Column By: ROBERT SYMONDS / RPW – OCALA, FL – It only takes one. One final trip for the season, one final race of the year, one driver to grab the checkered flag. Justin Barger knows that from finishing in a position he had been hungering for, the first position.
After about an 8 hour trip from his home in Cornelius, North Carolina to the Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida, Barger and his race team were ready to compete with some of the best in the business.
On Night 1 of the weekend, Barger seemed to have speed but just didn’t finish where he needed to. Barger finished 4th in Heat 3 and won B-Main 2 to claim a spot in the 25 lap feature event. Coming from 16th, Barger methodically made his way up to a 9th place finish right behind the 28m of Conner Morrell.
For Night 2, Barger knew he would have to put his number 5B up front for the feature event later in the evening. To do this, Justin Barger needs to qualify and with a drawing position putting him 4th on the grid for heat race number 3, it seemed Barger had a lot of work to do. However Barger, quick off the green flag, made his way to the bottom side of the track and took over position 3 from Terry Witherspoon.
Through turn 2 on the bottom groove, Barger went by Todd Gracey putting his number 5 in the runner up position before lap 1 was even scored. As the laps wound down, so did the lead of AJ Maddocks, who had a half a straightaway lead on the rest of the field. When the checkered flag waved, Justin Barger was 1 car length from victory in his qualifying heat.
For the starting grid, Justin Barger managed to finish 2nd in the Top 14 of passing points through qualifiyng heats, putting him on the outside pole to start the feature event. Off the green flag, Barger was able to clear the 14M of Jordan Mallett and pull away from the rest of the field. Following him through the field as well was Tony Stewert who started in 5th and made his way to 2nd in under 1 lap of green flag racing.
A few yellows on lap 3 and then lap 4 would slow the field and bring it to single file restarts. The restarts seemed highly critical as it was the best opportunity for someone to take advantage or capitalize for any track position they can. Off the lap 4 restart, Barger would power his number 5 away from Stewart. Whilst stretching his lead away from Stewart, Barger raced his way into lap traffic about mid way through the race.
Methodically slicing and dicing his way around lap traffic while keeping in his racing lane, Barger was able to keep Stewart at bay, though things can change in an instant. Barger made his way around the number 38 of Tony Agin on lap 16 in turn 2. Through turns 3 and 4, Agin slipped up in the middle groove which caused not only him to spin but also Tony Stewart. With that, Stewart fell to 16th for the ensuing restart.
With Stewart falling back, Barger was left to hold off Jordan Mallett for the race lead. Though Mallett had a fast car, nothing was going to hold back the number 5 of Justin Barger. Even through late race restarts, Barger powered through and had finally thrown the monkey off his back to win with his first dirt racing trip to the Bubba Raceway Park.
“After last night we made a bunch of changes,” Barger said in victory lane Saturday Night. “We came here tonight and it was fast off the trailer. It was just a big testament to these guys, they worked hard this week to get the car to go this fast so it was a pleasure driving it.”
This is Justin Barger’s first win at the Ocala dirt track in Florida in his last race for 2018.
“I wish my girls were here to see it; they had to stay home this weekend. But its also too bad the season ended so quick but February will be here quick. This win should give us more to build on for next year.”