Saturday, November 17, 2012
Breathtaking Finish Caps a Storybook Night as Lucas Oil Modifieds Close Sixth Season
Jim Mardis provided a breathtaking finish to a storybook day of racing, Austin Barnes secured the championship and the Lucas Oil Modifieds presented by 1-800LoanMart closed their 2012 season with the biggest event in the series’ six-year history Saturday (November 17) at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Two-time series champion Mardis went low on the track to pass Jay Linstroth for the race lead as they took the white flag and was 0.292 seconds in front when the checkered flag was waved after 75 rough-and-tumble laps of The Bullring’s 3/8-mile paved oval.
Barnes finished a comfortable third, his championship having been secured when second-place Chris Gerchman was sidelined early in the race, and bid goodbye to the series after an event that drew a record 48 entries – including ASA national champion Shelby Stroebel of Nampa, Idaho, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Dylan Kwasniewski of Las Vegas, and NASCAR California short-track champion Scott Winters of Tracy, California.
The 1-800LoanMart Championship was run as part of the West Coast Asphalt Short Track Championships, the final event of the year at The Bullring, and series officials Greg Scheidecker, Bill Rozhon and Alan Brown were delighted by the turnout and excited about the future.
“This was a test for us, to run our championship night as part of their big Open Comp show,” Rozhon said of the race that was recorded by MAV TV for a national telecast. “This just shows the kind of talent that comes to our series and runs in our series. It was amazing
“When we first started this series (in 2007) we’d tech these cars and we’d come out greasy and dirty and looking like we’d been working on farm tractors . Today you look at them and they’re immaculate, they’re spit-shined and polished. They’re race cars, and I’m very proud of these guys for that.
“The level of competition that we’ve got here makes it tough for anyone coming in.”
That was evident in qualifying, where 37 cars posted times. Stroebel took his second Budweiser Fast Time award with a track-record lap of 15.203 seconds, but Winters was 20th, two spots out of a spot in the 26-car field for the main event, and had to race his way into the field in the B main.
He still was better off than Gerchman, who had to take a provisional and start the main event with a borrowed motor after the crankshaft in his primary motor broke during his qualifying warm-up.
Doug Carpenter was on the pole in the inverted grid for the main event, with Kwasniewski sharing the front row, Stroebel third, Barnes fifth and Mardis seventh, alongside Linstroth. And when the race started, so did the carnage, an incident in Turn 4 bringing out the first of nine caution flags and mandating a complete restart.
Carpenter took the early lead with Kwasniewski, Stroebel, Barnes and Nik Romano in pursuit. Kwasniewski was gone after 3 laps with a broken rear end, and on lap 10 the championship was decided. That’s when Gerchman pulled off with a misfiring engine.
Romano spun on lap 17, Carpenter and Stroebel got together on lap 24, Stroebel and Romano had problems on the restart, and after 25 laps MAV TV Trophy Dash winner Barnes was leading Linstroth and Mardis. It stayed that way until Linstroth and Mardis both got by Barnes on lap 66 to set the stage for the finish.
“We’ve had a lot of bad, bad, bad breaks this year and for once the luck turned around,” said Mardis, who is the only series driver to have won at least once in each of the past four seasons.
“I thought we were toast halfway through the race when I got hung out on the outside. They started crashing all around me and I thought ‘man, we were lucky to get through this.’ I thought the 51A (Barnes) and the 25 (Linstroth) were better than me. Then I started to figure out some stuff inside the car and with about 15 to go I said ‘you know, I might have a shot at this,’ and as the laps wound down I got closer and closer to them.
“We got by Austin and I said well, here’s my chance. I started figuring out what he (Linstroth) was doing and what I could do to get by him. It took me a while, but it worked out in the end.”
Linstroth, who got the GEICO Clean Pass Award for the race, said what he was doing was running out of fuel because of the numerous laps run during the caution periods.
“That’s what killed us,” he said. “We had it. That was a sad deal. I’m super bummed about it. We had 6 (laps) to go and I felt it flutter. When we’d get in the turns it would flutter and when I would get back on the gas it would just spin the tires . We ran out of fuel on the backstretch.”
Mardis said his Bluewater Technologies/1-800LoanMart entry ran out of fuel, too, as he tried to exit the track after accepting the Sunoco Winner’s Circle bonus for a victory he dedicated to girlfriend Danielle Tegge’s mother, Ann, who was 43 when she died of cancer October 28.
“When I got by him all I could think was “I hope he doesn’t run into the back of me going into the next corner trying to win this thing.’ He says he ran out of fuel. I don’t know. All I know is it fell in my favor and I’ll take it.”
Barnes was content to ride along in third and watch what happened once he was sure Gerchman couldn’t return to the race with any chance of overtaking him in the standings.
“I kept pushing until Chris had been off for about 30 laps and kind of backed it down from there,” said Barnes, who won the title by a record 56 points unofficially.
“I started the night with a really good car. We were definitely competitive. It started to drop off and got a little loose through the center (of the turns) and off. The guys behind me were really charging and with Chris off I didn’t see any reason to maybe wreck the car to try to win it, so about lap 65 I just pulled over and let them go by.”
Barnes followed his third-place finish in the Lucas Oil Modifieds by finishing 18th in the SPEARS Southwest Tour race and is planning to concentrate on that series next season. The title-winning car will be campaigned by teenager Jessica Clark.
Gerchman, whose previous visit to Las Vegas had ended in a first-lap accident, said he isn’t sure what he’ll be doing next year. But he expects to be at Havasu 95 Speedway when the 2013 season opens March 16, if only to help has father, Larry, who won the final Optima Hard Charger award of the season by driving from 24th to fifth.
“It’s not disappointing, not at all,” Gerchman said of losing the championship. “You’re here and you try your best and that’s all you can do.”
Main Event (75 laps of 3/8-mile oval)
1. Jim Mardis, Yucaipa, Calif.; 2. Jay Linstroth, Citrus Heights, Calif.; 3. Austin Barnes, Escondido, Calif.; 4. Tim Morse, Burbank, Calif.; 5. Larry Gerchman, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; 6. Aaron McMorran, Las Vegas; 7. Doug Carpenter, El Cajon, Calif.; 8. Roger Brown, Colton, Calif.; 9. Rich Lindgren, Rio Linda, Calif.; 10. Joe DeGuevara, Las Vegas;
11. Lynn Hardy, Salt Lake City, Utah; 12. Taylor Miinch, Alpine, Calif.; 13. Elliot Stjerne, Madera, Calif.; 14. Pat Petrie, Las Vegas; 15. Shelby Stroebel, Nampa, Idaho; 16. Jentry Pisca, Nampa; 17. Guy Young, Redding, Calif.; 18. Scott Winters, Tracy, Calif.; 19. Doug Hamm, North Las Vegas; 20. Bear Rzesnowiecky, Las Vegas;
21. Rod Johnson Jr., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; 22. Scott Osborn, Las Vegas; 23. Nik Romano, Menlo Park, Calif.; 24. Chris Gerchman, Spring Branch, Texas; 25. Devin Lahorgue, Redding; 26. Dylan Kwasniewski, Las Vegas.
Margin of victory – 0.292 seconds. Average speed – 31.905 mph.
B Main (20 laps, top 4 advanced to main)
1. Winters; 2. Young; 3. DeGuevara; 4. Hardy; 5. Scott Alves, Fosterville, Calif; 6. Dennis Lovelady, Las Vegas; 7. Michael Zimmerman, Hemet, Calif.; 8. Brian Collins, Camino, Calif.; 9. Abe Carter, Salt Lake City; 10. Cody Thompson, Fremont, Calif.;
11. Jeff Webster, Salt Lake City; 12. Daniel Williams, Glendale, Calif.; 13. Deral Meek, Rio Rancho, N.M.; 14. Zach Webster, Salt Lake City; 15. Jerry Toporak, Venice, Calif.; 16. Phil Goodwin, Henderson, Nevada; 17. Vanessa Robinson, Las Cruces, N.M.
Margin of victory – 1.219 seconds. Average speed – 49.625 mph.