TUCSON, Arizona – Taylor Miinch won the Lucas Oil Modified race at Tucson Speedway Saturday night (April 8). The 22-year-old from Blossom Valley, California, started on the pole, led all 75 laps of the FAST EZ-EFI Tucson Shootout over the speedway’s 3/8 -mile banked, paved oval and finished 1.146 seconds ahead of 2016 DJ Safety Rookie of the Year Travis Thirkettle.
Nothing to it – if you discount having to deal with eight caution flags, two of which turned into red flag stoppages, and a serious challenge from two-time series champion Austin Barnes, who was bidding for his third straight win.
“Our goal for the year is four (wins), so this is one down,” Miinch said after being followed to the finish by Thirkettle, Dustin Tilbury, Michael Womack and Shelby Stroebel.
“The car was good. It could have been a little better but it was pretty good,” Miinch said of the ZOTTO Mattress/Lineer STR Chevrolet that ran well enough to allow him to maintain his line and the pace he wanted to run. That wasn’t easy considering all the caution flags and restarts, but Miinch said “to me it just comes naturally. I know where the pace I want is so for the first three or four laps (after a restart) I try to push it and it comes right back to me.”
The pace Miinch wanted was fast, and for the caution-free first 30 laps he was able to easily open some space between himself and Fast Qualifier Jason Irwin and 2014 series champion Dylan Cappello, who took second away from Irwin on lap 3 and surrendered it to Barnes on lap 24.
Irwin fell off the pace while battling handling problems, Cappello was a non-factor after lap 44, when he spun in Turn 2 with a little help from Scott Winters, who spun in Turn 2 and brought out the night’s sixth caution five laps later.
That left Miinch leading Barnes, Larry Gerchman, Irwin and Thirkettle when the race restarted on lap 50. Thirkettle had swapped places with Irwin by lap 55 and moved into third when Gerchman lost control exiting Turn 4 and spun into the infield without bringing out a caution on lap 61.
It was at that same juncture that Barnes began to pressure Miinch for the lead. They ran several laps almost side-by-side and Barnes appeared to get the nose of his car ahead of Miinch’s on a couple of occasions.
Barnes’s charge ended in dramatic fashion on lap 68. He and Miinch still were close together, with Barnes running low on the track and Miinch high as they went through Turn 1. But just ahead of them Jerry Toporek was trying to get control of his car, which had a flat tire, and get down and off the track.
Unfortunately, when he moved down it put him on Barnes’s line, and when Barnes tried to go low on the apron to squeeze by the two made contact that sent Barnes into the infield dirt and tore a gaping hole in his STR’s oil pan. That sent Barnes to the pits to stay and made necessary a lengthy red flag stop while the track was cleaned and dried.
That mishap elevated Thirkettle to second and Tilbury and in essence put Miinch in the winner’s circle because Thirkettle said he didn’t have enough car to overtake Miinch in a sprint race.
“I was thinking if he made a mistake in the speedy dry I might be able to pounce, but Taylor doesn’t make too many mistakes.”
Tilbury, who got his best career finish after starting 16th in the 28-car field, said he thought he might have been able to get by Thirkettle in another lap or two, but had nothing with which to threaten Miinch, either.
The win in round two of the 10-race championship season coupled with his third in round one last month will put Miinch atop the Hoosier Tire West point standings going into round three May 20 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release & Photo
LUCAS OIL MODIFIEDS PRESENTED BY RAM MOUNTS
FAST EZ-EFI Tucson Shootout
Tucson Speedway, Tucson, Arizona
75 laps, 3/8 -mile banked, paved oval
RACE RESULTS – 1. Taylor Miinch (4T), Blossom Valley, Ca.; 2. Travis Thirkettle (5T), Newhall, Ca.; 3. Dustin Tilbury (17D), Edgewood, N.M.; 4. Michael Womack (3), Troutman, N.C.; 5. Shelby Stroebel (24), Meridian, Idaho; 6. Blake Rogers (4B), Yuma, Az.; 7. William Camara (57), Fremont, Ca.; 8. Jason Irwin (9i), Albuquerque, N.M.; 9. Scott Winters (24A), Tracy, Ca.; 10. Mike Mitchell (77), Loomis, Ca. 11. Eric Hamilton (11H), Hanford, Ca.; 12. Jim Mardis (51), Yucaipa, Ca.; 13. Chris Cook (2), Tabiona, Utah; 14. Dylan Cappello (11), Peoria, Az.; 15. Austin Stewart (3SS), Tucson, Az.; 16. Larry Gerchman (25), Lake Havasu City, Az.; 17. Dave Arce (5), Santee, Ca.; 18. Mark Allison (115), Las Vegas; 19. A.J. DiMarzo (5A), Lancaster, Ca.; 20. Pat Petrie (1), Henderson, Nevada; 21. Jerry Toporek (40), Venice, Ca.; 22. Austin Barnes (51A), Escondido, Ca.; 23. Doug Hamm (9X), North Las Vegas; 24. William Guevara (55), Lake Havasu City; 25. Jay Henson (88), Oak Hills, Ca.; 26. Cameron Morga (54), Albuquerque, N.M.; 27. Linny White (12), Colton, Ca.; 28. Eddie Secord (84), Oak Hills, Ca.
Margin of victory – 1.146 seconds. Average speed — unavailable. Lead changes — none. Caution flags – 8 (including 2 red flags) . Fast qualifier – Irwin, 15.981 seconds. Trophy Dash winner (6 laps) – Rogers.