LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. – Taylor Miinch put the finishing touch on his second straight Lucas Oil Modified Series championship by stealing a win Saturday night at Havasu 95 Speedway.
Miinch, whose two-point bonus for being fast qualifier had ended Justin Johnson’s longshot hopes of winning the series title, got by polesitter and race-long leader Dylan Cappello on lap 98 and won the Hoosier Tire Championship 100 by .599 of a second over Cappello.
Scott Winters was third ahead of a quartet of rookies – Johnson, Ryan Schartau, Jeremy Kay and Cody Kay. Last-place starter Blake Rogers, Austin Barnes and Aaron McMorran rounded out the top 10.
It was Miinch’s third-straight win and fourth in the past six races on Havasu 95 Speedway’s tricky quarter-mile oval, and his fifth win of the season overall. The 23-year-old from Blossom Valley, Calif., joined Jim Mardis (2010-2011) as a back-to-back champion and Mardis and Barnes as two-time champions.
“It feels really good to win two in a row,” said Miinch, who led the Hoosier Tire West point standings all season. “The first one we definitely worked hard for it and counted on it and won it. The second one showed we could win two in a row, that we’re a really good team and really consistent.”
The father of two got this latest victory by driving what over the past two-plus seasons has become a textbook race for him.
He started on the inside of the second row after drawing a three for an invert, took second away from Johnson on the opening lap, and settled in behind Cappello until the only caution flag of the night waved on lap 31. Winters took second on that restart, so Miinch settled into third for 30 laps before reclaiming second on lap 61.
The two leaders played a little cat-and-mouse, with Miinch closing in and Cappello pulling away slightly, until Miinch made his pass for the top spot and opened a comfortable advantage.
Miinch said he had been the loser to Trevor Cristiani on a late-race pass at Irwindale Speedway Aug. 18, “So I know how it feels,” and he said he had used some traditional short-track tactics to get around Cappello.
“I kind of bumped him quite a bit and moved him up the track, out of the way,” Miinch said. “He got into me a little and tried to return the favor but I was able to keep it underneath me. It was just hard short-track racing. I don’t think there’s any hard feelings.”
Cappello, who won the series title in 2014, naturally wasn’t thrilled by what had happened but he, too, said it was short-track racing.
“I missed a corner with like 5 (laps) to go, I slid up in (turns) one and two and that allowed him to get to my bumper,” Cappello said. “He tapped me a couple of times, then pushed me all the way down into (turn) three and hit me pretty hard and pushed me up the track.”
It was the third time this season Cappello had finished second to Miinch, but he felt good about what that meant to himself and his team headed by former driver and crew chief Dean Kuhn.
“When we first started the year a top 10 would be a good day,” Cappello said. “Me and Dean wanted to run real good here this time. We tested yesterday and found a lot of stuff. We were really good, just not good enough. But from what we’re used to running here to leading almost the whole race, I’d say we did pretty good.”
Taylor Miinch, Dylan Cappello, Scott Winters, Justin Johnson, Ryan Schartau, Jeremy Kay, Cody Kay, Blake Rogers, Austin Barnes, Aaron McMorran, Chris Cook, Eddie Secord, William Guevara, Brian Collins, Mark Allison, Dave Arce, Doug Carpenter.