MADERA, Calif. — Justin Johnson got his first win in the Lucas Oil Modified Series and kept himself in the race for the series championship Saturday night at Madera Speedway.
“Finally,” Johnson said after his 0.398-second victory over Kyle Tellstrom in the K&N Engineering 75 presented by FAST EZ-EFI. “I messed us up a few times earlier in the year or I think we could have had a couple more. Now we’ll see if we can do something at Havasu and Las Vegas.”
Johnson unofficially gained 11 points on reigning champion and season-long leader Taylor Miinch, who was fast qualifier and finished sixth Saturday, and will go into that final race 37 points behind with 77 points possible.
Johnson, the winner of a dozen track and state championships in other series but a rookie in this one, started on the outside of the front row alongside two-time Madera winner Dylan Cappello, drove by Cappello on the opening lap and stayed in front for all 75 laps on the .333-mile Madera oval.
“The high groove was the better groove tonight,” Johnson said. “You could roll through the center (of the turn) better on the lower groove but you couldn’t get the drive off, so I just stayed on the top.
“The car (the SpillVak Phil’s Phabrication Chevrolet) was really good. It was a little tight. If it had been a little freer I think we’d have been a little faster but it doesn’t matter. We won it. I hit the wall a few times trying keep the grip (in the tires). I let it go all the way to the fence and smacked it a few times, but I didn’t bend any wheels, just scraped Hoosier (lettering) off the tires.
“I had to run hard all the time. I couldn’t cruise because they were putting a lot of pressure on me. I was driving so hard I was getting loose in (to the corners) a little.”
Cappello and Cody Kay took turns occupying second before Tellstrom, another two-time Madera winner, took the position on lap 31. The Ukiah, Calif., resident never was able to challenge the leader, however, and had to settle for leading Kay, Scott Winters and Cappello across the line to round out the top five.
“I thought we were dead equal,” Tellstrom said. “He just kind of caught (lapped) traffic at the right time. I was hoping we’d get a late-race (caution) restart, but it didn’t work out for us tonight.”
Kay, another series rookie who made his series debut at Madera a year ago, had his best night of the season with his third-place finish in the race and a win in the 6-lap, 6-car Trophy Dash.
Kay, who said he was a half-second off the pace in last year’s outing, said he had “a pretty amazing feeling” Saturday night, considering his Rocket Electric crew changed the transmission in his STR Chevrolet four times in the morning trying to solve a shift linkage problem and his race almost went sour at the start.
“I had a little mishap,” he said. “I got a little throttle happy and got it sideways. I don’t know if I want to watch it again (on replay). It was pretty sideways.”
Justin Johnson, Kyle Tellstrom, Cody Kay, Scott Winters, Dylan Cappello, Taylor Miinch, Blake Rogers, Aaron McMorran, Terry Deal, Michael Mitchell, Adam Coonfield, Chris Cook, Eddie Secord, Victor Machado, William Guevara, Tyler Herzog, Mark Allison, Doug Carpenter, Sierra Furia, Jeremy Kay, Dave Arce, Ryan Schartau.