NWS: Yakima II: Race notes

Hart scores third consecutive Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series victory DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (July 21, 2003) Chris Hart of Yakima, Wash. put an exclamation point in his bid for the NASCAR Elite Division, Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series title...

Hart scores third consecutive Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series victory

DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (July 21, 2003) Chris Hart of Yakima, Wash. put an exclamation point in his bid for the NASCAR Elite Division, Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series title after a convincing win Saturday night at Yakima (WA) Speedway. The win was Hart's third victory in as many weeks and sixth career victory. Hart drove past John Bender on lap 21 and held off a determined Gary Lewis of Bothell, Wash. en route to a .073 second victory over the 1998 series champion. Bud Pole Award winner Jeff Jefferson finished third, with Jason Jefferson and Kevin Hamlin Rounding out the top five finishers in the 125-lap Frank's Chevrolet sponsored event.

Jeff Jefferson won his third Bud Pole Award of the season with a quick lap of 19.282 seconds/93.351 mph. Gary Lewis, Pete Harding, Jason Jefferson, and Kevin Hamlin rounded out the top five qualifiers. The field was set after Jefferson drew an invert pill of 10, putting Rick Suran of Estacada, Ore. on the pole position for the first time in his career. Two-time 2003 winner John Bender of Snohomish, Wash. joined Suran on the front row. Chris Hart, Steven Howard, and Joe Benedetti rounded out the top five on the starting grid. Robert Tesch of Keizer, Ore. was unable to make the starting field after losing a dry sump belt in practice and damaging his Chevrolet power plant.

Rick Suran held the point at the green flag but the action slowed as quickly as it began. Entering turn three several cars stacked up causing a chain reaction that left Jeff Bailey of Kennewick, Wash. spinning. The first of six caution flags flew and slowed the action until the lap 4 restart. Suran again led the field to green and held to point until John Bender dove underneath the Pontiac of Suran to take the lead.

Over the first twenty laps, Gary Lewis was the car on the move. Not wanting to waste any time, Lewis started to carve his way to the front of the field from his ninth starting spot. By lap 20 Lewis had made his way up to the third spot behind Bender and Chris Hart. Suran dropped back to the fourth position, with Jeff Jefferson up to fifth.

The second caution flag flew on lap 22 after Wilbur Bruce took a spin off the turn three banking. Bruce retired from the event after returning to the pits on the hook. The action stayed green until lap 38 when Suran and Ed Watson brought out the third caution. Both cars battled for the same piece of real estate exiting turn two leaving Suran in the spin cycle. Suran pitted for repairs and returned to the race one lap down.

With Hart in command at the lap 50 mark, Lewis had his hands full trying to hold off Bud Pole Winner Jeff Jefferson who made his way up to third place. Bender held down the fourth spot with Jason Jefferson in fifth followed by Pete Harding, Kevin Hamlin, Joe Benedetti, Ed Watson, and Rod Schultz Sr. rounding out the top ten. Jason Jefferson, Harding and Hamlin got by Bender on lap 58 and tried to close the gap on the Hart, Lewis, and Jeff Jefferson who had pulled out to a two second lead.

Just past halfway the top ten stayed the same with only eleven cars on the lead lap. Through the middle portion of the race former champions Harding and Hamlin waged a spirited battle after contact early in the event left scares on their machines. Hamlin was able to get back by Harding on lap 100 as the handle on Harding's car started to go. Harding fell back to the seventh position.

On lap 117 Ed Watson looped his Chevrolet causing the field to scatter to miss his car. Steven Howard stopped with no where to go, but Brandon Riehl made the evasive maneuver to the outside and drove over the right rear of Howard's Chevrolet ending the night for both competitors. The race would end with a green, white, and checkered finish with Hart holding off Lewis for the victory. Lewis crossed the line .073 seconds behind Hart, with Jeff Jefferson, Jason Jefferson, and Kevin Hamlin rounding out the top five finishers.

John Bender rallied for sixth followed by Joe Benedetti, Rod Schultz Sr., Rod Schultz Jr., and Ed Watson rounding out the top ten in the running order. Pete Harding held on to finish in the 11th spot despite losing power with two laps to go and pole sitter Rick Suran finished in the 14th position.

A happy Chris Hart was shocked and surprised about his third straight triumph. "The three in a row deal, I never thought we'd do something like that," said Hart, who claimed his sixth career series win. "To do it here, in front of all my family and friends, that's just great. Unbelievable, really. This series is so tough to win on and to have this kind of success is a real team effort."

"We have had such good luck this season," Hart continued. "I hope that we can continue to momentum over the last five races." The last five races will have the drivers visit five tracks in three states include a return to a road course event after a three years off the schedule. "I am looking forward to each race we have left. I think we will do well at each of the tracks."

"Another top three finish is what we needed," Jeff Jefferson said. "It is great to race with Chris, Gary, and Jason. We are at the front every race and run each other clean on the track. I would have liked to have started in the top six, but I am real happy with the finish. With the Hoosier Tires we are running, the cars are pretty equal and so you really have to wait for a guy to make a mistake and that just doesn't seem to happen."

Finishing third to record his sixth top five of the season was Gary Lewis. "I just could not make a run on Chris at the end," Lewis said. "My car was good, but so was Chris. He drove a good race."

Jason Jefferson was the top finishing Victory Circle Rookie-of-the-Year candidate for the sixth time this season. He dropped one position in the overall point standings after finishing fourth, but expanded his rookie point lead to 20 points over Jeff Bailey. "We usually have more yellows here at Yakima," Jason Jefferson said. "The racing was great and I wish I could had raced more with the leaders, I just thought a yellow would come out sooner. We just need to keep finishing in the top five and anything is possible, we have some races coming up at tracks I don't have any experience on. It is definitely going to be interesting."

Kevin Hamlin finished fifth despite have the muffler separate from the headers early in the event causing carbon dioxide to fill the car. "It was real tough the last few laps," Hamlin said. "I really did not want that last yellow or red flag to come out. We held on and had a pretty decent run."

The race took 55 minutes and 52 seconds to complete at an average speed of 68.024 mph. The action was slowed six times for only 20 laps of caution. Jeff Jefferson won his third Bud Pole Award of the season with a qualifying lap of 19.282 seconds/93.351 mph and collected a $325 from Anheuser Busch. Rod Schultz Sr. won the Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race award and the $750 bonus for improving the most positions in the event. Schultz started 18th and finished 8th. Jason Jefferson was the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Race and there were three lead changes among three drivers with Chris Hart leading the most laps (104).

Hart increases his point lead over Jeff Jefferson to 90 points with five races left on the schedule. Jason Jefferson sits just two points behind older brother Jeff, with Gary Lewis closing to within 114 points Hart. John Bender maintains the fifth spot in the standings. Joe Benedetti, Kevin Hamlin, Steven Howard, Jeff Bailey, and Rick Suran round out the top ten in the standings after nine races.

Six different drivers have won races this season with only Hart and Bender visiting victory lane more than once. Jeff Jefferson leads the Bud Pole Award standings with three awards, Jason Jefferson is second with two awards, and four other drivers are tied with one award apiece. Chevrolet leads the manufactures' standings with seven wins this season. Pontiac is second with one win, Dodge is third with one win, and Ford is in fourth place.

The Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series will take two weeks off before heading to Kalispell, Montana for the "Rumble in the Rockies" Saturday, August 9 at Flathead Valley's Raceway Park. Drivers, teams, and fans will all be in town for the pre-race party on Friday, August 8 starting at 5:00 pm at the Rainbow Casino in downtown Kalispell.

For all the latest news and information about NASCAR and the Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series, log on to www.nascartouring.com/raybestosnwseries .

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jeff Bailey , Jason Jefferson , John Bender , Kevin Hamlin , Gary Lewis