NWS: RoY contenders ready for season opener

SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS ANXIOUS TO GET NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES SEASON STARTED Yakima Speedway Hosts Its 35th Northwest Series Race DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 20, 2005) -- There are six drivers currently ...

SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS ANXIOUS TO GET NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES SEASON STARTED
Yakima Speedway Hosts Its 35th Northwest Series Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 20, 2005) -- There are six drivers currently enrolled for the 2005 Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series. Two of those drivers, Erick Hargraves and Troy Tramell, are with Yakima, Washington-based teams and are very familiar with Yakima Speedway, the venue for the long awaited season-opening event.

Had Mother Nature cooperated the Northwest Series season would have gotten underway on March 26 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., but rain precluded the event thus giving drivers and teams and additional nine weeks to wait after the normal winter hiatus.

The time, however, is near and no one is more thankful than Hargraves and Tramell. Tramell was able to participate in the practice session at Evergreen Speedway on March 25 and came away with a measure of confidence. "There are so many more competitive cars in the Northwest Series compared to local Late Model events," stated the 27 year-old Tramell. "While nobody was really pushing it to the limit, I got a sense of what it's like. I was encouraged with how things went."

Hargraves, however, was not able to attend that practice, but was able to get his car on the track at Yakima Speedway some weeks ago. "We were out there on old tires and put up some solid times. I know the difference new tires can make and we should be right where we need to be," said Hargraves.

Both drivers had it in their minds to move into Northwest Series competition and both had their eyes on the seat vacated by Tom Sweatman in the Marvin Bright-owned No. 5 car. Bright had his eyes on each of them as well. In the end, it was Tramell who slid into that slot while Hargraves purchased a car from the stable of Jason Jefferson, who has finished in the top five in points the last two seasons.

Neither driver has participated in a Northwest Series race before, but they are cautiously optimistic on what the 2005 season will bring. "The depth in the quality of equipment and drivers is going to be the biggest adjustment," says Tramell.

Hargraves, at 22 years of age, believes this opportunity is a measuring stick for where he is at in his development as a driver. "I grew up at Yakima Speedway and have seen the Northwest Series race there many times, and, now, to have the chance to be on the track with the likes of Garrett Evans, Pete Harding and Gary Lewis is a great thrill," he said.

The spirit of cooperation among Northwest Series competitors has also struck a chord with both of these young drivers. "It's amazing at the help the veteran drivers are willing to give the newer guys," said Tramell. While Hargraves added, "If a guy like [two-time defending series champion] Jeff Jefferson or his crew chief Chuck Carruthers are going to give me advice, then I'm surely going to appreciate it and listen."

Goals are a subject of every race team heading into a new season and both Hargraves' and Tramell's teams are no exception. The Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award is an honor that both would dearly love to include on their resume, but with the large rookie class they know that it won't be easy. "I've seen most of these guys race before and the competition is pretty stiff," said Hargraves. "I am very familiar with Jeff Barkshire and Tramell. Also, I know that guys like Jim McVey and Ed Thomsen have some Northwest Series races under their belts."

Beyond the rookie title, both drivers would like to log a top-10 finish in the championship point standings, which would earn them an invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at the end of the year, in which the top-10 point finishers from the Northwest Series will be pitted against the top-10 from the other three NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division series around the country. "I can't speak for the rest of the rookie class, but I am ready to learn what it takes to have that type of success," added Tramell.

One thing working in the favor of these two drivers is that their first Northwest Series race is coming within the familiar confines of Yakima Speedway. There is a level of confidence that comes with having firsthand knowledge about the track .

"I like the fact that this first event is at Yakima Speedway," says Hargraves. "It provides a comfort level for me that would not be there if it were at Magic Valley Speedway in Idaho." Tramell adds, "Knowing the ins and outs of the track is a definite bonus for us. It's kind of like having one less thing to worry about when the green flag drops."

In addition to Hargraves and Tramell, there will be about 28 other race teams competing for the 28 starting positions in the Okanogan Seattle Transport 125 as the 2005 edition of the Northwest Series will get underway.

FAST FACTS

What: Okanogan Seattle Transport 125 (Race No. 1 of 10 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).

Where:  Yakima Speedway, Yakima, Wash.

When: 8:45 p.m. PDT (approx.), Saturday, May 28, 2005.

Track layout:  1/2-mile oval.

Race length: 125 laps/62.5 miles.

Posted awards: $50,165.

2004 winner:  Jeff Jefferson.

2004 polesitter: Garrett Evans.

Top 10 in points (2004): 1. Jeff Jefferson 1,687, 2. Travis Bennett 1,686, 3. Jason Jefferson 1,646, 4. Garrett Evans 1,635, 5. Gary Lewis 1,628, 6. Pete Harding 1,622, 7. Brandon Riehl 1,589, 8. Wes Rhodes 1,575, 9. Joe Benedetti 1,546, 10. Steven Howard 1,538.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): 11:00 a.m. Registration opens, 2:30-5:00 p.m. Practice, 2:30-3:00 p.m. Practice, 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jason Jefferson , Gary Lewis , Jeff Barkshire