Not even a caution with four laps remaining in Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge could detour road course expert Justin Marks from scoring his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Marks, driver of the No. 42 Katerra Chevrolet Camaro and co-owner with Kyle Larson of Larson Marks Racing, withstood a rain-soaked challenge from Sam Hornish Jr. on the final restart, but Marks showcased his road racing skills when it counted most and stretched his lead to 3.7 seconds when the checkered flag flew.
“These are as tough conditions as you can put drivers in,” said Marks from a makeshift Victory Lane. “It’s just really hard on everybody when it’s dry and wet and you don’t really know what to do, so strategy plays a big role in it. You know, my specialty is road racing in the rain in these stock cars and I don’t get much of an opportunity to do it so when that opportunity presents itself, you have to really take advantage of it and I about threw it away today.
“I knew if the race ended in the rain that we would have a real shot at winning it. I wish my family was here. I’m just really happy.”
Marks dedicated the win to former Chip Ganassi Racing driver Bryan Clauson who passed away last Sunday night from injuries in a sprint car accident during the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas.
“Bryan’s short career in stock car racing came with Chip Ganassi Racing, so it’s great to be able to put this thing in Victory Lane to honor him and think about him,” added Marks. “He’s a real American hero race car driver. Bryan was. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
Hornish in a limited schedule driving the No. 2 Rheem Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Childress Racing settled for second.
“All in all, a good day for the Rheem Chevrolet,” he said. “My hat’s off to Justin Marks. I generally held myself as a pretty decent rain racer and even given the opportunity there at the end, I couldn’t do anything with him. I would have had to take massive chances with our car to be able to do anything and you still gotta pass him to keep up with him.
“I’m proud of what the guys gave me on the No. 2 car today. I wish we would have gotten a little more out of it. In the dry, I feel like we could win, but Justin just went out there and was just a monster in the wet.”
Hornish won the pole on Friday in dry conditions, but as the field took the green at the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course, Mother Nature moved in and sent the team to pit road for an optional change of tires from slicks to wets on Lap 3.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Owen Kelly, in his XFINITY Series return, took the lead on the restart, but spun shortly thereafter in Turn 6 sending Hornish back to the top spot. Hornish, however, would get his first glimpse of Marks on Lap 12 when the Chip Ganassi Racing driver took the lead for the first time.
The Rocklin, California, native would maintain the lead through the halfway point where he pitted from the lead, cycling the top spot through a variety of drivers during green flag pit stops, as the race track began to transition back to dry.
A Lap 50 caution for debris, however, would be the starting point where the race would set the tone for the closing laps. While under the yellow, the skies opened up, soaking the road course and sending almost all the competitors back to pit road for wet tires and fuel for the end.
When the race restarted with 14 laps to go, Darrell Wallace Jr. found himself at the top. But with 12 laps to go, he went off course, giving the lead to Ty Dillon with a stalking Marks behind.
With rain continuing to fall, Marks used his experience to close the distance between himself and Ty Dillon. He then took advantage as Dillon went off course on Lap 65, giving the lead back to Marks on Lap 66 and he never looked back, nor relinquished it til the checkered flag waved!
Check out the unofficial results of the Mid-Ohio 200.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!