Points leader Andrew Phipps took control of the final race of the season so easily he knew the championship was his. Then it wasn't.

Jimmy Dickerson went into the race 16 points behind the leader and when he saw Phipps pulling away from the field he figured he'd have to wait until next year to win a title. Then he didn't.

A broken weld on the trailing arm bracket ended Phipps's race just past the halfway point and all he could do was watch helplessly as Dickerson drove to a third-place finish and the championship of the Lucas Oil Modifieds Series presented by 1-800LoanMart.

That 2008 race at Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway in Blythe, California, is the only one of the series' five season-ending events that resulted in a change at the top of the standings. It's also the only reminder of the role luck can play that Austin Barnes and Chris Gerchman will need when they take their almost-identical title fight to the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway November 17.

Barnes, an Escondido, California, high school senior, has won four of the eight races and has an 18-point lead over Gerchman, who got his fourth win in the most recent event October 20 in his hometown of Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Gerchman had a perfect night at Havasu 95 Speedway, earning a maximum 50 points for the win and all 6 points available in the three categories that make up the E3 Spark Plugs Bonus Program. But he could move only 8 points closer to Barnes, who got 48 points for finishing second.

After that race, Barnes talked about being able to relax a little as the points leader and Gerchman talked about continuing to do the best he could. That's pretty much what Phipps and Dickerson were saying four years ago, too. But Phipps said having a lead didn't change his approach.

"We went there with an aggressive attitude, like we did every time we raced," he raced. "We (his team) all talked about it and we agreed to never do anything but go to the track trying to set fast time, win the Trophy Dash and win the main event.

"I would have done whatever it takes to win because wins mean more to me than points. If I won eight races and ended up losing the championship, I'd be fine with that."

Phipps won three of that season's 10 races. Dickerson won five, including three of the first four, and was 10 points ahead of Phipps going into the fifth race of the year, at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, California.

"I had a fuel line come loose and it drained the fuel cell," Dickerson said. "In 26 laps I lost 16 gallons of fuel and ran out and went five laps down (while making repairs)."

Scott Winters won that race with Phipps second and Dickerson finished 19th. That was a difference of 34 points and gave Phipps a lead he built to 28 points when he and Dickerson finished one-two in the next two races. The order of finish was reversed the next time out and in week nine of the season Dickerson won and Phipps finished sixth to set the stage for the finale.

"I went into the weekend pretty confident," said Phipps, who plans to be at Las Vegas for the race. "We'd gone all year without any problems and I'd been very fast at that track. I thought we had them covered. I qualified good, I was in the lead by about lap 3 and I checked out. I was on cruise control. Nobody could run with me. It was pretty much a done deal. There was no doubt about it; I was going to win that race."

Dickerson said when he saw Phipps in the lead "I figured yeah, he had it wrapped up."

Then he didn't.

"I said before the night even started that I needed for him to have a bad night and it happened," Dickerson said. "People don't usually break suspension parts without crashing. For him to have the problem he did was crazy."

It was, on a smaller scale, like Parnelli Jones losing the 1967 Indianapolis 500 because a 5-cent transmission part failed with three laps to go. But Dickerson didn't start celebrating right away because the race was barely past the halfway point and he still needed to finish at least eight positions ahead of Phipps.

"They told me I still needed to finish good," Dickerson said. "I kept thinking he was going to come back (onto the track). I didn't have a great night and I was still worried he might come back out and make some ground up."

Dickerson finished third, Phipps was 20th and Dickerson won the championship by 18 points. Phipps came back to win the title in 2009, by 14 points over James Cole. He has run only three races since then, but said he is building a new car as quickly as finances allow and plans to return.

Dickerson, who was driving for Cajon Speedway promoter Eric Brucker, competed in four races in 2009 and one in 2010. He will have a hand in determining this year's champion, however, because for the past two seasons he has worked with the Barnes' team and will be Barnes's spotter for the 75-lap 1-800LoanMart Championship.

By the way, the winner of that final race in 2008 was Gerchman. It was the first of his series-best 13 victories.


SERIES CHAMPIONS – Danny Gay 2007; Jimmy Dickerson 2008; Andrew Phipps 2009; Jim Mardis 2010-2011

RACE WINS – Chris Gerchman 13, Austin Barnes 9, Jimmy Dickerson 7, Andrew Phipps 6, Jason Pattison 5, Jim Mardis 4, James Cole, Danny Gay, Doug Hamm, Billy Johanneck, Dean Kuhn, Dylan Kwasniewski, Rich Lindgren, Tim Morse, Scott Winters. (15 different winners in 53 events)

FAST TIME AWARDS – Austin Barnes 16, Jimmy Dickerson 6, Danny Gay 5, Chris Gerchman 5, Jim Mardis 4, Jason Patison 4, Andrew Phipps 4, James Cole 2, Tim Morse 2, Scott Brown, Doug Hamm, Billy Johanneck, Mike Salm, Shelby Stroebel.   

TROPHY DASH WINNERS – Tim Morse 10, Chris Gerchman 8, Billy Johannek 6, Doug Hamm 4, Mike Salm 4, Jim Mardis 3, Aaron McMorran 3, James Cole 2, Jimmy Dickerson 2, Larry Gerchman 2, Austin Barnes, Doug Carpenter, Chris Clyne, Brian Collins, Matthew Hicks, David Ross, Elliott Stjerne, John Tyczki, Scott Winters.

HARD CHARGER AWARDS – Doug Carpenter 8, Larry Gerchman 5, Jim Mardis 5, Brian Collins 4, Randy Ussery 4, Chris Gerchman 3, Aaron McMorran 3, Dave Arce 2, James Cole 2, Doug Hamm 2, Tom Lovelady 2, Austin Barnes, Chris Cook, John Daley, Brian Faulkner, Randy Forbis, Matthew Hicks, Brandon James, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ed Patton, Jerry Snell, Chris Stress, Jerry Toporek, Scott Winters.  

CLEAN PASS AWARDS – Austin Barnes 7, Chris Gerchman 5, Jim Mardis 5, Tim Morse 4, Doug Carpenter 3, Dylan Kwasniewski 3, Aaron McMorran 3, Jason Patison 3, Andrew Phipps 3, Jimmy Dickerson 2, Scott Brown, Brian Collins, Randy Forbis, Danny Gay, Larry Gerchman, Jeff Gibson, Doug Hamm, Matthew Hicks, David Lord, Joey Mogar, Pat Petrie, Mike Salm, Shelby Stroebel, John Tyczki, Scott Winters. 

B-MAIN WINNERS – Doug Carpenter 3, Dave Gerchman 3, Dennis Lovelady 2, Tim McMillin 2, Scott Osborn 2, Mike Schmidt 2, Dave Arce, Joe Bubbico, Randy Forbis, Spencer Gallager, Chris Gerchman, Jeff Gibson, Doug Hamm, Tim Lawrence, P.J. Megna, Michael Riefler, Craig Stewart, Chris Stress, Shelby Stroebel.

SINGLE-SEASON EARNINGS LEADERS – Jimmy Dickerson, $12,300 (2008); Austin Barnes, $12,150 (2011); Jim Mardis, $11,200 (2011); Barnes, $10,700 (2012)*';

Jason Patison, $10,525 (2007); Chris Gerchman, $9,850 (2012)*; Barnes, $9,800 (2012); Andrew Phipps, $9,550 (2009); Gerchman, $9,541 (2010); Danny Gay, $8,875 (2007). (* – One race remains in the season.)

CAREER EARNINGS LEADERS (through races of 10-20-2012) – Chris Gerchman, $41,161; Jim Mardis, $36,466; Tim Morse, $33,900; Austin Barnes, $32,266; Doug Carpenter, $27,575; Jimmy Dickerson, $24,775; Larry Gerchman, $23,140; Randy Ussery, $21,675; Doug Hamm, $21,150; Andrew Phipps, $19,300.