BLYTHE, Calif. — Usually when someone says Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway is their favorite track it’s said in a joking manner because of the challenging idiosyncrasies of the asphalt over on the Colorado River Fair grounds. But when Austin Barnes said it Saturday night he meant it.
The 19-year-old, back in the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart after an unsatisfactory season elsewhere in 2013, won for the third time in his past four starts on the tight quarter-mile oval by holding off J.A. Junior in a final eight-lap dash to the finish of the E3 Spark Plugs 75 Laps to Victory presented by General Tire and completing what he called “a perfect weekend.”
It started with the 2012 series champion posting the quickest lap in qualifying for the third time in as many starts this year, continued when he pulled a 3 for the starting grid inversion, and concluded with him leading the final 49 laps after overtaking Junior, who started on the pole alongside reigning series champion Chris Gerchman.
Junior, Barnes and Gerchman settled into the top three spots in the 24-car field on the opening lap and they stayed comfortably ahead of the field for 65 laps, with Barnes taking the lead on lap 26 and Gerchman taking second away from Junior the next time around and staying within easy reach of Barnes until lap 67. Then the normally impeccable Gerchman spun in Turn 1 without anyone’s help.
“I don’t know why it happened and that’s what bothers me,” Gerchman said while he and car builder Steve Teets looked at the rear brakes after he had finished ninth.
Barnes and Junior didn’t care why it happened. Gerchman’s spin set up their late race duel for the win with Jason Patison third but unable to challenge because his car was “too free on entry. I think I had something for them, but I couldn’t drive into the corners hard enough.”
Junior drove hard enough, but wasn’t able to change the outcome because Barnes didn’t make a mistake on a track that he said requires “managing your momentum and keeping your corner speed up.”
Everyone else had been out-run or had run out of luck.
The win, worth $1,300 to Barnes, was the 10th all-time for the Escondido, Calif., resident.
Austin Barnes, J.A. Junior, Jason Patison, Larry Gerchman, Dylan Capello, Jim Mardis, Dave Arce, Chase Catania, Chris Gerchman, Matthew Hicks, Doug Hamm, Tripp Gaylord, Jessica Clark, Tim Morse, Keegan Walmer, Pat Petrie, Kyle Niquette, Scott Winters, Shelby Stroebel, Chris Cook, Aaron McMorran, Doug Carpenter, Linny White, Eddie Secord.