BLYTHE, Calif. — Chris Gerchman said he was racing more for points than for a victory Saturday night at Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway.
He got both and in the process got a stranglehold on his first championship in the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart.
Gerchman’s win in the Topless 100 presented by Canidae All Natural Pet Foods came courtesy of contact between leader Nik Romano and second-place Matthew Hicks with 10 laps to go on the tight quarter-mile oval.
That resulted in both those drivers being sent to the rear of the field and Gerchman getting the lead. After another restart attempt that turned Romano’s STR Chevrolet into a pile of junk at the start-finish line Gerchman held off Jason Patison and Chase Catania for his fourth win of the season.
By that time his only remaining challenger in the title fight, two-time champion Jim Mardis was out of the race, and probably for the final two events as well, because his STR Chevrolet was bent in a lot of the places it was supposed to be straight and several other contenders were in similar dire straits. So the points Gerchman accumulated for his fourth win of the season unofficially left the Spring Branch, Texas, resident 54 points ahead of Mardis and 108 ahead of anyone who might be able to run the final two races.
Romano and Mardis had been the dominant figures for the first 65 laps of the race after starting side by side on the front row of the 22-car grid thanks to an eight-car invert. Romano, a series rookie, took the lead at the green flag and held it despite pressure from Mardis, Hicks and others until a nudge from Hicks sent him spinning in turn four and elevated Gerchman from third to first.
Then, finding himself next-to-last after leading 90 laps, Romano said he was determined to pass as many cars as he could in the final 10 laps. He got quite a few on the brief restart, too, before trying and failing to get through a hole between two spinning cars and the outside wall exiting turn four and bringing out the second red flag and 11th caution period of the night.
Gerchman, who leads the series in single-season and all-time wins and career earnings but never had won a championship, said he “learned a huge lesson” about patience after starting seventh and slowly moving up.