The 2016 Lucas Oil Modified Series season is just two races old, and perhaps the biggest moment of the season has already taken place. A lapped car took out the leader in the season opening race Saturday at Havasu 95 Speedway in Arizona.
It was a clash of the titans. The lapped car was that of Jim Mardis, a two-time series champion. The leader of the race was, the only other multi-time champion in the field, last year’s titlist, Austin Barnes. The pair has had some history in their years of competing on the popular series.
“You poke the snake too many times and eventually it bites back,” Mardis told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
First, let’s rewind and take you back to the reason why Mardis was a lap down to begin with. Mardis started fourth and Barnes started in the eighth position with eventual race winner Linny White lined up in between them in the sixth position.
On the initial start, Mardis appeared to spin his tires and a car near him got into the back of Mardis. That sent the veteran driver’s No. 51 for a spin in front of much of the field.
Three other cars were collected in the incident. Mardis quickly got out of his car in turn four and walked over towards the No. 24 of Scott Winters to show his displeasure, even though Winters was near the back of the field for the crash.
While Mardis’ car was being repaired in the pits, Barnes quickly made his way forward to the lead. Just as Barnes, in his No. 51a car, took the lead, Mardis came back out of the pits and onto the race track.
Barnes was working his way through traffic when he caught Mardis in turn two. It was apparent to those in attendance that Barnes getting by Mardis wasn’t going to be easy.
The defending champion dove under Mardis, but Mardis dropped to the bottom in front of Barnes in a clear effort to impede the leader. Smoke billowed out from Mardis’ tires as he slammed on the brakes in front of Barnes.
Barnes pushed Mardis all the way down the backstretch and into turn three before trying to turn Mardis around.
After sliding sideways, Mardis gathered his car up and appeared to make a hard right turn into the left-rear of Barnes’ modified. That sent the leader spinning into the infield dirt on the exit of turn four and ended any chance of winning that Barnes may have had.
Mardis was sent off the race track by series officials and told to head home.
On Monday evening Mardis offered up his opinion on the incident and if he’d do anything different looking back at it.
“It isn’t exactly what you want to do,” Mardis said. “I had a really fast car. You go there and you want to race and you want to try to win and represent your sponsors well. I didn’t even get to race to the green. The other guy had the fastest car on the race track and he had to crash a bunch of cars coming to get the green.”
Mardis and Barnes have had their fair share of run-ins in the past, and Mardis said this time he felt liked he’d been too disrespected to let it continue any further.
“It just comes down to respect,” he said. “I felt that I’d been disrespected enough times by the same person. Unfortunately, at some point, racers have to police themselves. Hopefully I made my point clear and we can go race each other door-to-door and not touch each other anymore.”
When asked if the contact that sent Barnes spinning was intentional, Mardis didn’t fully admit it, but he didn’t exactly deny that either.
“I would say I slowed him down on the back straightaway to get my point across,” Mardis said. “We came up off of turn four and I would say I didn’t try to avoid it. Sometimes things just happen.”
Barnes made his thoughts known on the incident in the Speed51.com race story on Saturday from Arizona. (Click here to read the story)
The next race for the series is on April 9 at Tucson Speedway in Arizona. Mardis said he plans to be there and he hopes that the feud between he and Austin Barnes will become a thing of the past.
“Hopefully that’s the end of it,” he said. “Hopefully I made my point clear and we can go race each other door-to-door and not touch each other anymore. I would love for it to be the end of it and we can just go race each other with mutual respect and race each other hard and put on a show for the fans.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Howard Twaddell