LEWIS IS TOO STRONG IN NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES YAKIMA, Wash. (July 22, 2006) - Not a single NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series competitor had anything for Gary Lewis in the Bud Clary Toyota 125 on ...
LEWIS IS TOO STRONG IN NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES
YAKIMA, Wash. (July 22, 2006) - Not a single NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series competitor had anything for Gary Lewis in the Bud Clary Toyota 125 on Saturday night at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway. He thoroughly dominated the event having close to a two second lead at one point on the 1/2-mile oval.
The large lead eventually dwindled after Lewis caught the tail end of the field and found himself in very heavy traffic. If the race had been held on a super speedway, there is no telling what sort of lead the Bothell, Wash. driver could have built.
Lewis turned in an average, for him, performance in time trials by posting the seventh-fastest lap, but his car was race ready. He benefited from a 10-car invert and started the race in the third position and wasted no time from there. He was able to beat Travis Bennett, who started on the outside pole, to turn one to move into position to take the race lead from pole sitter Jeff Barkshire. During the race's third lap, Lewis was able to take the lead from Barkshire, whose Centennial Batteries/SPE Racing Engines Dodge was not turning all that well, on the backstretch heading for turns three and four.
After that, Lewis was pretty much done with door-to-door racing for position in his Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevrolet. His only concern was lapped traffic and how to work his way through it.
"The car was very strong tonight, but I was a little worried about the lapped cars," stated the race winner. "A few guys this year have had some problems in the lead with lapped cars. We got through it pretty well. I did make a little bit of contact with a down car toward the end of the race and it tightened up a bit, but once we got going it was fine."
The win was Lewis' third of the season and the 31st of his stellar Northwest Series career. He has won multiple races in a season nine times in his series career, now in its 14th year. It is also the third time he has won more than two times in a single season.
"The numbers stack up pretty nice, but when you race to win, then they'll do that," said Lewis. "We're out here to win races and win the championship, period."
Bennett spent the predominance of the race staring at the back of Lewis' car after that early exchange of the lead wondering if there was any way around the leader. As fate would have it, there was not. Lewis ended up beating the No. 33 Bowman's Electro Painting/Rich-Pak Chevrolet to the finish line by .462 seconds.
"This was a brand new car that we raced tonight and it did pretty well," said Bennett, who hails from Ellensburg, Wash. "[Lewis] was so strong tonight and wasn't going to be denied. I wish we could have had more for him, but I'm pleased with the performance of our team."
"It was a good points night for us. We lost minimal ground and we're still in the championship hunt."
Third-place finisher Brandon Riehl looked as though he was going to drive his Aero Exhaust/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevy straight to the front early in the event. He started ninth on the grid and worked his way to third before lap 20. However, like Lewis and Bennett, it was a position that he would hold for the remainder of the night.
"The car was really loose. It wasn't too bad at the beginning, but that was basically all I had for tonight," said the Boring, Ore.-based Riehl. "I think we had a third-place car. [Bennett] was a little better than me and [Lewis] was a little better than him, so I think it was a pretty fair finish for everyone tonight."
Barkshire dropped to fourth after that early flurry of action at the front of the field to start the race. And just like the others in front of him, that is where he was able to stay. It proved to be a solid rebound race for the Auburn, Wash. team. They finished 22nd on July 15 at Evergreen Speedway. That improvement earned the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award.
Garrett Evans, too, experienced a much improved finish over a week ago. He finished fifth for his first top-five effort of the season. The East Wenatchee, Wash. driver sent a message during qualifying that the four-time series champion would have to be dealt with. He drove his Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Finance Chevrolet to the Bud Pole Award. He posted a lap of 19.196 seconds (93.770 mph) to collect his second Bud Pole of the season becoming the first driver to earn two this season in the Northwest Series and extended his all-time career series mark to 65.
Pete Harding, Shane Mitchell, Brent Harris, Wilbur Bruce and B.J. Tidrick rounded out the top 10.
Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year contender Jason Fraser, of Snohomish, Wash., picked up the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award by improving his position the most over the course of the race. He started 22nd in the 27-car field and worked his way forward to finish 13th in the Rich's Car Corner/BRI Chevrolet.
Ralph Lewis, Gary's father and crew chief, picked up his third Luntati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award this season by leading the No. 73 team to victory lane.
Mitchell, by virtue of his Sunoco rookie class-best finish of seventh, took over the lead in the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year standings. He now has a four-point edge on Harris, who sits in second at this time.
Unofficially, in the championship point standings, Lewis stretched out his lead on the entire field. He now holds a 47-point lead on Bennett in second place and a 129-point edge on Riehl. Oddly enough, the top four finishers in the race are the current top four in the point standings in order.
While Lewis kept a decent working margin over his nearest competitors, the balance of the drivers remain very close to one another. Just 55 points separate Jay Sauls in seventh and Troy Tramell in 14th. By the same token, Pete Harding, who is ranked 20th, is only 95 points out of 10th place.
Points are becoming just as big a focal point as winning the race while teams jockey for position to earn one of those exclusive 10 invitations to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
The Northwest Series is right back on the track next week at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. for the third of what will be four consecutive weeks of competition. This next race will be part of the Evergreen 500 consisting of the 150-lap Northwest Series event, a 100-lap Speedway Chevrolet Super Stock event as part of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series and the NAPA 250 presented by Triple A for the NASCAR Grand National Division AutoZone West Series. All told, there will be 500 laps of racing on the speedy .646-mile oval. It will be the largest assembly of NASCAR race teams ever at Evergreen Speedway.