Perseverance Propels Barnes to Historical Run at Oswego

Photos – Jim Feeney

In what will easily go down in history as one of the greatest racing performances in memory at the Oswego Speedway, Mexico’s Michael Barnes literally willed his way into victory lane and the 2016 Novelis supermodified track championship on Saturday night. Using determination as a fifth wheel, the driver of the Syrell Racing No. 68 would overcome heat race misfortune, a dead last starting spot in the main event and three fellow title contenders all vying for the same crown.

Michael Barnes and the No. 68 team pose in victory lane
Michael Barnes and the No. 68 team pose in victory lane

With the crowd already having been wowed by his incredible journey through the pack, ‘The Hustler’ would bring them to a roar as he sailed around the outside of race leader Dan Connors on the 43rd lap. His journey was complete as he could only wait out the final few laps in hopes that points leader, David Gruel, would continue to struggle back in ninth place and not suddenly find his way into the top five. Barnes would continue to pull away, taking the checkered flag, earning the win and capturing his and Syrell Racing’s first title by a mere 7.5 points.

The improbable win was No. 2 on the season for Barnes, who kicked off Oswego’s racing season in May with a victory on opening night. Until Saturday evening, every Novelis supermodified feature winner had come from the front row in 2016. Barnes obliterated that streak by doing it from the back. It became obvious that the magneto issues that had sidelined him in his heat race and put him behind the eight ball only strengthened, not weakened, his determination.

Listen to – Michael Barnes, Part 1

Listen to – Michael Barnes, Part 2

Connors and Fulton’s Brandon Bellinger led the field to the green to start the season’s final 50-lap feature event. Connors would assume command early, bringing Bellinger, Keith Shampine, Kody Graham and Tim Snyder across the checkered stripe to complete lap No. 1.

Connors would find himself in traffic by the 10th lap, but would work through it with out delay. His No. 01 would hold a half-dozen lengths on Bellinger and Shampine. That lead would grow to 10 lengths as much of the focus of the packed grandstand would turn towards the title contenders in their battle for the season’s points championship. Barnes had already vaulted into the top 10 and he was just getting started.

Aric Iosue would summon the first caution flag of the race on the 16th lap, after spinning his No. 11 in the first turn. With 15 rounds in the books, Connors continued to lead Bellinger, Shampine, Graham and Joe Gosek.

Jeff Abold held sixth, with all four title chasers running together behind him. Seventh-place running Michael Muldoon had come into the race 22.5 behind Gruel. Having started scratch on the field and 18.5 points behind Gruel, Barnes had already made his way up to eighth place. 33 points behind Gruel at the start of the feature, Sitterly faced the most difficult path to overcome. He sat in ninth. Still holding onto his slimming lead, Gruel rounded out the top 10.

The ensuing restart saw Barnes power his way around the outside of Muldoon. Muldoon would fight back underneath, but his No. 15 would lose its grip, spinning to the inside of the fourth turn. His title hopes would take a huge hit, as he was relegated to the rear of the field.

Figuring it was time to get going, Shampine would slip underneath Bellinger on the restart. Bellinger would try and shut the door between turns three and four and the two touched. They’d race side-by-side for second place down the front stretch until Bellinger’s No. 02 would make contact with Shampine’s right-front wing heading into turn No. 1. The No. 02 would spin and bring out another yellow flag.

After losing two top-five cars in back-to-back restarts, Connors now led Shampine, Graham, Gosek and Abold. Barnes, Sitterly and Gruel followed in line behind.

Again, Barnes would use the restart to launch another attack. Abold could only watch as Barnes flew past him on the outside, earning fifth place. Up front, Connors began to inch away from Shampine.

Gosek wasted no time in attacking Graham for third. The duo would race side-by-side fighting for the chance to attack Shampine and his wounded wing. However, the action was slowed again after Iosue spun his No. 11 for the second time.

On the restart, Gosek would pick up where he’d left off, attacking Graham’s No. 21. However, this time he’d make the outside bid stick. Following the No. 00’s tracks, Barnes would drive around the outside of Graham as well, taking over fourth.

With little time to spare, Barnes immediately began challenging Gosek for third. However, before he could make something stick Gosek would find room under Shampine’s No. 55. One lap later, Barnes would bounce the No. 55 back to fourth.

With 20 laps to go, the Gosek-Barnes duo would begin to zero in on the race leader. However, a caution for a second spin by Muldoon would end up tightening up the entire field.

Going back to the well, Barnes would dive under Gosek on the ensuing restart. The duo would race two-abreast for a full lap before the seemingly unstoppable No. 68 earned the spot. In doing so, he would also take the “live” lead in the points chase, by the slimmest of margins. All Gruel could do is watch the leaderboard as his title hopes began to slip away.

The No. 68 would quickly chase down Connors as the lead trio tightened up with just 12 trips remaining. Barnes would first attack the high side on the 40th lap, but to no avail. On the 41st lap, Barnes took peeks to the inside in turns two and four.

After sizing up the race leader, Barnes would drove the Syrell Racing No. 68 to the outside of the Connors machine on the 43rd lap. Flying out of the fourth turn, he’d make the pass stick and assume command atop the field.

Barnes raises his hand in victory at Oswego
Barnes raises his hand in victory at Oswego

Two laps later, Gosek and Sitterly would slip under Connors’ No. 01, as well. However, Barnes had already checked out. Sitterly would hound the No. 00 the final five laps, but Gosek would hold strong.

Barnes would receive the white flag with a 15-car length advantage and take the checkered in front of the lakeside oval’s roaring crowd.

Gosek would hold off Sitterly to earn second place. It was the local veteran’s 439th career start – an all-time record.

Sitterly would earn his seventh top-five finish of the season.

Listen to – Otto Sitterly

Connors and Shampine rounded out the top five.

Novelis Supermodified 50: 1. Michael Barnes (68), 2. Joe Gosek (00), 3. Otto Sitterly (7), 4. Dan Connors, Jr. (01), 5. Keith Shampine (55), 6. Kody Graham (21), 7. Jeff Abold (05), 8. Dave Danzer (52), 9. Dave Gruel (50), 10. Brandon Bellinger (02), 11. Davey Hamilton, Jr. (14), 12. Michael Muldoon (15), 13. Tim Snyder (0), 14. Pat Lavery (12), 15. Hal LaTulip (56) 16. Joey Moriarity (51), 17. Brian Sobus (79), 18. Aric Iosue (11), 19. Lou LeVea, Jr. (83), 20. Bobby Magner (35), 21. Jerry Curran (24), 22. Tim Devendorf (5)

Heat race wins went to Shampine, Muldoon and Iosue.