OSWEGO, NY – In one of the most improbable drives in Oswego Speedway’s now 66 year history, ‘The Hustler’ Michael Barnes drove from last to first, passing an average of 2.4 cars per circuit from the 22nd position over the course of the 50-lap event, to win the Speedway’s $5 admission championship finale presented by Bosco’s Food Market and U-Pull U-Save Auto Parts, stealing the Novelis Supermodified driver’s championship from the clutches of Dave Gruel.
The historic championship drive makes Barnes only the 25th man in Speedway history to earn a Supermodified championship, handing longtime car owner Gary Syrell of Syrell Racing his first team championship.
Gruel, Barnes, Mike Muldoon, and Otto Sitterly entered the final event of the season with a shot at the overall title.
Barnes came into the night 12.5-points behind leader Gruel, but appeared to be on his way to cutting the gap in heat race action. However, while leading the first heat race of the night a magneto cap issue forced Barnes to the pit area, finishing a devastating eighth place in the qualifier.
As a result Barnes was forced to start last, 22nd position, in the 50-lap main, now trailing the point leader by 18.5-points, with Gruel starting all the way up in the tenth starting spot.
From the drop of the green Barnes wasted little time, amazingly passing Gruel for tenth on lap 7 before stealing the pivotal runner-up position from Joe Gosek on lap 37, and sealing the victory with his pass for the top spot on Dan Connors Jr. at lap 43.
The victory was the second of the season for Barnes, bookending the regular season, as ‘The Hustler’ scored the Speedway’s opening night win on May 14.
Gosek, Sitterly, Connors, and Keith Shampine would trail Barnes across the stripe in the final main event of the season before Budweiser International Classic Weekend running from September 2-4.
Amidst a sea of well-wishers and fans Barnes managed to speak to Keith Zehr in Turning Stone Resort Casino Victory Lane.
“The mag cap came off in the heat race there while we were out front, but we took a lap later and knew it was going to be alright, and we had to start last,” said Barnes. “I just had to go as hard as I could. I can’t say enough about these guys. I’m just so happy.”
Barnes went further into his drive to the front.
“I knew we had a chance for the win when I got to about fourth,” said Barnes. “I had a good feeling we were going to get it; Joe (Gosek) was just running too tight. Joe ran me hard we went side by side; I just stuck it in there. Then I could see Daniel (Connors) was getting tighter and tighter, finally he went in a little too low in turn three and I just shot it up there and made it stick. I just kept digging, digging, digging. I’m so happy for this team.”
Kody Graham, Jeff Abold, Dave Danzer, Gruel, and Bellinger would be the top ten finishers.
Connors and Bellinger led the 22-car Novelis Supermodified field to the Cam’s Pizzeria green flag with Connors earning the edge in the No. 01 at the start.
Looking strong early on, Connors pulled Bellinger, Shampine, and Graham in tow through the early stages of the main, but all eyes were further back in the field watching the championship players put themselves in position.
Barnes was doubt flying in the No. 68, using the top and bottom of the Speedway at will. Miraculously by lap 7 Barnes had managed to surge through the field and passed point leader Gruel for the tenth position.
Just three laps later all four title contenders were in line from seventh through tenth with Muldoon leading Sitterly, Barnes, and Gruel.
With Connors now gaining some breathing room out front, Barnes continued his tremendous drive, going by Sitterly for eighth on lap 13 as he now looked to get as far away from Gruel as possible.
The night’s first caution would wave at lap 15 for a spinning Aric Iosue in turn one, which would allow Barnes to regroup and recalculate.
When the field came back to green Connors led Bellinger, Shampine, Graham, Gosek, Abold, Muldoon, Barnes, Sitterly, and Gruel in that order.
However, just one lap later Muldoon would spin the No. 15 in turn four, ending his chances at a championship bid.
On the restart the yellow would wave yet again, this time for a spin at the front of the field.
The Bellinger No. 02, looking for the top spot on Connors, would spin going into the first turn with Gosek locking up the No. 00 machine to avoid contact.
Bellinger would head to the pit area with Gosek being given his spot back on the Speedway as his slide was determined to be a spin to avoid.
As a result Connors would now lead Shampine, Graham, Gosek, Abold, Barnes, Sitterly, Gruel, Danzer, and Lavery with 34 laps to go.
On the restart Barnes would charge yet again, this time finding room by the Abold No. 05 to climb to the fifth position.
With Gruel riding steady in the ninth position, Barnes would need to move all the way to the runner-up spot in the remaining laps to secure the title, and he indeed kept moving.
Another yellow at lap 23 for Iosue would slow the field one more time, giving Barnes another reset.
Once back to green Connors throttled away but it Barnes was now hooked to the Gosek No. 00 as they each took advantage of Graham on lap 25 to now ride third and fourth on the Speedway.
A run for the ages continued in the second half of the race between a driver looking to secure his first title in Barnes and a driver just breaking the all-time starts record at 439 in Gosek.
With Barnes still searching for every point possible and needing at least a second place finish, Barnes abused the outside of the track – continually showing Gosek a wheel.
The veteran Gosek sensed the urgency and with Barnes wailing outside, drove by Shampine for second to give himself a cushion on the No. 68.
But, Barnes stayed on track in his chase at Gosek, finding his own way by Shampine for third around the lap 30 mark now riding just one position out of a championship nod with Gruel still riding in ninth.
The night’s final yellow waved at lap 34 for another spin by the Muldoon No. 15. Muldoon would re-fire, finishing the night in 12th position after a fine regular season.
Connors, looking for his first career win, led Gosek, Barnes, Shampine, Graham, Abold, Sitterly, Danzer, Gruel, and Lavery to the Pole Position Raceway Firing Point for the last restart of the night with only 16-laps remaining.
On the restart Barnes looked low on Gosek for the championship position, but Gosek would not give in driving the No. 00, battling back on the top side in wild fashion.
Eventually Barnes was able to make the move stick, taking the second position, holding the championship cards in his hands. But that was not enough for ‘The Hustler.’
Barnes was now setting sail for the race leader Connors with Sitterly having used the final restart of the night to his advantage, picking off several cars to jump to the fourth position behind Gosek in the final ten laps of the feature.
Trying to hang on for all he could in his search for his first career win, Connors finally gave in, leaving just enough room on the outside of the race track for Barnes to fly by into the race lead in turn four at lap 43, bringing the Speedway faithful to its feet in applause and cheers.
Gosek and Sitterly would then get by Connors just two laps later, pushing Connors back to fourth after his best drive of the season.
Wanting to leave little doubt, Barnes pulled away in convincing fashion over the final seven laps of one of the most dramatic feature races in Speedway history to earn his ninth career Speedway win and first career Oswego championship by 1.5-seconds over Gosek.
Gosek, who started a record 439th Novelis Supermodified main event at Oswego on Saturday, spoke to infield announcer Keith Zehr after the race.
“Finally we’ve got a racecar that can really race,” said Gosek. “It’s fun when you’ve got a car like that where you can grit your teeth and go for it. We’ll take second going into the Classic. The guys worked hard. We put our spare motor in last night. You’ve got to earn everything you get here.”
Sitterly, who came into the night 31-points out of the lead in fourth position, ended the race and the championship in the third spot.
“It has just been a hard year,” said Sitterly. “Good for Mike Barnes and the Syrells, that’s awesome. I wish we could do something with passing points. It’s amazing to pass so many cars in a season, and have nothing to show for it. But, we’ll take it.”
When all was said and done Barnes unofficially earned the championship by a scant 7.5-points on Gruel with Sitterly taking the third position in the championship, edging Muldoon by 11.5-points.
Shell Shock Custom Helmet Paint heat race victories went to Shampine, Muldoon, and Iosue.
The Radical Race Gear Lap Leader Award and Lighthouse Lanes Up and Comer Award went to Connors with Barnes earning the Lighthouse Lanes Hard Charger.
Lavery would also score an extra $50 cash from the Xtreme Short Track Sim Racing Series for being the last car on the lead lap.
For more information on Oswego Speedway visit online at www.oswegospeedway.com or call (315) 342-0646. Visit the Speedway on social media @OswegoSpeedway or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OswegoSpeedway.
-Oswego Speedway Press Release. Photo credit: Bill Taylor