The way Austin Barnes talked about him Sunday afternoon, March 2, maybe we should start calling Chris Gerchman a Doctor of Trackology.
“He put on a clinic today,” Barnes said after finishing second to reigning champion Gerchman in the rain-delayed opening race of the 2014 season for the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart. “He did exactly what he had to do all day.”
What Gerchman did in the General Tire Arizona 100 presented by E3 Spark Plugs at Havasu 95 Speedway was start on the outside of the front row after qualifying fifth, take the lead from pole-sitter Doug Hamm on the 13th lap around the paved quarter-mile oval and spend the rest of the 100-lap race circulating in front of the 24-car field.
The 2013 champion took the checkered flag 0.820 of a second ahead of 2012 champion Barnes, who charged from last in the field after making two early pit stops with tire problems and finished 0.815 of a second ahead of Chase Catania. Scott Winters in fourth and two-time series champion Jim Mardis in fifth rounded out the top 5.
Gerchman made his winning drive seemingly with no more concern than a tourist on the way to the London Bridge, but the 26-year-old who grew up in Lake Havasu City and lives in Spring Branch, Texas, said that wasn’t true.
“There was definitely concern,” Gerchman said. “You’ve definitely got to worry about everyone. I think this year there’s going to be a lot of different winners, so I’m just trying to play each race at a time and play my game, just keep doing the best we can.
“I think we have to give a lot of credit to the crew and a lot to Steve Teets (whose Short Track Racecars builds the chassis Gerchman, Barnes and numerous others use in the series). Without that we probably wouldn’t know our butts from a hole in the ground a lot of times.”
Catania was the first to mount a challenge to Gerchman. The 22-year-old from El Cajon, California, had settled into second by the midway point in the race and was patiently stalking his rival. But two yellow caution flags just two laps apart stalled his advance and then he got squeezed between Barnes and Winters going through Turn 2 and made contact with Barnes.
He said that “knocked the toe out and after that my car wasn’t the same. All in all it was a good race, but I think we had a better car than what we finished.”
Barnes, who had opened the weekend by posting fast time in qualifying, conceded that the early tire issues made his car tighter through the center of the corners and hurt his chances of making a serious challenge.
“I had to use a lot to get back up and didn’t exactly have what we did to start with,” he said. “Toward the end Chris would get a jump on the restart. I was quicker than him on the long runs, but we didn’t get any long runs (because of 12 cautions) to capitalize on that.
“It was tough racing, a lot of beating and banging and I wound up hitting the wall about 45 times, but it was fun. I’m really glad to be back in the series (after a year away). I’m definitely happy with a second with all that happened in the race.”