NASCAR Xfinity: Justin Marks wins in rain at Mid-Ohio
Justin Marks celebrates his win of the Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car course on Aug. 13, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Racing in the rain suits Justin Marks just fine. And it showed Saturday during a downpour in the closing laps of the Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports car course, as Justin Marks drove to his first-career NASCAR Xfinity Series win. It was the second win of the season for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team. The first came at Pocono Raceway with Kyle Larson as driver of the No. 42.
“It means the world,” Marks said. “I’m not a big-time race car driver. It just means a lot to get an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing and to get a win.”
Sam Hornish Jr. finished second from behind the wheel of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. The only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series interloper in the race, Ryan Blaney, was third, followed by RCR teammate Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier rounding out the top-five.
Marks led 43 laps, running up front for more than half of the 75-lap race. His final lead came with 10 laps to go when Dillon got off-track while running up front. AS the track got wetter and wetter over the course of the closing laps, several drivers lost control of their cars, enabling Marks to drive out to a lead of more than 24 seconds.
“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 rally take advantage of it,” Marks said. “I about threw it away today, but I knew if the race ended in the rain that we’d have a real shot at winning it.”
On last caution, the record-tying eighth of the race, with four laps to go, erased Mark’s hug lead. Marks had Dillon alongside on the front row for the final restart, but Dillon had difficulty getting up to speed, allowing Hornish and Blaney to get by him for position.
“We just didn’t have what the 42 did in the rain,” Hornish said. It’s been great working with this Rheem team. We almost had it today, but we’ll try at Kentucky Speedway next month.”
The race started on a dry track with Hornish on the pole, but rain came quickly, resulting in a yellow flag on lap two. Hornish lost the lead to Owen Kelly, the road-course ace enlisted to drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, on lap nine, but right after taking the lead, Kelly spun, handing the lead back over to Hornish.
After starting the race 16th, Marks was up to second by lap 10, and on lap 11, he took the lead for the first time.
“It was a wild race from the drop of the green flag,” Hornish said. “Our Rheem Chevrolet was right where we needed it to be for dry conditions. When it’s that good in the dry, you know it’s probably not going to be as good in the rain. We kept it on the track when it counted.”
Another road-course specialist, Andy Lally, got up to second by lap 30 and was the first to put slick tires on his car during a lap 32 caution when the track was significantly dry. After pitting, Lally restarted near the back, but quickly made his way up through the field. Seeing how fast Lally was on slicks, others began pitting for slicks just past lap 40, moving Lally into the lead.
“These are as tough conditions that you could put drivers in,” Marks said. “It’s really hard on everybody when it’s dry and wet. You don’t really kknow what to do, so strategy plays a big role in everything.”
Lally eventually built a lead of 25 seconds, but gave up that lead to pit for fuel on lap 46. After Lally pitted, Blaney moved into the lead.
A few laps later, teams were forced to return to rain tires during a lap 50 caution as rain returned to the track. By the time all teams had made the switch, Marks was back up front for the restart. He soon got off-course, though, handing the lead to Darrell Wallace Jr.
Wallace got off course while leading, allowing Dillon to take the lead. He got off the track multiple other times, losing several more positions. Dillon, meanwhile, ran up front until going off course, giving Marks his final lead of the race.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Erik Jones, Lally, Brendan Gaughan, Elliott Salder and Brennan Poole.