LAKE HAVASU CITY, Arizona – Austin Barnes started the afternoon as he has so many others, by setting the fast time in qualifying for the opening race of the season for the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart.
He finished it with a victory in the E3 Spark Plugs Arizona 100 presented by GEICO after 88 laps of cat-and-mouse racing with Matthew Hicks on Havasu 95 Speedway’s challenging quarter-mile oval.
Barnes drew 3 for an invert after his 24th fast time in the Ron’s Rear Ends/Machine Tech STR Chevrolet. That put Hicks on the pole alongside series rookie Jack Madrid, with Barnes on the inside of the second row. Madrid was squeezed out of the sandwich on the opening lap and Barnes and Hicks ran one-two for the rest of race of the 100-lap race.
Hicks was one for 88 laps, with Barnes closed behind. Barnes made a couple of feints at taking the low line away on laps 84 and 87, then did it on lap 89 as he and Hicks exited Turn 2 and went down the back straightaway. Once in front, Barnes motored away to win by 1.432 seconds over Hicks, with Taylor Miinch third, Scott Winners fourth and Madrid fifth after dropping out of the top 10 briefly.
It was the 12th career victory for 2012 series champion Barnes, who will be 20 on March 16, and helped the Lucas Oil Modifieds kick off the 10th Anniversary season in promising fashion.
There were 35 cars on hand to compete for 24 spots in the main event field and nine of those were rookies, attracted to the 10-race touring series in part by its growing reputation as the best touring series in the West and in part by the DJ Safety rookie of the year program. Madrid’s fifth-place effort gave him the early lead in that rookie competition, which will count a driver’s best eight finishes, and Eric Rhead picked up $500 for winning the 40-lap BILSTEIN B main and getting his feet wet in the series.
“Matt drove a heck of a race,” said Barnes, of Escondido, California. “We had that 37-lap green flag run there at the beginning and I knew I was faster and I was kind of pushing, but I wasn’t real stressed for time. Then we started getting caution after caution (seven in all) and the next thing I know it’s like lap 70 or something and I said ‘man, I better put the charge on.
“I started ramping it up, using the bumper a little bit just to let him know I was there, and he started making mistakes here and there. Finally it was just enough where I was able to get under him and I just sailed from there. The car was just on rails. I was just the monkey in the seat pressing the pedals. The 100 laps with as hot as it was here I was really worried about the car falling off, but on lap 95 it felt just as good as it did on lap 5.”
Hicks couldn’t say quite the same thing.
“Austin was good,” the 27-year-old Lakeside, California, resident said. “He played the game right. He waited and kept his tires under him and made me push it to make me hurt my tires.
“I thought we had pretty equal cars. He’s raced these cars longer than I have and he’s raced this track. He’s had fast cars here before. This is truly one of our first times with a really good car here. He knew what he had to do and we’ll know next time not to push as hard. It was a fun race. We drove away from everyone and we were playing with each other, so it was fun.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing (not to win), but second is not too bad.”
It was a truly disappointing day for a few drivers, among them reigning champion Dylan Cappello. The Peoria, Arizona, resident finished 11th, after finishing 21st and 9th in last season’s two races at the track, and said “we’re just not good here.”
Next up is the GEICO Arizona Shootout 75 presented by General Tire April 11 at Tucson, Arizona.
-Lucas Oil Modifieds Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com
E3 SPARK PLUGS ARIZONA 100 PRESENTED BY GEICO
Havasu 95 Speedway, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Main event (100 laps) – 1. Austin Barnes, Escondido, California; 2. Matthew Hicks, Lakeside, California; 3. Taylor Miinch, El Cajon, California; 4. Scott Winters, Tracy, California; 5. Jack Madrid, San Clemente, California; 6. Shelby Stroebel, Meridian, Idaho; 7. Jim Mardis, Yucaipa, California; 8. Jason Irwin, Albuquerque, New Mexico; 9. Chris Cook, Tabiona, Utah; 10. Larry Gerchman, Lake Havasu City, Arizona; 11. Dylan Cappello, Peoria, Arizona; 12. Jason Patison, Corona, California; 13. Doug Carpenter, San Diego, California; 14. Kyle Tellstrom, Ukiah, California; 15. Eddie Secord, Oak Hills, California; 16. Chase Catania, El Cajon, California; 17. Pat Petrrie, Henderson, Nevada; 18. Travis Irving, Norco, California; 19. Dustin Tilbury, Cedar Grove, New Mexico; 20. Doug Hamm, Las Vegas, Nevada; 21. Blaine Perkins, Bakersfield, California; 22. Brian Collins, Camino, California; 23. Colby Potts, Stockton, California; 24. Linny White, Colton, California.
Margin of victory – 1.432 seconds. Averager speed – 26.947 mph. Caution flags – 7. Fast qualifier – Barnes, 15.233 seconds/59.082 mph.
B main (40 laps; top 4 after 20 laps transfer to the main event) – 1. Eric Rhead, West Jordan, Utah; 2. Blake Rogers, Yuma, Arizona; 3. Mark Allison, Las Vegas; 4. – Elliott Stjerne, Madera, California; 5. Jerry Toporek, Venice, California; 6. Dave Arce, Santee, California; 7. William Guevara, Lake Havasu City, Arizona; 8. Jeff Longman, Lehi, Utah; 9. Jerry Snell, Lake Havasu City, Arizona; 10. Lynn Hardy, Salt Lake City, Utah; 11. Eric Hamilton, Hanford, California; 12. Irving; 13. Tellstrom; 14. Tilbury; 15. Perkins.