The 2023 Federated Auto Parts Ironman 55 won’t soon be forgotten.
The demanding race lived up to every bit of the hype. 55 intense laps. A bevy of bullring battling. And two Ironmen rising to the occasion to deliver a duel for the ages.
Kyle Larson and Logan Schuchart flexed every ounce of racing muscle as they battled for the title of Ironman on Saturday night. One corner it looked like Larson would win. The next it was Schuchart. When all was said and done, Larson edged out Schuchart by less than two tenths of a second in a finish that brought the huge Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 crowd to their feet.
Larson slapped the side of the Silva Motorsports #57 in excitement as he rolled into Victory Lane. “Yung Money” climbed all the way atop the wing to celebrate the $20,000 score as the fans roared.
“That was probably the most fun Sprint Car race I’ve ran maybe ever,” Larson said. “It was just a great race. I hope all of you fans enjoyed it. Even if you wanted anybody else to win, that was a damn good race. You can’t say enough about it. Thanks to Paul Silva and everybody on this car. This was a great race and I love I-55.”
The victory was Larson’s third of 2023 with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars and 31st of his career. Larson is now a three-time Feature winner at the Pevely, MO oval and a two-time Ironman. The Elk Grove, CA native joins Craig Dollansky, Rico Abreu, and Sheldon Haudenschild as multi-time Ironman winners.
Starting sixth on the grid, Larson faced a challenge to get to the front. James McFadden and Logan Schuchart led the field to green. The first two attempts at beginning the race were marred by cautions. But on the third try, Schuchart darted into the early lead. McFadden’s hopes were dashed when early contact with the Turn 2 wall spun him around and ended his night with a broken steering box.
When racing resumed following McFadden’s incident, a war broke out for the runner-up spot with Brad Sweet, David Gravel, and Carson Macedo trading slide jobs and crossovers. Sweet emerged with the position.
Once that trio settled into line, Larson began to pick his way toward the front. On Lap 7, Larson slid by Macedo for fourth. Fast forward 10 laps, and another slider elevated Larson onto the podium.
A lap later the yellow flag flew for a slowing Cole Macedo, and Larson capitalized on the ensuing restart by powering around Brad Sweet for the runner-up spot.
With second secured, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion began his pursuit of Schuchart. The driver of the Shark Racing #1S worked through traffic smoothly but Larson began to close in. Right before the halfway point Larson took his first swing at the lead with a slide job, but Schuchart was able to cross him over.
On the 34th circuit, Larson was able to wrestle away the top spot and defend Schuchart’s counter attack. From there, Larson began to put some distance between himself and Schuchart as the second half of the race unfolded. But a late caution set the stage for an 11-lap shootout for $20,000 and the title of Ironman.
Larson pulled ahead on the start. But as he began to slice through traffic with less than 10 laps to go, Schuchart was able to show Larson a nose and pressure him into driving harder.
“I got stuck behind lappers in (Turns) 1 and 2 that really slowed me down, and I knew he’d be close,” Larson recalled. “I saw his nose in (Turns) 3 and 4. He could make up a lot of time on entry to just spook me enough to run harder and make some mistakes.”
Those minor mistakes were enough to set up a wild war to the checkered flag. Larson tripped up on the Turn 3 cushion coming to two laps to go allowing Schuchart to squeeze by as they roared out of Turn 4. Heading into Turn 3 on the next lap, Larson threw a huge slider that stuck, but Schuchart crossed over coming to the white flag. Schuchart slid ahead in Turns 1 and 2, and Larson responded by driving down the hill out of Turn 2 and sneaking under Schuchart for a slide job in the final set of corners. Schuchart tried to cross back under coming to the checkered flag but didn’t have the momentum he needed. Larson won by .166 seconds.
“I slid him coming to the white,” Larson explained. “I knew he was going to slide me in (Turn) 1, so I thought I’d run my diamond line in (Turns) 1 and 2 and just hope I could be there. I was further behind down the backstretch than I thought I could be or needed to be. I was praying he was going to leave just enough room to drive between the inside wall and him, and he did and we both chased it up the track coming for the win.”
Schuchart’s runner-up marked his 10th podium of the season, making him the fifth driver to reach double digit top threes so far this year. While the Shark Racing pilot would’ve preferred to win, he exited his car with a grin as wide as Larson’s after such a fun and fierce battle.
“I know you never want to run second, but as far as a fan event, fans are what make this deal happen, and you can’t ask for a better race,” Schuchart said. “Kyle’s a badass race car driver. He’s going to run aggressive. Once he passed me, I didn’t know exactly what he did to get there, but I just felt like I was going to gas it up a little bit… I did my best to put on a show, go up there and race for the win at Federated Auto Parts Raceway (at I-55). Definitely a really awesome race.”
Rounding out the top three for the second straight night was Brad Sweet aboard the Kasey Kahne Racing #49. The effort helped “The Big Cat” extend his lead in the points to 14 markers over David Gravel. In the closing laps Sweet found himself enjoying the fight for the win like the many fans in attendance.
“Man, Turn 4 coming to the checkered I was kind of a fan and wasn’t sure if they were going to make it out of it,” Sweet said. “So, I was trying to figure out if they do make contact what to do there. That was a heck of a race. I got to watch it up close and personal.”
Corey Day charged from 15th to fourth to earn the KSE Racing Hard Charger. Carson Macedo completed the top five.
Sheldon Haudenschild claimed the Simpson Performance Products QuickTime Award for the third time this year and 28th time of his career.
CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One went to Brad Sweet (230th Heat Race win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Four were topped by James McFadden (44th of career), Robbie Price (first of career), and Logan Schuchart (115th of career).
James McFadden won the Toyota Racing Dash.
The Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown went to Brock Zearfoss.
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars are bound for The Granddaddy of ‘Em All as Knoxville Raceway hosts the 62nd NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action on DIRTVision.
NOS Energy Drink Feature (55 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson; 2. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 3. 49-Brad Sweet; 4. 14-Corey Day; 5. 41-Carson Macedo; 6. 5-Spencer Bayston; 7. 15-Donny Schatz; 8. 83JR-Michael Kofoid; 9. 2-David Gravel; 10. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 11. 7S-Robbie Price; 12. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 13. 70-Kraig Kinser; 14. 45-Rusty Hickman; 15. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 16. 51B-Joe B Miller; 17. 22-Riley Goodno; 18. (DNF) 23B-Brian Bell; 19. (DNF) 21T-Cole Macedo; 20. (DNF) 20G-Noah Gass; 21. (DNF) 6-Bill Rose; 22. (DNF) 1A-Jacob Allen; 23. (DNF) 83-James McFadden; 24. (DNF) 101-Cody Maroske