LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — When last seen about four and a half months ago, Taylor Miinch was celebrating a championship after the most dominant season in the 12-year history of the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by MAVTV.
Saturday night, Miinch will return to picturesque quarter-mile Havasu 95 Speedway to begin his quest for a second straight title as the series opens its season with the Racing Plus 100 presented by LucasOilRacing.TV.
The win at Havasu 95 Speedway last October 28 was the fourth of the 10-race season for Miinch, who didn’t finish lower than third all year and has been fourth or better in his past 17 starts.
The 23-year-old won the championship by a record 123 points over 2014 title-winner Dylan Cappello and set another series record with season earnings of $25,500.
The question now, of course, is what he will do for an encore, against a group of rivals that has undergone some significant alterations since the close of the 2017 season and a promising field of Downforce Racing Products Rookie of the Year candidates.
Runner-up Cappello, Jason Irwin (fifth), Scott Winters (seventh), Rookie of the Year Mike Mitchell (eighth) and Dustin Tilbury (ninth) return in familiar cars, but Blake Rogers (fourth) and Shelby Stroebel (sixth) made significant changes.
Rogers, a Northern Arizona University student from Yuma, Arizona, raced last season’s finale in a car provided by Garcia Racing after the Lefthander he had driven for three seasons had been destroyed in a fiery accident at Madera, California, three weeks earlier. This year he’s in an STR powered by a fuel-injected Chevrolet powerplant from Arce Engines.
Stroebel has struggled for consistency the past few seasons while driving and doing most everything else necessary by himself. This year he’s stepped away from most of those roles and will be a driver only for Garcia Racing, where he’s been joined by Chris Cook, another veteran who has struggled in similar circumstances. The new teammates could be a potent combination.
Stroebel was fourth and Rogers fifth behind Miinch, Jim Mardis and Winters last October.
Eddie Secord, 2016 Rookie of the Year Travis Thirkettle, Aaron McMorran and series’ elder statesman Larry Gerchman all have the talent to contend for the title if they, too, can find consistency during the 10-race championship season on a variety of demanding paved oval tracks.
Havasu 95 Speedway over the years has been one of the more demanding of those tracks. One of the keys to going fast is to go slow, which is much easier to say than to do, and finding the right chassis set-up is like chasing a wind-blown leaf.
That should make it an interesting weekend for rookies Robert Baltzell, Sierra Furia, Justin Johnson, Cody Kay and Jeremy Kay and Ryan Schartau.
However, they might find some guidance by watching Miinch and Winters and doing as they do. In the past eight races at the track Winters has five top-five finishes and Miinch has seven, including two victories.