Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – CANANDAIGUA, NY – A second place finish in the DIRTcar Modified feature Saturday evening at Land of Legends Raceway was perfectly fine with defending track champion Justin Haers.
Even though he didn’t make his way to victory lane, he had a shot, right up to final lap.
Haers is the current division point leader at the legendary facility and very nearly drove around the all-time winningest Modified driver at the track, Alan Johnson, on the final circuit for his third win of the 2022 season.
However, Johnson was able to hold him off, despite a final lap charge on the top side on the final lap as the two came off the second corner.
“I really wish I had completed the pass on Alan,” Haers said. “We had speed for the entire feature event but it took me too long to get to the front.”
Both Haers and Johnson were quick throughout the 30-lap feature but if not for a flat tire on the 21a of Peter Britten with 10 laps remaining, their battle might have been for second. Britten had driven up and taken the lead from Justin Wright and looked to have the field covered.
“If I had been in second quicker and Britten was leading, I think I could have gotten to him and made a race of it,” he said. “However, the way thing played out, I wouldn’t have caught him since it took me longer to get through the field.”
It just so happened that Britten got to the lead quicker than anyone, including both Johnson and Haers.
“I started 14th and he was right along side of me,” he said. “I was on the top and for the first five or six laps it was really dirty up there. The groove hadn’t blown off yet. Then, for ever restart as the race went on, when I wanted the top, I was stuck on the bottom.”
Britten, Johnson and Haers along with veteran Tim Fuller worked their way through the field and began putting pressure on the top two runners, Garrison Krentz and Justin Wright. Krentz led from the start but Wright was able to get around him on a restart but neither was a match to Britten who drove around everyone to grab the top spot.
However, once Britten’s tire took him out of contention, Johnson looked to be the driver to beat, working his way to the lead around Wright.
Haers had something to say about that, though. His car really began to like the top side of the track and he closed in quickly on “AJ Slideways.”
On the final circuit, mere inches off the back bumper of the leader, Haers blew it in deep on the top side of turns one and two. Johnson moved up a lane and blocked his advances and that sealed the deal for Alan’s 128th career Big Block Modified win at Canandaigua.
“I thought I had a shot at him but my car just got going too late,” he said. “Alan’s no dummy. I think he knew I was coming on the top. He must have heard me.”
Johnson spent most of the night running the bottom groove. He did so for a large portion of the feature and even did so in his heat race. That’s why Haers made the move that he did.
“He put me off the track in turn two,” he said. “I was planning on crossing over off the corner but had such a good run that I nearly got along side of him. Alan did what he had to do.”
Haers wasn’t mad with the move Johnson made. To him, it was done the way a veteran would.
“I’m okay with what he did,” he said. “If Alan had roughed me up it would have been different. If this makes any sense, he did it in a classy way. He made the turn real wide.”
The two drivers have respect for each other and how they race. Both are champions of the speedway and their mutual admiration showed on Saturday.
“Alan’s really good to race with,” he said. “I got into him once earlier this season and he never made a big deal about it. We had a shot on Saturday and that’s all I could have asked for. He did what he had to.”
Haers now holds a 39-point lead over Britten on the strength of two victories and just pure consistency while Johnson sits 76 markers back. Only once this season has the Phelps Cement Products #3 been out of the top five, but never outside of the top 10.
That is just insane results with just a handful of point races left this season.
“Our entire team’s just having a blast right now,” he said. “We have to stay consistent and battle for wins. I’m having fun and my crew is too. Running well always makes everyone happy.”
Most drivers are never satisfied with second place and Justin Haers is no different. However, he knows exactly what’s at stake and a finish right behind a legend at the Land of Legends was okay on Saturday.
Justin’s made his mark at the track over the years and is adding to that every time he hits the racing surface, one lap at a time.