LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. – official series release — Lucas Oil Modified photo —
Austin Barnes started the afternoon as he has so many others, by setting the fast time in qualifying for the opening race of the season for the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart.
He finished it with a victory in Saturday’s E3 Spark Plugs Arizona 100 presented by GEICO after 88 laps of cat-and-mouse racing with Matthew Hicks on Havasu 95 Speedway’s challenging quarter-mile oval.
Barnes drew a three for the invert after his 24th fast time in the Ron’s Rear Ends/Machine Tech STR Chevrolet. That put Hicks on the pole alongside series rookie Jack Madrid, with Barnes on the inside of the second row. Madrid was squeezed out of the sandwich on the opening lap and Barnes and Hicks ran one-two for the rest of race of the 100-lap race.
Hicks was one for 88 laps, with Barnes closed behind. Barnes made a couple of feints at taking the low line away on laps 84 and 87, then did it on lap 89 as he and Hicks exited Turn 2 and went down the back straightaway. Once in front, Barnes motored away to win by 1.432 seconds over Hicks, with Taylor Miinch third, Scott Winners fourth and Madrid fifth after dropping out of the top 10 briefly.
It was the 12th career victory for 2012 series champion Barnes, who will be 20 on March 16, and helped the Lucas Oil Modifieds kick off their 10th anniversary season in promising fashion.
There were 35 cars on hand to compete for 24 spots in the main event field and nine of those were rookies, attracted to the 10-race touring series in part by its growing reputation as the best touring series in the West and in part by the DJ Safety rookie of the year program. Madrid’s fifth-place effort gave him the early lead in that rookie competition, which will count a driver’s best eight finishes, and Eric Rhead picked up $500 for winning the 40-lap BILSTEIN B main and getting his feet wet in the series.
“Matt drove a heck of a race,” said Barnes. “We had that 37-lap green flag run there at the beginning and I knew I was faster and I was kind of pushing, but I wasn’t real stressed for time. Then we started getting caution after caution (seven in all) and the next thing I know it’s like lap 70 or something and I said, ‘Man, I better put the charge on.’”
Hicks couldn’t say quite the same thing.
“Austin was good,” the 27-year-old said. “He played the game right. He waited and kept his tires under him and made me push it to make me hurt my tires.”
“I thought we had pretty equal cars. He’s raced these cars longer than I have and he’s raced this track. He’s had fast cars here before. This is truly one of our first times with a really good car here. He knew what he had to do and we’ll know next time not to push as hard. It was a fun race. We drove away from everyone and we were playing with each other, so it was fun. Yeah, it’s disappointing (not to win), but second is not too bad.”
CREDIT: Lucas Oil Modified Series