Lake Havasu City, Arizona (October 29, 2016) - Taylor Miinch did everything he needed to do to win the Lucas Oil Modified Series championship Saturday afternoon. He had the fastest lap in qualifying and won the 100-lap Hoosier Tire Championship to earn 77 points, the maximum available to a series race winner.
Miinch didn't win the title, though, because Matthew Hicks did everything he needed to do as well.
Hicks, a 29-year-old from Lakeside, California, went into the race at Havasu 95 Speedway leading the standings by 16 points over Scott Winters and 19 over Miinch and needing to finish seventh or better to secure his first championship.
Hicks persevered through what he said was the hardest race he'd ever driven to finish sixth and win the championship by 4 points over his San Diego County neighbor.
Winters said his car was “loose in, loose in the center and loose off” and that condition helped consign the Tracy, California, resident to third in the race and third in the point standings, 10 points behind Hicks unofficially.
Hicks, Miinch and Winters had been in the fight for the title all 222 days of the season after finishing second, third and eighth, respectively, in the season-opener in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Hicks led after seven of the 10 events and Winters after one and each finished the season with one victory.
The difference ultimately was in consistency. Hicks had six top 5 finishes and was lower than sixth only once, when he was 10th at Las Vegas in May. Miinch was fourth or better in each of the final five events, but had a 13th at Tucson, Arizona, in early April and an eighth at Irwindale, California, later that month. Winters never finished lower than seventh, but his best outings in addition to his win in Utah in July were two thirds.
“We're disappointed. We came here to win the championship and we came up short,” Winters said. “The team worked hard and I drove as hard as I could and we ended up third. That was the best we could do today, but it wasn't good enough to beat Miinch and Hicks. But it's just one race. We had nine other races and we could have done better in those, but you sum 'em all up and end up where you end up.”
Miinch had similar thoughts after becoming a series-record seventh different winner in 10 races. He started on the outside of the fourth row after pulling an eight for the invert and worked his way into the top 5 after 35 laps. He ran second to Austin Barnes for another 35 laps, but was closing when Barnes cut a tire in a brush with Shelby Stroebel on lap 91 and gave up the lead.
“I didn't want him to break, I wanted to pass him,” Miinch said. “We kind of had a really bad start, we got held up a little bit. I just stayed calm, picked the cars off one by one, and we did everything we could do. We got fast time, the car was pretty good all weekend and we won the race. There was nothing else we could do except do a little better throughout the whole season.
“They (Hicks' team) had a really, really strong season, they've had no mistakes, they had good consistent finishes and they had a win. It's hard to beat that.”
For Hicks, it was a matter of sacrificing a battle to win the war as he stayed between fifth and 10th place all afternoon.
“I would say that was the hardest race I've ever driven, to keep calm and to keep the tires under me, and we did it,” said Hicks, a five-year veteran of the series whose crew consists of his father and mother and friends.
“Everything was good. Everybody was pretty much really aware of what was going on and everybody was pretty respectful. I have to thank (pole-sitter) Kyle Cline; he got out of the way (while fading to 15th). Everybody gave me room. I was better, too, but I think they said hey, if he's there I'm going to move.
“It wasn't that hard (to race conservatively),” said Hicks. “I was going to take what I could get. Don't overdo it, take what you can get, and as soon as you're in the top seven it's done; no matter what it's done.”
While Hicks was putting the finishing touch on his series champion Travis Thirkettle was wrapping up the DJ Safety Rookie of the Year award that is based on each driver's eight best finishes and is worth more than $4,000 in cash and merchandise. The Newhall, California, resident was 19th Saturday, but had two wins and finished 20 points ahead of Shane Skaggs of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was 10th.
Skaggs did get some consolation. He won the Optima Batteries Hard Charger award for the race by gaining nine positions. It was the series-high third time he had been the Hard Charger and that netted him a $500 bonus.
The Lucas Oil Modified Series' 2016 schedule will conclude with the non-points Race of Champions November 19 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
LUCAS OIL MODIFIEDS HOOSIER TIRE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Havasu 95 Speedway, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
1/4-quarter mile paved oval
Main event (100 laps) – 1. Taylor Miinch (4T), Blossom Valley, Ca.; 2. Kyle Tellstrom (89), Ukiah, Ca.; 3. Scott Winters (24A), Tracy, Ca.; 4. Austin Barnes (51A), Escondido, Ca.; 5. Dylan Cappello (11), Peoria, Az.; 6. Matthew Hicks (28), Lakeside, Ca.; 7. Eric Hamilton (11H), Hanford, Ca.; 8. Shelby Stroebel (24), Meridian, Idaho; 9. Larry Gerchman (25), Lake Havasu City, Az.; 10. Shane Skaggs (28X), Albuquerque, N.M.;
11. Blake Rogers (4B), Yuma, Az.; 12. Dustin Tilbury (17D), Edgewood, N.M.; 13. Jason Patison (80), Corona, Ca.; 14. William Guevara (55), Lake Havasu City; 15. Kyle Cline (98), Hesperia, Ca.; 16. Aaron McMorran (22), Las Vegas; 17. Doug Hamm (4X), North Las Vegas; 18. Eddie Secord (35), Oak Hills, Ca.; 19. Travis Thirkettle (5T), Newhall, Ca.; 20. Dave Arce (5), Santee, Ca.;
21. William Camera (3), Fremont, Ca.; 22. Wes Miller (87), Turlock, Ca.; 23. Chris Cook (2), Tabiona, Utah; 24. Kaylie Barker, North Las Vegas; 25. Tony Forfa (34), Redlands, Ca.; 26. Sal Lopez (02), Sacramento, Ca.
Margin of victory – 2.618 seconds. Average speed – 38.232 mph. Lead changes – 2 among 3 drivers. Caution periods – 2. Fast qualifier – Miinch. Trophy Dash – Stroebel; Tellstrom; Miinch; Rogers; Winters; Barnes.