SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (June 9, 2012)—New Zealand’s Michael Pickens drove to his fourth feature victory in four events over the past two seasons in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series, leading all 30 laps Saturday at Springfield Raceway.
“We backed up what we did last year,” Pickens said.
The four-time New Zealand champion’s four wins have been accomplished at four different tracks. He won Friday at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Mo., and last year at Peoria (Ill.) Speedway and Fayette County Speedway in Brownstown, Ill. The 29-year-old also has Midget victories in Badger, USAC and Australia.
Pickens started from pole and used a combination of speed and savvy to keep his Esslinger-powered Breka underneath him in a race when his biggest threats fell by the wayside with tire and mechanical failures on the fast quarter-mile track.
“The race was about tire management and not burning them up,” Pickens said. “You’ve got to be thinking all the time.”
Brett Anderson of Belleville, Ill., climbed from 19th starting position to second by the 17th lap and was less than a car length behind in a rousing seven-lap challenge that included making side-by-side contact in turn four. But at the start of the 24th lap, Anderson’s right rear tire deflated and sent his XXX-Fontana sliding off the track in turn two.
“I popped a tire,” Anderson said. “I went from 19th to passing for the lead. It’s a shame. It sucks.”
Garrett Aitken of Paris, Ill., climbed from 10th on the grid to move to second and within a couple of car lengths of Pickens by the fifth lap. The 16-year-old POWRi rookie maintained second until Anderson passed him and was second for the restart on lap 24. But Aitken’s left-rear tire went flat and he fell out.
Jonathan Beason of Broken Arrow, Okla., made a brilliant restart from third on the 24th lap and passed Pickens for the lead on the back straight, but the caution came out and the running order reverted to the previous lap.
“I started 14th and was biding my time,” Beason said. “I had some running room on the restart and got into the lead, but a rock knocked an injector off the engine and I was just limping around to the end from there.”
Rico Abreu finished second, his best finish in POWRi and in a Midget, in a Toyota-powered Bullet. The 20-year-old from Rutherford, Calif., passed Beason for second on a restart and briefly had the lead before a caution came out with two laps to go.
“I passed Pickens, then the caution came out and I had to restart second,” Abreu said. “I drove from the back (starting 13th) and had to get to the front before the track took rubber. We were good all around the race track. I was trying to save the tires, but at the same time, you’ve got to use up the tires to get up front. I started getting nervous when all those tires starting blowing up.”
Abreu wasn’t able to mount a serious challenge in the two laps after the final restart, finishing three car lengths behind Pickens.
“It’s good to be up there in the hunt and finish in the top three,” Abreu said.
Blake Hahn, a 17-year-old from Sapulpa, Okla., started on the outside of the front row and drove steadily to finish a POWRi-best third.
“It felt great to run third to those two (Pickens, Abreu) guys,” Hahn said.
Springfield was a combined POWRi Lucas Oil National/West Series event. Chett Gehrke of Broken Arrow, Okla., who is running for both championships, was the top West finisher in fifth.
POWRi Lucas Oil National/West Midget Series results (30 laps): 1. Michael Pickens, 2. Rico Abreu, 3. Blake Hahn, 4. Brad Kuhn, 5. Chett Gehrke, 6. Dillon Welch, 7. Nathan Smee, 8. Andrew Felker, 9. Cameron Hagin, 10. Andy Malpocker, 11. Tyler Robbins, 12. Ryan Criswell, 13. Pat Schudy, 14. Riley Emmel, 15. Tyler Thomas, 16. Jonathan Beason, 17. Jake Blackhurst, 18. Garrett Aitken, 19. Brett Anderson, 20. Austin Brown, 21. Taylor Ferns, 22. Chris Bell.