CORONA, Calif. - Jimmy Mardis said the first few times he raced at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the Lucas Oil Modifieds presented by LoanMart, he "didn't think it was all that cool."
This week, as he looked ahead to Saturday's Optima Batteries 75 Laps to Victory presented by Auto Meter, Mardis said the 3/8-mile oval has become "one of my better race tracks."
"The more races you run, the more you adapt and figure out where you need to be and what you need to feel," he said.
He has done that quite well. The series' only two-time champion (2010-11) has won three times and finished sixth or better in 10 of his past 13 starts at The Bullring.
His other finishes were 10th, 12th and 18th. That 18th-place finish came in 2012, a season Mardis called a disaster until he won the final race of the year, at The Bullring, by going onto the track apron to pass leader Jay Linstroth as the white flag waved.
"That was probably my favorite," the Yucaipa, Calif., resident said. "I got to race Jay Linstroth, and it came down to a couple of laps at the end where I had to do everything right. With everything that was going on that year and how it all came together at the end, that's the one that stands out."
Mardis also won last season's finale at The Bullring, over Shelby Stroebel and reigning champion Dylan Cappello, and in both cases those wins kept alive his series-best streak of at least one victory a season for the past six years.
"I feel like it's a big Orange Show, and that's where I cut my teeth," Mardis said, comparing The Bullring to the historic 1/4-mile oval in San Bernardino, Calif., where the series will race Aug. 29. "It reminds me of a faster, little bit bigger Orange Show. There are similarities I like and things Las Vegas has that are unique.
"Compared to tracks like Tucson and Madera (California), it's probably one of more consistent tracks we race on. It changes a little, but not as drastically as most of the others. It's not as abrasive.
"The November race, there's normally a little more attrition. Early in the year, it's more of a speed, track position kind of race. You still have to be cognizant of the fact you've got to be there at end, so you try to keep your nose clean and keep the best piece you can for late in the race."
Mardis is not the only driver who knows how to win at The Bullring, of course. In that same 13-race span, 2012 champion and current Hoosier Tire West points leader Austin Barnes has three wins, a second, a third and a fifth, despite not competing in the series in 2013. Chris Gerchman also had three wins and three seconds, but the 2013 champion is not racing this year.
Andrew Phipps, Tim Morse, Dylan Kwasniewski and Matthew Hicks were the other winners in that series of races. Barnes and Hicks will be contenders this time, too, along with Tucson winner Scott Winters, Stroebel and numerous others.
Mardis hopes he will be as well, but said despite two seventh-place finishes in two races in the Bluewater Technologies/JAM Sportswear/H-Town Raciing STR Chevrolet, the start of his season is "definitely not as good as I hoped it would be."
"It's more just handling issues than anything," he said. "We switched to J&S Engines, and that's been fine. We've just got to take our lumps and try to get better.
"The competition level is obviously very high, so we've just got to work a little harder. Steve (Teets, who builds the STR cars) has found some things that should help us going forward."
The third race of the championship season for the Lucas Oil Modifieds presented by LoanMart will be the feature attraction when Lucas Oil presents Military Appreciation Night at The Bullring. All active military personnel and veterans and their families will receive up to four free tickets with valid identification.
Spectator gates will open at 5 p.m. PDT, and opening ceremonies are scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m. The Nellis Air Force Base Honor Guard will present the colors, Nellis personnel will perform the National Anthem and a group of Air Force recruits will be sworn in during the pre-race program.
The racing schedule includes Bandoleros, Legends Cars, Super Stocks and Super Late Models in addition to the Optima Batteries 75 Laps to Victory.
The Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart is supported by a potent marketing concept known as "Team Lucas," whose members include General Tire, GEICO, E3 Spark Plugs, Optima Batteries, Carlyle Tools, Kawasaki, AutoMeter, iON Cameras, Speedco Truck Lube and Tire, BILSTEIN Shocks, LoanMart and SuperClean.
Additional sponsorship is provided by Lucas Oil Products, Protect the Harvest, MAVTV Motorsports Network, Hoosier Tire West, Sunoco Race Fuels, K&N Filters, Aero Racing Wheels, ASI Racewear, Bosch, Five Star Race Car Bodies, Frank's Radios, Racing Plus and DJ Safety.
Detailed information on the series is available at www.lucasoilmodifieds.com/.