Two former champions and one very fast driver who has battled for a title at Dominion Raceway before have emerged as early championship favorites at Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, Virginia.
Dominion’s “big three” consists of 49-year-old Jeff Oakley, 22-year-old Tyler Hughes, and 21-year-old Doug Barnes, Jr. Oakley is the reigning track champion and Barnes won the title over Hughes in 2017. Now, all three once again set their sights on a track championship.
“There is certainly good talent there this year,” Oakley told Race22.com. “We have to stay on our A-game to win races and stay up front. All year long, Tyler and Doug are going to be tough to beat. The big thing is, we can race and hard and clean and it’s a real racing war and not knocking each other around.”
Oakley started out the 2019 season in victory lane, holding off Philip Morris in a thriller before a packed crowd on Dominion Raceway’s opening night back in April.
“To me, it validated what we did last year with the championship,” Oakley said. “It really wasn’t some fluke. He was on my bumper for 75 laps. I never had a chance to pull away because the cautions kept coming.”
Hughes, who competed at Old Dominion Speedway when it was still open in the early part of this decade, was the first driver to win a race at Dominion Raceway. On April 20th, he made a statement when he swept twin races at Dominion Raceway and propelling himself into the championship picture.
“I’m pretty happy with the way our season has started even though we’re only three races in,” Hughes commented. “We worked really hard this offseason and really did our homework and I feel like it’s paying off for us already. We’ve had a lot of solid test sessions and it showed when we swept. I felt like, night one, we had the car to beat in practice and got a bad tire because the car just went crazy loose on us. Even then, we drove back to fourth after pitting twice in two cations. Unfortunately, we had a mishap on the final restart which only got us a 10th place finish. The sweep [on April 20th] showed the hard work we did over the winter.”
While Hughes respects Oakley and Barnes and knows those two drivers will put up a fight all season for the championship, his main focus is on himself and making his car as fast as he can get it. In 2017, he came up just short of the championship to Barnes. This year, he hopes to avenge that loss and win a championship.
“They’re just another competitor to me,” Hughes remarked. “I know they’re gonna put up a good fight like they always do, but I’m focused on me at the moment. I’ve learned how to come up short and lose one. I want this championship more than anything this year and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get it. I know they will too, so it should be a fun season.”
Barnes has not yet won a race, but he does not anticipate being winless on the season for long. He has scored three top-five finishes in all three races so far and is in the thick of the championship points battle.
“I’d consider three top-fives to start the season pretty good for us,” Barnes explained. “We’re points racing so I can’t be disappointed with that. However, we’ve been lacking motor the past few races. I feel like we’ve been setting ourselves up well every race this season, but we didn’t quite have the car to get the job done. Now we do. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to get a win this weekend.”
Barnes expects to be battling with Oakley and Hughes all season and, like them, Barnes has respect for his main championship rivals – but he’s focused on himself and his car as well.
“I really enjoy racing against Tyler and Jeff,” Barnes noted. “It’s awesome that this season is going to have the same competitors running for that championship that it did in 2017. They’re both tough to beat, but I’m only going to focus on myself. I’m going to put myself in the best position possible every race and, hopefully, we’ll have a second banner hanging up next January with my name on it.”
Oakley currently leads the point standings six points over Barnes while Hughes sits in third, four points back from Barnes. The trio of competitors will be in action in Saturday night’s Late Model Stock Car doubleheader at Dominion Raceway.