NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series
NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, November 11-13
* The 10 drivers representing the Northwest Series this year had a common goal, which was to simply represent themselves and Northwest racing better than last year. That was achieved with an average finish of 18.8 compared to an average finish of 29.3 a year ago. Last season the best finish by a Northwest Series driver was 15th posted by Chris Hart. This year, the Northwest contingent placed six drivers in the top 15.
* By virtue of that improvement, the Northwest Series fared much better in the "team" competition. The Toyota All-Star Showdown has a unique "team" competition not found in any other NASCAR event. Each of the four series in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division (Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest) were scored as teams in the first 75 laps of Saturday's 125-lap feature race. The "team" with the highest cumulative point total was declared the winner. The winner this season was the Southwest Series, which showed its familiarity with Irwindale Speedway with a dominating performance. The Northwest Series came in second followed by the Southeast and Midwest Series.
* Jeff Jefferson, the 2003 and 2004 series champion, paced the Northwest Series with a finish of sixth. After finishing 38th a season ago, it is hard to look at sixth as a disappointment, but, in a sense, it was. Jefferson, of Naches, Wash., clearly had a car to contend throughout the entire event. In the first of Friday's two qualifying races, he started on the inside of the back row, as each of the four champions started in the rear of the field, and moved up for a sixth-place finish earning him a starting position of 12th for Saturday's main event. He quickly moved the No. 42 LeMay Car Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet into the top 10 and was fourth at the end of the first 75-lap segment. An invert of six was then drawn for the race's final 50 laps giving the two-time champ a start of third in that final segment. "I really thought we were in great shape heading into the final 50, but the car did not respond the way it should have with the changes we made," he said. "We came here with the goal of finishing in the top five and came in sixth."
* Jason Jefferson, Jeff's younger brother, did his part for the Northwest Series, as well. After finishing third in his qualifying race on Friday night, he started sixth on Saturday night. At the break after 75 laps, he found himself in fifth giving him a re-start on the outside pole after the six-car invert for the final 50 laps. However, his No. 97 Legends Casino/Mike Olson Dodge/Simmonson Automotive Dodge became too tight at a racetrack in which a tight condition is hard to overcome. The Yakima, Wash. resident held on to finish a solid ninth.
* If this event had an award for the best turnaround over the three days, then Pete Harding, racing out of Surrey, B.C. Canada, would have to be considered. Harding, one of the four first-time Northwest Series participants in the Toyota All-Star Showdown, missed most of Thursday's practices after a severe mechanical malfunction put the No. 39 Yale-Chase/Yale Lift Trucks Chevrolet out of commission. In Saturday's event, Harding started 19th and after working his way into the top 10 finished 12th.
* The biggest Northwest Series mover on Saturday night was Auto Meter Rookie of the Year Travis Bennett. Bennett, who hails from Ellensburg, Wash., posted some of the fastest lap times in Friday's final practice, but struggled with a tight racecar in his Friday night qualifying heat. After freeing the car up on Saturday and no corresponding practice the crew of the No. 33 Knudson Lumber/Zeb's Truck Stop/Bowman's Electro Painting Chevrolet were not exactly sure what to expect. They guessed pretty well. He started 31st and finished 14th resulting in the third-best move-up of the night.
* Four-time series champion, and winner of a series record 50 races, Garrett Evans fared well as a first-time Toyota All-Star Showdown participant. The No. 64 Leonard Evans Hyundai/Pure Power Lubricants/Signature Financing Chevrolet team from East Wenatchee, Wash. had an up and down three days, but put their best foot forward on Saturday night with a 15th place finish. "It took some time for me to get used to the track," Evans said. "It's not like any of the ones that we race on in our series."
* John Bender perhaps had the most to gain of the Northwest Series drivers in the Toyota All-Star Showdown. He did not have a Bender-type season. He quite possibly incurred the most damage to his car over the course of the season by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He, however, was able to salvage an 11th place finish in points. Only the top 10 drivers receive invitations to participate in the Toyota All-Star Showdown, but Bender was able to secure one of those coveted spots after Wes Rhodes, who finished eighth in points could not attend due to a personal commitment. All he did was power his No. 18 Oso Lumber & Hardware/Reece Asphalt Chevrolet to the front in Friday night's first qualifying heat and led for several laps. The car became hard to steer after it tightened up, but was able to bring it home in a more than respectable fourth. Bender's solid weekend continued with a 13th place finish in Saturday's main event. "We did not have a great season, but the showing we had here is more indicative of the kind of race team I have."
* Jeff Jefferson made his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut earlier in the season at the Milwaukee Mile and he will get another shot this weekend in the 2004 series finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway. This time it will be in the Team EJP Racing No. 03 Chevrolet. Jefferson already has had an opportunity to test the truck at the Florida racetrack and found it to his liking. "We had it running very well and could be very competitive," he said. "This is a great opportunity for me and I am thankful for the chance that Team EJP Racing has given me." The Ford 200 will be telecast live by SPEED Channel on Friday, November 19 beginning at 12:00 PM PST.