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AN OLD APPROACH FOR TRAVIS BENNETT IN NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES * Jeff Jefferson Will Not Defend Title * Evergreen Speedway and Speedway Chevrolet Team Up for 58th Northwest Series Event in Monroe, ...

AN OLD APPROACH FOR TRAVIS BENNETT IN NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES

* Jeff Jefferson Will Not Defend Title

* Evergreen Speedway and Speedway Chevrolet Team Up for 58th Northwest Series Event in Monroe, Wash.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 24, 2006) -- A year ago, Travis Bennett was heading full steam into the 2005 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series season fresh off earning Sunoco rookie-of-the-year honors and finishing second in the championship point standings by just a single point in 2004. Wanting to capitalize on that momentum, he entered the year feeling that the No. 33 car was the one to beat. That mindset led to a heaping helping of internal pressure and, ultimately, to another agonizing one-point shortcoming.

"I really felt that we had the tiger by the tail," said the 27 year-old out of Ellensburg, Wash. "In my heart of hearts I believed we would carry all of that success from 2004 right through the 2005 season."

The new season would be different and it was evidenced right from the start. Bennett finished 12th in the season's opening race at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway after notching a top-10 finish in each and every event throughout his rookie campaign. While it did not go drastically downhill from there, but, by the same token, things did not improve much.

The July 9 race at Evergreen Speedway, in Monroe, Wash., brought yet another bad omen. Despite finishing ninth, Bennett did not finish on the lead lap, for the first time in 14 races, on a night which he felt he would turn the corner. He spent the first three races of the year looking for something positive on which to build, and his first career Bud Pole Award earlier in the day seemingly could be that building block. However, it did not work out that way, and Bennett, once again, placed even more pressure on himself.

"I think I psyched myself out all season long," he says in retrospect. "Not much went right last year and each time something went wrong, I ratcheted up the pressure on myself and the team."

The dreams of winning the 2005 Northwest Series championship had long since disappeared, but the goal of a top-10 finish in points and a berth in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown was still very much a reality even though Bennett limped through much of the second half of the season.

Whether or not he could achieve this goal would come down to the final race of the season. Bennett needed a solid run to have any chance of snatching one of those 10 coveted spots in the point standings. The race resulted in a season-best finish of third, but after all the points were tallied, he finished the season 11th in points, one point behind John Bender in 10th.

"To finish a point short for the second straight year is really unbelievable, but that just means I'll beat them by two this year," Bennett says with a laugh.

"During my rookie year, I focused solely on running my race and finishing in the top 10. If a top five came, then that was gravy," he says. "Last year, it was like I had to win a race to be the car to beat and it kind of snowballed in a bad way."

Bennett's philosophy in 2006 will be more like his of 2004. With that, he feels that the good karma will return to his camp. A new car is on the horizon this season, just as it was a year ago. This time he vows to practice patience with an untested commodity. Something he and his team did not do in 2004.

"We were so hot to get the new car on the track last year that, I think, we rushed it a little bit," says a wiser Bennett. "This time around, we are not going to put new one out there until it is 100% ready."

The anguish of coming up a point short two seasons in a row has not left Bennett gun-shy in the least. He is as amped up and ready to start a new season as ever. Adding to that excitement is the specter of beginning the 2006 campaign at Evergreen Speedway, a track he professes to love and one which he earned the Bud Pole in each of the two series visits there in 2005.

"I'm just looking forward to getting the Bowman's Electro Painting/Patlin Electric/Knudson Lumber Chevrolet on the track. I'm going to drive hard, do my thing, not force anything, and have fun. Then, the good stuff will take care of itself. I know it will."

***

Defending three-time Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson will not pursue a four-peat in 2006. Instead, he will focus on a NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series team built to compete for a championship in 2007. He hopes to race in a few AutoZone West Series events this season and some select Late Model shows to keep his skills sharp.

"There's a part of me that really wants to go for four in a row in the Northwest Series, but I've got to continue to move forward," Jefferson said. "I've won in the AutoZone West Series before and there is no reason why I can't now or in the future. I like challenges and I'm hungry for a new one."

***

The Northwest Series' 22nd season is scheduled to get underway on April 1st at Evergreen Speedway. It will be the 58th time the Northwest Series has visited the venerable track situated north of Seattle. For this event, Evergreen Speedway has joined forces with longtime partner Speedway Chevrolet to bring race fans the Speedway Chevrolet 125. Speedway Chevrolet is in its second year being the title sponsor of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series' Super Stock class at Evergreen Speedway. "Our relationship with Speedway Chevrolet over the years has been excellent," says Evergreen Speedway's Mickey Beadle. "It is simply a joy to be in a partnership with them."

Tickets and information about this event can be obtained by calling the speedway office at (360) 805-6100 or by visiting www.evergreenspeedway.com.

FAST FACTS

What: Speedway Chevrolet 125 (Race No. 1 of 11 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series)

Where:  Evergreen Speedway, Monroe, Wash.

When: 8:30 p.m. PST (approx.), Saturday, April 1, 2006

Track layout:  .646-mile oval

Race length: 125 laps/80.75 miles.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Fri., 3/31 -- 2:00 p.m. Registration opens; 6:00-9:30 p.m. Practice. Sat., 4/1 - 9:30 a.m. Registration opens; 1:00-2:00 p.m. Practice; 2:30-3:00 p.m. Practice; 4:45 p.m. Time Trials; 8:30 p.m. Speedway Chevrolet 125.

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Jeff Jefferson