NWS: Yakima II: Pre-race notebook

NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES YAKIMA SPEEDWAY NOTEBOOK DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 20, 2006) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series heads to Yakima (Wash.) Speedway to begin the second half of the season.

NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES YAKIMA SPEEDWAY NOTEBOOK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 20, 2006) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series heads to Yakima (Wash.) Speedway to begin the second half of the season. Two races of this difficult stretch of five events in six weeks are complete. The championship point standings have tightened; Gary Lewis saw over half of his 80-point lead on Travis Bennett evaporate last weekend. Points battles are up and down the standings. Less than 100 points separate drivers in fourth and 16th, and between 10th and 19th is a similar margin.

THE TRACK: Yakima Speedway is scheduled to host its 41st Northwest Series event this Saturday. Bill Lawrence holds the one-lap qualifying record for the 1/2-mile oval. He posted a time of 18.286 seconds (98.436 mph) on April 19, 1995. Four-time series champion Garrett Evans has won the most events of any driver with six. Jeff Jefferson and Ron Eaton, each three-time series champions, hold the career mark for Bud Poles with six each. Five former winners at Yakima Speedway (John Bender, Evans, Pete Harding, Lewis and Brandon Riehl) are pre-entered for this event. Seven Northwest Series titles are also accounted for in the pre-entry list. Evans (1985, 1989, 1994 and 2000) headlines the list accompanied by John Dillon (1990), Lewis (1998) and Pete Harding (1999).

VISITORS FROM THE EAST: A couple of different faces will be in the garage area for this event. NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series competitor Ted Mickelson is making the trip from Greer, S.C. He is currently sixth in their point standings. Also, a familiar foe from Northwest Series events at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho will make his Yakima debut. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series' Eddy McKean will be on hand. He currently trails Rip Michels by just five points in the Southwest Series rankings. Also, he already has a Northwest Series second-place effort under his belt in the Northwest's first visit to Magic Valley in June.

THE ROOKIES: This year's crop of Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year contenders is like no other in series history. By sheer numbers with 12 in the class, they were expected to impact the season, but their effect, so far, has been much greater than expected. Jay Sauls picked up a win in Wenatchee in just his fourth start. Three (Troy Tramell, Shane Mitchell and Jason Fraser) have won Bud Pole Awards. Sauls, Fraser and Mitchell each have collected a podium finish with Mitchell garnering two. In the championship point standings, Sauls, Mike Longton and Mitchell rank in the top 10 while B.J. Tidrick, Tramell, Brent Harris, Zan Sharp, Shane Harding, Fraser and Darren Rupinski join them in the top 20.

THE ROOKIES, PART II: The battle for the Northwest Series' Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year award is every bit as compelling as the chase for the series title. This is a battle that undoubtedly will not be resolved before the conclusion of the season's final race. This week, Longton holds the top spot in the standings with 33 points. Right on his heels are Sauls and Mitchell with 32 points. Then come Harris and Shane Harding with 29 and 27 points, respectively. Fraser (25), Tidrick (23), Rupinski (22), Sharp (21) and Tramell (21) are still very much in the mix. Rounding out the list of rookie contenders are Bryan Warf (6) and Joey Decker, Jr. (2). This year, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year will be awarded to the rookie driver with the highest finish in 75% of the events respective to the other rookie contenders.

ROUND AND ROUND THEY GO: To date this season, the Northwest Series has run 658 laps and only Bennett has completed each one. In fact, dating back to the beginning of the 2004 season, he has missed just 30 circuits around the tracks with all of those coming last season and 24 of them in one event. Lewis' flat tire last weekend at Evergreen Speedway cost him a lap giving him a total of 657 for the season. The ever consistent Wilbur Bruce has complete 655 trips along with Longton. Oddly enough, Jeff Barkshire paces the series in laps led at 220, but does not have a victory to show for it. Lewis, a two-time winner in 2006, has led 205 laps and Riehl, also twice a winner, has been out in front for 132 trips around.

ALUMNI REPORT: Former Northwest Series competitor Greg Biffle continues his quest to make The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. He currently sits in 10th place and holds what is, right now, the final berth to pursue the 2006 title. Biffle also is currently sixth in the NASCAR Busch Series standings. Mike Bliss, another Northwest Series product, occupies 11th place in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings at the moment. On a local note, three-time Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson picked up the win in the Montana 200, one of the larger regional Late Model events, held last weekend in Kalispell, Mont.

Ticket information for this weekend's race can be obtained by calling Yakima Speedway at (509) 248-0647 or by logging onto www.yakimaspeedway.us.

FAST FACTS

What: Yakima 125 (Race No. 6 of 11 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).

Where: Yakima Speedway, Yakima, Wash.

When: 8:45 p.m. PDT (approx.), Saturday, July 22, 2006

Track layout:  1/2-mile oval

Race length: 125 laps/62.5 miles.

Posted awards: $52,933

2005 winner:  Jeff Jefferson.

2005 polesitter: Troy Tramell.

Top 10 in points: 1. Gary Lewis -- 827; 2. Travis Bennett -- 790; 3. Brandon Riehl -- 713; 4. Jay Sauls -- 681; 5. Mike Longton -- 671; 6t. Wilbur Bruce -- 669; 6t. Shane Mitchell - 669; 8. Jeff Barkshire -- 667; 9. Steven Howard -- 652; 10. John Bender - 630

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Sat., 7/22 - 11:00 a.m. Registration opens; 2:30-5:00 p.m. Practice; 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying; 8:45 p.m. Yakima 125.

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Greg Biffle , Mike Bliss , Shane Mitchell , Jeff Jefferson , John Bender , Gary Lewis , Jeff Barkshire