LAS VEGAS – The final curtain fell on the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by MAVTV on a bittersweet and historic Saturday night at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Justin Johnson took the lead from Dylan Cappello with 10 laps to go and pulled away to win $3,000 and the 100-lap SpillVak Triple Crown III. Cappello finished atop the Triple Crown standings with the most points in the three races and earned that $1,000 bonus. And when the checkered flag waved to end the 127th race in its 13-year existence the Lucas Oil Modified Series was consigned to short-track racing history.
When the 2019 racing season begins the series will have a new name and new management. It will be known as the Spears Manufacturing Modified Series presented by Lucas Oil and managed by Kern County Raceway and SRL Southwest Tour promoter Larry Collins and his staff.
Saturday’s race, part of The Bullring’s annual West Coast Short Track Championships, was a fitting final finale for the series that began with Jimmy Dickerson beating eventual champion Jason Patison on June 17, 2006, at Lucas Oil Speedway in Blythe, California. Dickerson won the title in 2008, and Saturday evening he completed his first season as crew chief for brothers Cody and Jeremy Kay of Reno, Nevada, two of this year’s impressive rookies.
Johnson was the leader of that rookie crop from season’s start to finish and he demonstrated why in winning this two-part 100-lap event in the fortuitously-sponsored SpillVak Phil’s Phabrication Chevrolet.
The 33-year-old from Pahrump, Nevada, began the day by setting the pace in qualifying with a fast lap of 15.064 seconds on the 3/8- mile paved oval, won the 6-lap K&N Trophy Dash (also over Cappello), and drove perhaps his best race of the year after starting eighth in the main event thanks to the invert.
Scott Winters led the 26-car field to the starting line and held the lead through a ragged start interrupted by three caution flags, then surrendered it to Ryan Partridge on lap 25. Two laps later Cappello completed his move from fifth at the start to first when he got by Partridge and settled into the lead for the closing laps of what was scheduled to be a 50-lap opening segment but was shortened to 42 when Partridge lost an engine and brought out the fourth and final caution of the race.
Cappello went into the break with a .611-second lead over 16-year-old rookie and RBK Racing teammate Ryan Schartau, with Johnson, Kyle Tellstrom and Winters rounding out the top five. When the race resumed and Johnson got by Schartau on lap 52 the battle for the victory was joined, and lapped traffic became a factor.
Johnson slowly erased a .792-second deficit on lap 60 and by lap 75 was locked on Cappello’s rear bumper and looking for a way around the leader.
“I was wondering (if he would find a way),” Johnson said. “I was really loose off (the turns) so I was trying to roll the throttle the best could to keep tires from slipping. It was fun. He looked a little tight in (turns) 1 and 2. I had to set him up off that, but I wanted to do it clean and I was able to do that. Chris (Bray, his crew chief) made some changes during the break. He tightened up and made it better.
“If there had been any yellows I think he (Cappello) could have held on but my car was great on long runs.”
Cappello, of Peoria, Arizona, would have welcomed the opportunity to find out if Johnson was right.
“He was just faster everywhere honestly. He had a better race car,” Cappello said. “I was doing all I could to stay with him for a couple of laps but I was pushing it way too hard.”
It was the second straight heartbreaking finish for Cappello, who won the series title as a rookie in 2014. In the last race of the points championship at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, October 27, he had lost the lead and the race to Taylor Miinch with three laps to go.
“It hurts to come up a little bit short two races in a row,” he said. “We’re pretty tough on ourselves, we try to win them all.”
Schartau finished third, completing an impressive drive from 17th at the start. Tellstrom, Winters, Shelby Stroebel and Jeremy Kay were the other cars on the lead lap at the finish.
Cappello did have some consolation, however, with his bonus for accumulating the most points in the SpillVakTriple Crown races at Kern County Raceway June 30, Irwindale Speedway August 18 and The Bullring.
-Lucas Oil Modified Series Press Release
-Photo credit: Michele Martin / Speed51.com