Lewis Plans For Continued Season Opening Success On Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series

BOTHELL, Wash. (March 13, 2002) - As a former track champion, Gary Lewis is very familiar with the .646-mile paved oval at Evergreen Speedway, site of the March 30 season opening Big 'O' Tire Stores 125 for the Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series, NASCAR Touring division. Lewis has collected seven of his 21 career victories on his home turf, and is hoping to make it a great eight when the checkers fall in just a few short weeks.

Finding victory lane on opening night is nothing new to Lewis, who has won the season opener four of the last five years. Approaching the event is like any other weekend according to the Bothell, Wash. native.

"No matter what I'm doing, I've always been able to step into the opener and have it work out for me," Lewis said. "I've always seemed to pick-up where I left off the season before while some people seem a little anxious to get going."

Lewis is at a lose to explain his recent success at Evergreen Speedway.

"Every year we kind of go back to the basics before we get to the track," Lewis said. "At the opener we've had so many times where we've won the race after the car was junk in practice."

"Monroe is a very tough track to get a hold of. The car may be good off the bat, but after awhile the tires wear off and then it becomes a driver's track."

As the years have taken a toll on the racing surface, tire wear is a big factor to finding victory at Evergreen according to Lewis.

"We try to be conservative and save the tires," he said. "I try to run my pace and that's been my driving philosophy my whole life."

"You have to have all of your ducks in a row and have everything together. You have to deal with the cards you're dealt and as a driver you have to make the car work with the set-up you have once the races starts."

Kevin Hamlin, defending Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series champion, also found success at Monroe last season, winning the summer event for the series. Lewis said Hamlin will be tough but he is equally concerned with another talented driver of the series when it comes time to go racing.

"Kevin had an awesome year last season," Lewis said. "He's learned a line around there, so only time will tell if he'll be there at the end."

"One guy I do worry about at that track is Pete Harding. We've had some great battles over the years. He's one of those guys that has great set-ups that work at Evergreen."

The entire field should be tough to get past in the 2002 kick-off for the 18th year of the premier NASCAR division in the Northwest. Lewis said that staying at the front of the pack will be a challenge when the field takes the green flag.

"Everybody is trying to beat who ever is running up front," he said. "I go into every race thinking we can win it, and this one will be no different."

The Big 'O' Tire Stores 125 kicks the season off for the Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series. The main event is scheduled to take the green flag at 8:30 p.m. on March 30. Tickets are available by calling (360) 805-6100.

-nascar/rbnws-