Wheatland, MO --The last two times Tanner Mullens strapped on a helmet he didn't have to pass a single car to pick up a pair of victories, but Wednesday's effort at the Lucas Oil Speedway was a different kind of monster with the Summit USMTS National Championship fueled by Casey's in town.
Like he did in his back-to-back USRA Modifieds wins in the Sunflower State on Saturday at the 81 Speedway and Sunday at the Humboldt Speedway, Mullens drew the pole for the post-pandemic inserted event at the "Diamond of Dirt Tracks" in Wheatland, Missouri, but his career-first USMTS victory was far from wire to wire.
Sharing the front row with Dereck Ramirez, Mullens squirted into the lead as the field entered the first turn and held the point through a flurry of caution flags throughout the first seven laps.
Once they settled in, the green flag continued to wave above the flagstand until the end of the 40-lap affair. With Ramirez and Gustin chasing him, Mullens didn't falter through the first 15 orbits.
Pounding the high side of the racing surface, Gustin-driving a backup car out of the Ramirez Motorsport stable-got by Ramirez and then reeled in Mullens, eventually taking the lead on lap 16.
Mullens joined Gustin at the top side of the 3/8-mile clay oval and followed him for four laps until opportunity knocked when Gustin bobbled in turn four and Mullens was able to cross underneath to regain the top spot on lap 20.
At that point, the 27-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, pulled away from Gustin who was now dealing with 13th-starting Terry Phillips of nearby Springfield. Phillips, who won the USRA Modified feature here five nights ago, shot past Gustin and quickly evaporated the cushion Mullens had built.
With 24 laps in the books, Phillips passed Mullens in turn one but Mullens returned serve in the next corner and held on to lead the 24th circuit but it was brief as Phillips sealed the deal the next time around to lead lap 25.
Undaunted, Mullens powered back into the lead one lap later and set the pace for three more laps before giving way to Phillips once again with 29 laps down.
Phillips increased his advantage as the leaders danced in and out of lapped traffic. It appeared he was en route to his 31st USMTS triumph when his familiar red No. 75 slowed considerably halfway down the backstretch with just four laps to go.
When they returned to the front stretch, Phillips coasted into the infield while Mullens recaptured the lead as he passed underneath the flagstand to complete lap 37. He never trailed again.
In claiming his first USMTS victory, Mullens pocketed $2,500 as the series now heads to the 81 Speedway on Thursday and Humboldt Speedway on Friday-the scenes of Mullens' previous two wins.
As he has become accustomed to over the last year or so, Ramirez settled for yet another runner-up paycheck while Gustin edged Dustin Sorensen for third. Dustin Hodges was fifth while Daron Fuqua, Rodney Sanders, Calvin Iverson, Jason Hughes and Jared Russell completed the top 10.
The Summit USMTS National Championship fueled by Casey's treks to the 81 Speedway in Park City, Kansas, tomorrow night for the 9th Annual Park City Sunflower State Showdown presented by Murphy Equipment.
USRA B Mods and Auto Tech Service Street Stocks are also on the card with pits opening at 4 p.m. and grandstands at 5:30. Hot laps begin at 7 and racing gets underway at 7:30.
The 81 Speedway is located north of Wichita on I-135 to exit 16, then 0.7 mile west on 77th St. (7700 N Broadway St, Park City, KS 67219). For more information call (316) 755-1781 or visit race81speedway.com.
Currently, the 2020 schedule for the Summit USMTS National Championship fueled by Casey's is highlighted by 43 nights of racing at 28 unique dirt ovals for the 22nd season of competition for the world's Best of the Best in dirt modified racing.
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1. (1) 02 Tanner Mullens, Wichita, Kan.
2. (2) 4R Dereck Ramirez, Woodward, Okla.
3. (7) 4RG Ryan Gustin, Marshalltown, Iowa
4. (5) 19 Dustin Sorensen, Rochester, Minn.
5. (3) 22H Dustin Hodges, Centralia, Mo.
6. (16) 87 Darron Fuqua, Mayetta, Kan.
7. (8) 20 Rodney Sanders, Happy, Texas
8. (10) 27X Calvin Iverson, Eleva, Wis.
9. (20) 12 Jason Hughes, Watts, Okla.
10. (22) 4R Jared Russell, Wagoner, Okla.
11. (11) 65 Tyler Davis, Haysville, Kan.
12. (6) 33Z Zack VanderBeek, New Sharon, Iowa
13. (18) 21 Ryan Middaugh, Fulton, Mo.
14. (21) 9 Kevin Rutherford, Flower Mound, Texas
15. (12) 6 Casey Skyberg, Rapid City, S.D.
16. (14) 91 Joe Duvall, Claremore, Okla.
17. (23) 7F Daniel Franklin, Berryville, Ark.
18. (13) 75 Terry Phillips, Springfield, Mo.
19. (9) 23 Adam Kates, Tonganoxie, Kan.
20. (17) 4W Tyler Wolff, Fayetteville, Ark.
21. (24) 62 Hunter Marriott, Brookfield, Mo.
22. (25) 21 Jacob Bleess, Chatfield, Minn.
23. (4) 16S Chad Lyle, Oak Grove, Mo.
24. (15) 55 Nathan Hagar, Adair, Okla.
25. (19) 68 Dean Wille, Warrensburg, Mo.
DNS - 65 Kris Jackson, Lebanon, Mo.
-USMTS Press Release
-Photo credit: Todd Boyd