Ashton Lewis, Jr. finishes postponed Rockingham 200 in sixteenth place. ROCKINGHAM, NC (February 24, 2003) -- Ashton Lewis, Jr. was able to pilot his battle scarred Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet to a controversial sixteenth place finish at the...
Ashton Lewis, Jr. finishes postponed Rockingham 200 in sixteenth place.
ROCKINGHAM, NC (February 24, 2003) -- Ashton Lewis, Jr. was able to pilot his battle scarred Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet to a controversial sixteenth place finish at the 1.017 mile North Carolina Speedway.
The CAP race team spent a rain drenched weekend in Rockingham. The poor weather shortened practice, delayed qualifying, cancelled 'Happy Hour' and postponed the Rockingham 200 NASCAR Busch Series race from Saturday until Monday. While this is always inconvenient, it was especially so for the teams this weekend, because the next event is in Las Vegas. Normally the haulers do not have to leave for an event until Wednesday, but this week most of them had planned on leaving either Monday night or Tuesday morning. When the event was postponed until Monday, it meant that the teams had to drive home Saturday night and work in their shops all day Sunday, doing all of the work that they would have done Monday. Then, Sunday evening they had to drive back to Rockingham to be at the track by 6:00 am Monday. Following the race, the teams made the trek back to their shops to load the haulers for Las Vegas so they could leave on time.
When the CAP team first arrived on Thursday, they felt like they had a very strong car. During the short time that they were on the track Friday morning, the crew kept the car in "race trim" because they knew with weather threatening, it may be the only time they had on track before the race. The car performed well, and ended up thirteenth on the time sheet. When qualifying did start on Friday afternoon, after a two hour delay, Ashton was able to propel his car to a 16th place starting position. While they feel they could have qualified better if they had some practice time in "qualifying trim", it was certainly more important to know that the car would be good in the race.
As the pre race ceremonies began Monday morning, the urgency could be felt up and down pit road. Everybody was ready to race. The green flag flew at 11:00 am, but did not stay out for long. The first caution flag came out on lap five when there was a four car accident in turn two. The green flag came back out on lap nine, but only lasted for 21 laps when there was a single car spin in turn four. During this second caution flag of the day, all of the teams chose to pit. The CAP Chevrolet was handling well, but the crew made an air pressure adjustment along with a track bar adjustment, to help give Ashton a little edge.
These early cautions were to set the tone for the event. There ended up being a total of nine caution periods for a total of 45 laps, which is a race record. On lap 56 Ashton was running strong, and felt like he could continue working his way through the field when two cars collided in front of him, and he was suddenly hit in the right rear quarter panel sending him careening into the infield wall. He was able to drive the car to pit road and the attention of the CAP crew. The team made a wedge adjustment, put on four new tires and worked on the damage to the car. Ashton made three trips down pit road for repair during this caution period, and was able to stay in the top 20 and on the lead lap.
As the race continued, Crew Chief Charlie Lewis had a big problem weighing on his mind. Each team is limited to the number of tires that they can use during a race, and because of the damage done in the accident, he had to use a set of the valuable tires out of sequence. Charlie knew that this meant at the end of the race, the other teams would have a set of fresh tires, and Ashton would have to struggle on his old ones.
Little did Charlie know the controversy that was to come. On lap 165 the seventh caution came out, and all of the cars except two came down pit road to put on fresh tires. Ashton was one of the two who did not have any more tires to put on. On lap 178 a car hit the wall in turn four, and Ashton ran over some of the debris, flattening his left rear tire. Under NASCAR rules, "tires that are flat or flat spotted will not be replaced unless the car has been involved in an accident". Since Ashton ran over the debris from an accident, he was legally allowed to change that one tire. There was a miscommunication among the pit officials, and when the single tire was changed, Ashton was held in his pit for a one lap penalty. As the race laps wound down, Ashton ended up crossing the finish line in the 17th position, the second car one lap down.
When the NASCAR officials evaluated the situation, they determined an error had been made, and Ashton was given his lap back, but since this happened after the race they placed him as the last car on the lead lap, which was the 16th position.
"There were so many frustrating aspects to this race," said driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. "First, we got blindsided early on which caused us damage. I know we had a top five car before that, and I felt that even with the damage we could make the top 10. Then, to be held in the pit and put a lap down for something that was perfectly legal, well I don't even want to talk about it. We will never know just what we could have done in those last laps of the race. I'm glad NASCAR recognized their mistake, but it does not do much to help me. All we can do now is move on to Vegas. We tested very well out there, and know that we will have a good performance."
The next race will be the Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race will be aired live on FX and PRN beginning at 3:30 ET on Saturday, March 1, 2003. Qualifying for the event will take place Friday, February 28 at 4:30 pm ET and will be aired live on Speedchannel.