HUMBOLDT, Kan. – On the seventh day of the eighth month, the strangest main event of what might be the strangest year ever concluded with somebody who is no stranger to victory lane in the Summit USMTS National Championship fueled by Casey’s.
No matter how you look at it, Tanner Mullens finding the finish line first in USMTS action may be the new normal after he snagged his fourth win in 17 starts Friday night. Meanwhile, the top three points chasers all failed to crack the top ten for the first time in 26 shows.
Four lead changes in 40 laps — including three different leaders in the final seven laps — made for an exciting feature race for the fans at the Humboldt Speedway and those watching the 14th Annual USMTS Summer Fling presented by VP Racing Fuels.
The 52nd United States Modified Touring Series main event held at Humboldt saw Darron Fuqua beat polesitter Kyle Thompson to the flagstand to lead the opening lap over the 24-car field.
Plagued by six cautions, the first occurred on the third lap when four-time series champ Jason Hughes limped to a stop at the top of turn two. Currently third in the standings, he was the first to retire from the race and failed to score his series-best 14th win in Humboldt.
Fuqua, seeking his first USMTS triumph, held the top spot for five laps before Hunter Marriott blasted around the outside in turn two to take control of the race.
Last year’s Grant Junghans USMTS Rookie of the Year remained the leader as he navigated lapped traffic like a veteran while Dereck Ramirez gave chase. Ramirez, however, suddenly suffered mechanical problems and exited the race on lap 31.
Marriott remained the leader for another two laps as he enjoyed sparred with Tyler Wolff for control of the event. Wolff finally took charge on lap 34 and Marriott was out of the race one lap later with technical issues of his own.
Another two laps went by before Wolff slowed on the racing surface with a flat left rear tire, bringing out the final caution of the race — but not the last fender bender.
A pass of Fuqua two laps earlier for third place proved to be fruitful for Mullens who assumed the lead for the restart with four laps to go.
Fuqua, who never drifted farther back than third throughout the race, could not muster the strength to knock off Mullens though as the 27-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, took the checkered flag with two car lengths to spare over his fellow Sunflower state speedster.
It was the fourth win of the season for Mullens whose breakthrough win came earlier this spring at the Lucas Oil Speedway — the site of the next USMTS race. He’s the 20th different driver to win at Humboldt.
Behind Fuqua at the finish line, Terry Phillips was third after starting 11th on the grid. The third Kansas racer in the top five, Tyler Davis finished fourth while New Mexico long distance traveler Jake Gallardo earned the FK Rod Ends Hard Charger Award by passing ten cars to come home fifth.
Although not officially one of the feature’s yellow flags, the caution light shined on the final lap when Thursday night’s winner, Rodney Sanders, looped his machine in the final corner and was joined by six others in a pileup that blocked the track from bottom to top.
It was the first time this year that Sanders did not finish among the top-10.
Tanner Mullens, Darron Fuqua, Terry Phillips, Tyler Davis, Jake Gallardo, Calvin Iverson, Kyle Thompson, Cody Jolly, Dustin Robinson, Carlos Ahumada Jr., Fito Gallardo, Adam Kates, Austin Siebert, Rodney Sanders, Tyler Wolff, Hunter Marriott, Joe Duvall, Casey Skyberg, Dereck Ramirez, Paden Phillips, Brendon Gemmill, Zack VanderBeek, Nathan Hagar, Jason Hughes.