Lewis shows his worth in Roush car Shawn A. Akers
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (June 28, 1998) NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division fans, meet Ashton Lewis. After his performance Sunday in the Lysol 200 at Watkins Glen International, you just might be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
Lewis, a Late Model Division driver from Chesapeake, Va., drove a Roush Racing Ford, normally piloted by Jeff Burton, from the rear of the field to a third-place finish in the road course race at the 2.45-mile venue, enhancing his chances for getting a full-time ride in the series for 1999.
"That was the whole idea of getting together with this team," said an elated, but relieved Lewis. "We're trying to put together a deal for next year. We wanted a car where we could come out here and show a little bit of what I can do and hopefully get some sponsorship for next year. When you get together with a Roush team, you know you've got a shot at doing well. That was the whole point. Maybe we can get some sponsorship and run a couple of more races at the end of the year."
Burton was absent from the car because of his commitment to the No. 99 Exide Batteries team in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, which ran at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., on Sunday. Track Gear normally sponsors the No. 9 Ford, but the car was running without sponsorship with Lewis behind the wheel.
Lewis and Roush put the deal together for Lewis to drive the car nearly three weeks prior to the Lysol 200.
After only one practice session, Lewis didn't have a great qualifying effort. He fact, he was the last car to be bumped from the field of 33 qualifiers during Bud Pole Qualifying on Saturday, and was forced to take a provisional. He started Sunday's race from the 42nd position.
It was solid strategy, however, that pushed him to the front, and it was a caution flag at the right time that kept him there.
Lewis methodically made his way through the field until lap 29, when a caution flag saw the leaders pit. Lewis didn't pit, and made his way to the lead, where he lost it a lap later when Matt Kenseth passed him.
That, however, set the tone for Lewis' day, as he stayed up with the leaders throughout most of the rest of the 82-lap event. A caution flag on lap 41, however, didn't hurt, as Lewis then pitted for the first time, coming out in the middle of the pack.
The leaders once again pitted later, and Lewis made his way back up front.
"We weren't too bad early on," Lewis said. "We were the last car to get bumped in qualifying. I knew we were going to be pretty fast in the race. I knew we could get by the cars with the higher provisionals than we had. We were just kinda dead for a while. Then we started pressuring some guys, and we had a pretty good pace going.
"The main thing was that we were going to try and conserve tires because we were going to try and go 41 laps on one tank of gas. We just kinda got in a rhythm. Everybody pitted on that first caution and that put us in the lead. That's when I really started thinking we've got a pretty good shot at winning this race.
"We weren't able to hold them off because we were on worn tires and they had pretty new tires. So, on lap 42, we came in and pitted for tires and went back out and were real lucky because that put us way back, and then there was another caution, and the leaders came into pit again and that put us back in the front. We were about fourth then. From that point, it was just about maintaining that position and not doing anything stupid to take us out of a good finish."
Lewis said he was grateful to Roush for the opportunity to drive such a strong car, and was thankful he could make the most out of the chance.
"They treated us well, just like Jeff Burton was in the car," Lewis said. "I knew that it was going to be a good car coming up here because Jeff won with it at Richmond. I knew all I had to do was my part of the job. Actually, it took a little bit of pressure off me knowing as long as I got my head together and drove a decent race we'd finish well. They (his crew) had a great strategy."
Source: NASCAR Online