By: Tanner Watkins
March 1, 2020 | 10:00 PM
The Coca-Cola of Kokomo Indy Elite Series held its second of three scheduled triple crown races on Sunday evening. In the end, it was Last Lap Motorsports’ Philip Kraus taking the victory after 150 laps at Michigan International Speedway on iRacing.
Coming into the night’s second Triptacular Memories Triple Crown race of the season, double points were on the line – which would certainly be important as Henry Bennett held just a three-point lead on Kraus in the championship following five completed rounds.
In qualifications, Bennett held serve by taking the pole (ahead of Adam Crane, Andreas Eik, and Christopher Demeritt) while Kraus struggled to a 26th-place starting spot.
The race opened with non-stop action up front – sometimes with three- and four-wide racing for the lead. Ten laps into the running, though, the first caution flag would fly.
Demeritt and Crane would make contact exiting Turn 4, eventually collecting Bennett in the melee that would knock the points leader out of the race early. Dakota DiCienzo, Brendan Lichtenberg and John Poole would also tangle in the early-race incident.
While the race would go green again on Lap 15, a spin six laps later by Gabriel Perez would bring out yet another yellow flag. Perez spun on the exit of Turn 2 and expertly used all of the tarmac on the backstretch to avoid any wall contact.
After enduring two caution flags in the race’s first twenty minutes, the rest of the action would run caution-free at a blistering pace.
Up to the halfway point, Demeritt and Andrew Wood did well to position themselves up front, in addition to constant challengers such as Chris Stofer, AJ Burton, Joe Branch, and Andrew Kinsella – among others.
In the race’s first half, 29 lead changes had occurred. It was commonplace on this night to see the first ten cars in the running order safely within one second of the lead – racing under a high-pressure blanket for much of the evening.
As late as Lap 109, 24 cars were on the lead lap to reaffirm the high-stakes, relatively-clean racing.
With the race hitting the home stretch, a few drivers were in prime position for solid finishes before pitting for fuel. This included late stops from Burton, Wood, Chris Cahoe, and Kinsella.
The most painful miscue came from Jason Brophy, pitting from the race lead on Lap 122 and spinning onto the pit lane. Simultaneously, the car ran out of fuel and stalled at the entrance to pit road – requiring a tow to his pit stall.
Brophy would eventually go two laps down through the process, finishing 23rd overall.
In the race’s final laps, Last Lap Motorsports had strategically worked their way to the head of the field to set up a dramatic race to the finish.
As late as Lap 143, Total Downforce Racing with Team Talent driver Riley Thompson was trying to spoil the LLM party while also dealing with lapped traffic. Eventually, Frank Levick would use the traffic to his advantage while squeezing by Thompson for the race lead.
After a bit of contact between Thompson and Kraus on Lap 146, the final lap would see Kraus provide some pressure of his own on Levick for the race win.
Racing side-by-side through the final lap of the race, it would eventually be Kraus edging his teammate at the line by 0.010 seconds in a photo finish at Michigan.
The win – a double-points triumph for Kraus – launched him well clear of Bennett and the rest of the championship contenders. Following Sunday’s win, Kraus leads Bennett by 86 points in the standings, followed by Brophy, Branch, and Chad Simpson.
The next race in the 2020 Coca-Cola of Kokomo Elite Series season will be held on Sunday, March 8 at Iowa Speedway for the Alzheimer’s Association 160. The seventh round of the 2020 season will be shown live on SYM TV.
Header image by Tanner Watkins/Open-Wheels.com