By Jim Short
Lucas Oil Modified Series
CORONA, California – Dylan Cappello said the final lap of last year’s Lucas Oil Modified Series event at Rocky Mountain Raceways produced “the closest finish I’ve ever had or ever will have, probably,” and he won’t get any argument from anyone who was there.
The final three laps of that 75-lap race featured eventual series champion Austin Barnes trying to catch and pass 2014 champion Cappello. Their two cars touched several times, including twice on the final lap, and they were essentially locked together when they slid across the finish line at about a 30-degree angle.
A few minutes after the checkered flag had waved and series officials had compared notes and looked at television replays Cappello was named the winner. Then the two men shook hands and congratulated each other on a race well run.
“It was insane,” said Cappello, who with Barnes will be among the 30-plus drivers returning to the West Valley City, Utah, track July 23 for the 4 Wheel Parts 75 presented by Geico.
“It was two guys just doing whatever they could to get a win. I didn’t know who won it until they called it. A finish like that, it’s pretty well understood that it’s just luck at that point. It was a good finish for the fans, that’s for sure.”
Cappello said the first bump from Barnes on the final lap, to his rear quarterpanel as they came off Turn 2, “got me crossed up pretty bad. I had to get the car gathered up again so I had to slow down a little. Then going into Turn 3 I hit the bump stop (with the front suspension) and bottomed out. That’s why I washed up off Turn 4 and opened the door for him.”
It was an opening Barnes hadn’t expected to get. He said that “on a long run I thought I had a better car,” but he had been frustrated by seven yellow flags and two red flags and was mentally preparing for a second-place finish.
“All of a sudden I realized I was catching him,” Barnes said. “I was sitting right there (in second) coming to the white flag and I thought I could get there. Coming out of (Turn) 2 he held his car down farther than I expected and we hit.
“He got out of shape and I was afraid he was going to lose it and I was gonna get sent to the back. He managed to hang onto it, he definitely made the best save I’ve ever seen in my life. Going into 4 he drove in a little too deep and that shot him up the track. When we both came out of there I went up (from the bottom of the track) and he went down and that got us into a slide and made a heck of a finish out of it.
“It was such an awesome moment. When we were sitting there in the infield we could hear all the fans losing their minds in the stands. It was really cool. That was about as good a race as you’re ever going to get. From first through 20th there was racing all the way through the field.”
Barnes felt there was one thing wrong with the evening, though.
“To this day I think I won the race,” said Barnes, who is sixth in the Hoosier Tire West point standings but without a win as the series opens the second half of its 10-race season.
Cappello said he thinks he may have won because “I was more sideways” at the finish line and he wouldn’t mind a repeat. The Peoria, Arizona, driver is 12th in the point standings and also winless and feels like he’s a victim of all the bad luck he avoided his first two seasons.
“I’m hoping to win it and lead all the laps and not have to worry about it,” he said. “But if it comes down to it I’ll slide across the finish again, there’s no doubt about it.”
The 4 Wheel Parts 75 will be the series’ fourth race on the 3/8-mile oval at Rocky Mountain Raceways. Chris Gerchman won the inaugural over Jim Mardis and Doug Hamm in 2013 en route to the championship; Shelby Stroebel beat Jason Irwin and Cappello in 2014 and last season Irwin nipped hometown favorite Lynn Hardy for third behind Cappello and Barnes.
The Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart is supported by a potent marketing concept known as “Team Lucas” whose members include General Tire, GEICO, E3 Spark Plugs, Optima Batteries, Carlyle Tools-NAPA, BILSTEIN Shocks, Super Clean, 4-Wheel Parts and LoanMart.