Another race ends in disappointment for Ashton Lewis, Jr. TALLADEGA, AL (April 5, 2003) -- Most drivers will readily agree that they feel a great deal of anticipation when racing at the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway. Last year's event had a...
Another race ends in disappointment for Ashton Lewis, Jr.
TALLADEGA, AL (April 5, 2003) -- Most drivers will readily agree that they feel a great deal of anticipation when racing at the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway. Last year's event had a 27 car pileup in the early laps of the race, and was a hot topic in the garage area this weekend. No one could have known that the Aaron's 312 would suffer a similar fate early on.
The Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet racing team always puts extra effort into their superspeedway program. When driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. piloted the car around the 33 degree banked track for the first practice on Thursday, they were fairly pleased with the way the car was handling. The team made a lot of aerodynamic changes to their superspeedway cars after the Daytona race earlier this year. Ashton ended up sixteenth on the time sheet for practice.
Lewis was concerned about qualifying Thursday afternoon because he was the tenth car to go on the track. He knew that the same thing that happened to the team last weekend in Texas, was likely to happen again. When they qualify so early the temperature is much warmer, and the track temperature is hotter so the car runs slower than the cars that qualify later when the sun has dipped behind the monstrous grandstands and the track cools. Lewis did qualify in the 27th position with a time of 52.249. This was Lewis' best qualifying effort at Talladega Superspeedway.
In 'Happy Hour' on Friday the team struggled to find a competitive setup. Towards the end of practice Lewis had a car that he was happy with, and he felt like it would be a solid, competitive car for the race.
Saturday morning started like many others this season, with rain dampening the mood. When it was time for the race to get underway, the rain had stopped and the combination of sun and humidity made for the warmest day of the season by far. There was a sense of anxiety on pit road as the drivers climbed behind the wheels of their cars and prepared to race on the superspeedway. They didn't have long to wait before the inevitable "big one" occurred.
On lap 8 of the race the No. 21 of Johnny Sauter cut a tire and slowed on the backstretch. The No. 32 of Lyndon Amick slowed in response and was tapped from behind by the No. 5 of Brian Vickers. This started a chain reaction that included twenty cars and brought out the first caution of the day. After narrowly avoiding the incident, Lewis said on the radio "Guys, I think our luck has finally changed." When the race restarted Lewis had pitted to take on four tires and fuel, and was in fourteenth place. At this point, the Civil Air Patrol racing team felt elated that they had finally received their first break of the season. On lap 39 when there was a caution for debris the team chose to pit for fuel only. By lap 41 Lewis had worked his way to seventh, and he would stay with that lead pack for the majority of the day.
On lap 109 Lewis again narrowly avoided an incident that occurred between two cars he was racing with. The mood in the CAP pit was the most upbeat that is has been this year. During this caution, several cars pitted and Lewis moved back into the sixth position. The field was given the one to go signal as they passed the start/finish line, and as he drove into turn two Lewis reported to his team that he was out of fuel. The team immediately reported to the NASCAR officials that we would not be able to make it around to pit road, but they elected to throw the green flag when the field made it to the start/finish line. Lewis was able to coast to turn 4, but could not make it to pit road and the caution flag was put out with two laps to go. The race ended under this caution flag.
Lewis finished the race in 20th place, three laps down.
Lewis was not immediately available for comment after the race. It was easy to see the entire team was devastated that their luck had not changed after all.
The next race on the Busch schedule is the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway. The race will be aired live on FX and broadcast live on MRN beginning at 3:30 ET on Saturday, April 12, 2003. Qualifying for the event will take place Friday, April 11 at 4:35 pm ET and will be aired on Speedchannel.