LEWIS LEADS THE WAY IN PEPSI 125 TWIN FALLS, Idaho (June 10, 2006) --Gary Lewis has laid the groundwork for a comeback season, if coming off a top 10 season in the championship point standings can be classified as that, with ...
LEWIS LEADS THE WAY IN PEPSI 125
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (June 10, 2006) --Gary Lewis has laid the groundwork for a comeback season, if coming off a top 10 season in the championship point standings can be classified as that, with a convincing win in the Pepsi 125, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series event at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Lewis, racing out of Bothell, Wash., started on the outside pole but surged past pole sitter Eddy McKean, who missed a shift when the green flag waved. McKean is a NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series regular, who currently holds second place in their point standings, and a resident of nearby Jerome, Idaho. He never surrendered his pursuit of Lewis after missing that shift in the opening moments of the race. He stayed on Lewis' rear deck lid all night long waiting for an opportunity.
That opportunity nearly came on lap 120 when Lewis had his hands full of a loose racecar coming out of turn four a little out of shape. McKean did everything in his power to motor into first place and earn a Northwest Series victory at his home track. The McKean name has been a staple at Magic Valley Speedway since 1987, but has not had the best of luck in the 11 Northwest Series events at the track. His second-place finish in this event equaled his best series finish. His other runner-up finish came in June 2003 when he also lost out to Lewis.
While the hometown boy makes good storyline is compelling, the re-emergence of Lewis as a title contender in the Northwest Series was the news of the night. His 2005 season was perhaps his worst Northwest Series season since his first three years on the circuit. It's difficult to call a season with five top-five and six top-10 finishes, and a ninth-place finish in the point standings a poor season, but Lewis has set the bar fairly high.
Lewis' jubilation, and relief, in returning to victory lane for the first time since September 2004 was more than evident. After thrilling the large crowd on hand with a tire burnout that left smoke rolling for several minutes, he emerged from his Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevrolet with arms raised in triumph while standing on the door panel exalting his win. The sense of accomplishment was palpable. Apparently, though, Lewis was not the only one happy with his performance. McKean joined in on Lewis' post-race celebratory burn out marking what has to be one of the few times in which both first and second-place drivers melted their tires.
"The car was a little loose, but not too much to handle. I thank my crew for giving me a strong racecar tonight," said Lewis. "The time that I got sideways coming out of four, I messed up. Eddy was able to get a run on me there, but I was able to collect it. From then on, I had to just concentrate and run my race."
McKean, too, was proud of his Wide World of Maps/Magic Valley Pipe and Steel Pontiac. "Our car was good, but (Lewis) didn't afford us too many chances," he said. "The one time he got loose down in four I tried to get in there under him, but couldn't. While I'm happy with the second-place finish, I really want to win one of these races here. If I hadn't missed the shift at the beginning, maybe it would have been different. I don't know, though, he was awfully good."
Boring, Oregon's Brandon Riehl, who won the season opener at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway, battled his way to a third-place finish after starting the event in eighth. "I'm just happy to get what we got," said the driver of the Aero Exhaust/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevrolet. "Traffic was pretty tough out there."
Finishing fourth for the second consecutive race was Travis Bennett of Ellensburg, Wash in the No. 33 Triple Tree Furniture/Oasis Stop 'N Go/Quizno's Chevrolet. Fifth place was a repeat from the last event, as well, from Auburn, Washington's Jeff Barkshire and his Centennial Batteries/Mike Olson Dodge Intrepid.
Rounding out the top 10 was B.J. Tidrick, Jay Sauls, Troy Tramell, Wilbur Bruce and Mike Longton.
Tramell's evening got off to a great start when he won his second career Bud Pole Award. He posted a lap time of 14.308 seconds (83.030 mph) on the 1/3-mile oval in the Magic Metals/Yakima Implement Chevy. However, it took a slight turn for the worse when he selected a 10 in the mandatory six, eight or 10-car invert. The Yakima, Wash. resident never did negotiate his way through the pack, but he did finish eighth. That finish is significant because he finished 20th in the last race and that improvement of 12 spots earned him the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award.
Another Sunoco rookie competitor Zan Sharp of Wellsville, Utah had to race his way into the main event via the qualifying event. He won that event and garnered the 25th starting position in the 26-car field for the Sharp Transportation Chevrolet. He navigated his way to a finish of 15th. That 10-position improvement earned him the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award.
The Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award went to Lewis' pit boss, and father, Ralph Lewis.
The impact of the Lewis win was considerable. The 2005 season was a winless one for the 1998 series champion, only the third such season for the driver in his 14th Northwest Series season. And it wasn't like he was winning one race per season. Prior to last season, Lewis had won multiple events for nine straight years including six in both 1998 and 2000. This win was his 29th series triumph which ranks third on the all-time list behind Garrett Evans (50) and Ron Eaton (41). It was also his third at Magic Valley Speedway.
"It feels really good to get back into victory lane," he said. "Last year wasn't terrible but not typical and not what we expect of ourselves as a team."
Another product of the win for Lewis was a leap into the top line of the championship point standings. He holds a five-point advantage over Riehl. It is early in the season, but all the drivers realize the importance of each and every race. Less than 100 points separate Lewis in first and Mike Longton in ninth. A hundred points may sound like a lot, but it is just about the difference between first and last place in a typical Northwest Series race.
The 12 drivers participating in the Northwest Series' Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year campaign will be a force to be reckoned with all season long. Four rookies placed in the top 10 of the Pepsi 125, and, by the same token, four are currently occupy spots in the top 10 of the point standings. Eight of the 12 rookie drivers are ranked among the top 20 in points. In the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year standings, Sauls leads the way with 17 points followed by Tidrick and Longton with 14 each. Tramell, Shane Harding and Jason Fraser each have 10 points.