EARLY BIRTHDAY PRESENT FOR JOHN BENDER TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Everyone has been faced with the question of what to get someone for their birthday. John Bender took his family and friends off the hook Saturday night in the Pepsi 125 at Magic ...
EARLY BIRTHDAY PRESENT FOR JOHN BENDER
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Everyone has been faced with the question of what to get someone for their birthday. John Bender took his family and friends off the hook Saturday night in the Pepsi 125 at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho. The Snohomish, Washington-based driver, who was set celebrate his birthday on Monday, June 13, went wire-to-wire to win the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series race and provide his own early birthday present.
It was the first wire-to-wire win in the Northwest Series since eventual series champion Jeff Jefferson pulled off the feat last July at Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley's Super Oval. Oddly enough, prior to Jefferson's domination last season, the last driver to win from the pole was Bender at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. in May 2003.
Bender enjoys starting from the pole. Two of his three career Northwest Series victories have been of the wire-to-wire variety.
The elated driver of the Oso Lumber/James Hardie Products Chevrolet pulled his car into Victory Lane after treating the boisterous crowd to a pair of burnouts, one at each end of the grandstand. Once he brought the car to a stop, he sat behind the wheel and yelled, "That was awesome!"
He went on to heap praise on his car and crew. "Steve Craig (Bender's crew chief) and the crew gave me a great car tonight," he said. "It did everything I wanted it to all night long."
Bender was not sure what to expect after a pair of 45-minute practice sessions on the 1/3-mile oval in southern Idaho. There was a pair of reasons for that. The first was that both practice sessions were conducted in the warmth of the day, but a late afternoon rain shower ushered in much cooler temperatures giving the track a new dynamic. The second reason was that Bender did not believe that his car was all that strong in practice.
"I did not get the feeling that it was that strong. I didn't put up real fast laps, but the other teams were coming up and wondering why our lap times were not falling off as much as theirs over the course of the run," he stated. "And that really was the case. It was a very consistent car all day."
Bender qualified eighth, but series rules mandate a six, eight or 10-car invert to be randomly selected. After the eight was drawn, the No. 18 Chevy was on the pole playing into one of its driver's strengths. Bender is one of the best in the series when it comes to taking the green flag. He rarely misses a shift and his car always seems to accelerate well.
"As long as nothing bad happened in lapped traffic, I knew I was in pretty good shape. There were some very strong cars behind me, but I am pretty good at re-starts so I wasn't overly concerned about that," he said.
One of the hottest drivers in NASCAR, at any level, is second-place finisher Brandon Riehl out of Boring, Ore. Riehl won his first career Northwest Series race at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway two weeks ago and followed that up with a dominating performance last week at Colorado National Speedway last weekend. In that combination event between the Midwest and Southwest Series, he won the Bud Pole Award and collected his second NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division victory in as many weeks. He continued his hot streak by collecting his third career Northwest Series Bud Pole Award with a speed of 82.863 mph Saturday evening.
"The two wins have given me a tremendous amount of confidence and the car has been so strong," said the driver of the Aero Turbine/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevy.
After collecting fast time, Riehl drew an eight for the invert giving him a hill to climb. The hill proved to just a little too high. He was able to work his way through the field, but was not able to get to Bender until the 86th lap. By that time, Riehl had used up his tires. "I used it all up getting there. The right front tire was shot," he said.
Former Northwest Series champion and Magic Valley Speedway event winner Gary Lewis of Bothell, Wash. turned around his disappointing finish in 24th in Yakima with a third-place effort. Lewis started fifth and kept his Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevrolet in the top five throughout the night. However, a tight racecar kept him from mounting a challenge on Bender. "It was a little snug. Overall, though, I was pleased with the car," Lewis said.
By virtue of improving his finishing position 21 places from last race to this event, Lewis won the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award.
Current co-leader in the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year standings, Jeff Barkshire of Auburn, Wash., brought home his Hooker Harness/Pure Power Lubricants Dodge in fourth. Jim McVey shares the lead with Barkshire in the rookie standings. He spent much of the race in second behind Bender before being overtaken by the more experienced Riehl and Lewis. His first career Northwest Series top-five finish came in just his second start.
Joe Benedetti, also of Auburn, Wash., finished fifth in the Bret Chevrolet/RaceCals Chevrolet. It was Benedetti's fourth consecutive top five at Magic Valley Speedway.
Pete Harding, Jeff Jefferson, Wilbur Bruce, Garrett Evans and Travis Bennett rounded out the top 10.
Harding, from Surrey, B.C. Canada, had to use a provisional and started 21st in the starting grid negotiated his way to that sixth-place earning him the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award.
Craig, crew chief of the No. 18 team, won the Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award.
The next scheduled race for the Northwest Series is July 2 at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval followed the next week by a race at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash.