RIEHL CAPTURES FIRST VICTORY IN NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES AT YAKIMA SPEEDWAY YAKIMA, Wash. (May 28, 2005) - Brandon Riehl collected two firsts Saturday night in the Okanogan Seattle Transport 125 at Yakima (Wash.)...
RIEHL CAPTURES FIRST VICTORY IN NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES AT YAKIMA SPEEDWAY
YAKIMA, Wash. (May 28, 2005) - Brandon Riehl collected two firsts Saturday night in the Okanogan Seattle Transport 125 at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series. Most importantly, he collected his first win in the series after 25 starts, but he also was able to get the early jump on the rest of the field in the season point standings by earning that victory in the season's opening event.
Riehl was not sure what kind of car he had underneath him when he started seventh in the 28-car field. "In practice, the car never felt all that good and we kept switching things around, but we still were able to put up fast lap times," said the Boring, Oregon-based driver. "Once the race got underway, we had it set up pretty good. I like to have the car on the edge to get all the speed I can get and tonight it was just about perfect."
Just about perfect turned into a dominating racecar. That dominance was not evident in the early stages of the race as the field produced some early cautions, which did not allow for any long green flag runs. However, once the drivers were able to shake off the rust from a long off-season and calm opening night jitters, 81 of the race's final 94 laps were run under green flag conditions.
Riehl negotiated his Aero Turbine/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevrolet around Wilbur Bruce at lap 67, giving him the chance to show how dominant his car was. After that, each lap brought an even larger gap between him and the rest of the lead pack. Even restarts, after a couple of brief late cautions, were not an issue for Riehl. He was able to easily run out to a big lead each time. By race's end, he beat the second-place car of Jeff Jefferson to the finish line by 3.66 seconds.
Riehl showed his exuberance in winning his first career Northwest Series race by thrilling the large crowd with a cross between a burn out and doing doughnuts on the front stretch of the track. "This win means everything to me," he said afterward. "I was starting to get a little discouraged. After my rookie year in 2003, I knew that I could run up front in this series and we did that a lot last year, but something always happened." In fact, he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop in this event. "My spotter kept telling me how far out in front I was, but there was no way I was going let up. If something was going to break, then let it break. I was not going to lose this race by getting too conservative," he added.
Riehl's maturation as a driver has been something fans of the series have been able to watch evolve. He freely admits that his rookie campaign two seasons ago was not all that good. Last season, though, the lessons learned were quite evident. So much so, that series officials voted him as the series' most improved driver in 2004. "It was just a matter of time. He has the talent and the equipment to have success. He's a force that we all are going to have to deal with this year," said Jefferson.
As for his own night, Jefferson, out of Naches, Wash., conceded that he had nothing for Riehl and was pleased with a finish in second. Throughout the afternoon practices on the very warm spring day, Jefferson kept asking crew chief Chuck Carruthers to loosen the car up. Early in the day, that strategy worked out great with the LeMay Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet consistently ticking off the quickest laps in practice. Qualifying was solid for Jefferson, as well. He collected the first Bud Pole Award of the season with a speed of 94.103 mph on the 1/2-mile oval.
Come race time, though, it was a different story. "I had the car too lose. I could not get back in the throttle out of the turns. It was Brandon's night," said the reigning series champion.
Pete Harding, racing out of Surrey, B.C. Canada, brought his L.P. Body Shop/Yale Forklift Chevrolet home in third. He, like Jefferson, handed all the credit to Riehl. "He was just too good. None of us could keep up with his pace," said the veteran driver.
Fourth-place finisher Wilbur Bruce, out of Lakewood, Wash., demonstrated the ability to drive up front among the best racecar drivers in the Pacific Northwest by leading the most laps in the event with 63. Bruce competed in the very first Northwest Series race back in 1985 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. and has been a part-time driver in the series for the past several years. This year, he is back to run a full season in the Quality Rentals/Six Robblees Chevrolet.
Kennewick, Washington's Jeff Bailey came home in fifth to notch his first top-five finish since the 2003 season. The driver of the Sharpe & Preszler Construction/Craig Racing Engines Chevy, who had a season to forget last year, looks as if his race team is pointed in the right direction for 2005.
Garrett Evans, Roger Habich, Mike Longton, John Dillon and Joe Benedetti rounded out the top 10.
The POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award, which goes to the driver who improves his position, the most over the course of the event, was won by Ed Watson, out of Mount Vernon, Washington. Watson had to race his way into the main event in the qualifying race necessitated by a solid turnout of 35 cars all looking for a spot in the 28-car field. Watson finished second to Kyle Pope in the qualifying event and the two drivers earned starting spots for the big race of the night. Watson earned the award by finishing 14th after starting last.
The last time the four-time champion Evans took to the track in a Northwest Series event was last September. He began the race ranked first in points with his fifth championship in sight. However, a lap four accident relegated the Northwest racing legend to a finish of 20th in the race and fourth in points. Evans began the new season with a finish of sixth in his Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Finance/Pure Power Lubricants Chevrolet. That improvement of 14 spots earned him the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" award for the event, which is given to the driver who improves his finishing position the most from the previous event.
Steve Dykman, the lead man on Riehl's crew, won the Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award.
The Northwest Series will next be in action on June 11 at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho for the Pepsi 125.
Failed to Qualify: (7) Rod Schultz, Jr (#7), Darren Trimble * (#81), Michael Merry * (#29), Ed Thomsen * (#1), Jerry Fink (#58), Troy Tramell * (#5), Dennis Wurtz (#14).
Time of Race: 1 hrs., 6 mins, 19 secs
Average Speed: 56.547 mph
Margin of Victory: 3.66 Seconds
BUD POLE AWARD: Jeff Jefferson, 42 LeMay Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet
FEATHERLITE "MOST IMPROVED DRIVER" AWARD: Garrett Evans, 64 Leo. Evans Hyundai/Signature Financing Chevrolet
POWERADE "POWER MOVE OF THE RACE" AWARD: Ed Watson, 55 Creekside Retirement Comm. Chevrolet
LUNATI "CREW CHIEF OF THE RACE" AWARD: Steve Dykman, 69, Aero Turbine/Darrels Economy Muffler Chevrolet
Caution Flags: Laps 1-13; 19-22; 25-31; 69-74; 96-100; 102-103. 6 for 37 laps.
Lap Leaders: Wilbur Bruce 1-33, Gary Lewis 34-36, Wilbur Bruce 37-66, Brandon Riehl 67-125.
Total Laps Led: Wilbur Bruce 63, Brandon Riehl 59, Gary Lewis 3. 3 changes involving 3 drivers.
Top 10 Driver Points: Brandon Riehl 180, Jeff Jefferson 170, Pete Harding 165, Wilbur Bruce 160, Jeff Bailey 155, Garrett Evans 150, Roger Habich 146, Mike Longton 142, John Dillon 138, Joe Benedetti 134
Next Race: 7/11 at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho