check up swiftly and Matt Kingsbury gave the Team Talent driver a tap – sending him spinning towards the inside of the frontstretch without hitting any walls.
At that first caution, all drivers visited pit lane for fuel and tires before a Lap 26 restart sent us through another relatively-clean stint. While the next yellow flag didn’t fly until Lap 56, two incidents of note occurred without bringing a caution period.
On Lap 46, Dock hooked his left side tires onto the frontstretch apron to send the No. 12 driver hard into the inside SAFER barrier. After leading 17 laps to that point, Dock would finish a disappointing 33rd. Just a few laps later on Lap 49, Todd Novasad would endure the same race-ending fate to end his night early.
With the leaders pitting under green, Joe Flanagan and Joe Branch were involved in a two-car incident with both drivers trying to merge onto pit lane. The accident send Flanagan to the outside wall on the exit of Turn 4 while Branch nosed into the inside wall near pit lane – bringing out a caution while ending both driver’s days.
While a restart on Lap 59 would send everyone on their way again, the yellow was out once again on Lap 67 when Joshua Chin and Tony Showen got together on the exit of Turn 2. The contact sent Chin into the outside retaining wall to end his night, while Logan Simmons was tapped from behind by Liam Quinn when both drivers tried to check up.
At the race’s halfway mark, it was the quartet of Last Lap Motorsports’ Goke, Simpson, Matt Kingsbury, and Ray Kingsbury leading the field ahead of Andrew Kinsella, Blocker, Trost, and Brendan Lichtenberg.
The lead group would see a shake up just six laps later, though, when Kinsella and Ray Kingsbury tangled in an accident that ended Kinsella’s night prematurely. Trost would try to avoid the spinning Kinsella sliding down the backstretch during the chaos, but eventually clipped the Powerslide Motorsports driver to sustain bodywork and suspension damage.
Just as the field was ready to restart the action, a multi-car accident as the green flag fell brought out yet another caution flag. With drivers trying to time a run to nail the restart, an accordion effect would eventually bring damage to Ryan Norton, Logan Simmons, Niall McBride, Frank Levick IV, Dakota DiCienzo, Adam Plunkett, and Rob Powers.
The damage sustained was enough to knock DiCienzo, Plunkett, Simmons, Powers, and Norton out of the race, finishing 23rd to 27th, respectively.
The four Last Lap Motorsports drivers still paced the field by the Lap 89 restart, and after a few laps it was Lichtenberg trying to break the party up in his Broken Aero machine. Another caution flew on Lap 102 when Jeff Drake, McBride, and Showen all tangled on the exit of Turn 4, sending each driver into the outside wall while they slid down the frontstretch.
During the ensuing caution period, all leaders pitted – except for Trost. He would stay out and lead the field to green on the Lap 105 restart before dropping back in the pack while his tires fell off.
Remarkably, Walters had moved up to sixth place by Lap 110 after starting 33rd – and was into the first few positions with a clear view of the lead. Unfortunately, the Sadi Sim Autosport driver’s chances to compete were dashed on Lap 116 when Walters and Ray Kingsbury made contact. The accident knocked Walters out of the race while Lichtenberg and David Adams were also collected in the aftermath.
It appeared that we would have a lengthy run to the finish following the latest incident, with the green flag flying on Lap 120 and 24 laps of clean racing following. A double-tap of contact between Bennett and Andrew Wood would send the latter driver spinning to the inside on Lap 144 to bring out a caution – the last of the night, to set up a shootout to the finish.
When the race was restarted with two laps remaining, it was actually Demeritt leading the group to green after he had worked all the way to the point from 30th. Chris Stofer, Blocker, Simon Briant, and Bennett were all in the picture as the green-white-checkered situation unfolded.
Flying down the backstretch on the penultimate lap, Blocker would overtake both Stofer and Demeritt to gain the lead as the white flag was shown. By the completion of Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 150, Stofer was back out in front before Blocker again roared by before Turn 3 approached.
Coming out of the final two corners of the race, Blocker held just enough of an advantage to fend off Demeritt for the race victory – his second of the 2019 fall championship and his third career win overall in the Indy Elite Series.
Check out the race finish below!
Blocker noted that his team were set up for more long-run stability rather than outright pace on the short runs – and things would eventually fall in their favor.
“We sort of had a long-run car – we had more downforce on than a lot of guys, so our top speed was a little down while we were strong on the long run,” Blocker said to SYMTV.
“That kind of hurt us – there were a couple of times where on short runs we would fall back… but then you saw me, Henry (Bennett) and (Chris) Stofer get to the front at the end. I was kind of glad we had a long run at the end – that helped us.”
At the conclusion of Sunday night’s race, Blocker had extended his 14-point lead over Bennett to a whopping 61 points thanks to the double-point payout at Michigan. When queried about the importance of replicating a result such as this at the Triple Crown finale in Fontana, Blocker was more focused on taking care of business in the few rounds that precede the 2-mile California oval.
“I think Richmond, Sebring and Road America should be good races for me, so as long as I get good results there, maybe I put myself in a position where I don’t have to do something amazing at Fontana,” noted the Powerslide Motorsports driver.
The next MYLAPS Indy Elite Series round in the 2019 fall championship will be held on Sunday, November 3 when the fight heads to Richmond Raceway. The Triptacular Memories 160 will be shown live at 7:00 PM ET on SYMTV.