Late-race pass on rival extends Brandon's Whitt's lead in Rookie points. July 20, 2002, Tracy, California: Competition for the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring Rookie-of-the-Year honors entered a new dimension on Saturday, as Brandon...
Late-race pass on rival extends Brandon's Whitt's lead in Rookie points.
July 20, 2002, Tracy, California: Competition for the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring Rookie-of-the-Year honors entered a new dimension on Saturday, as Brandon Whitt passed rival driver Steve Belletto for eleventh place near the end of the Altamont 150. Although Belletto has been Whitt's main rival over the last few months for valuable Rookie Points, the two had not previously raced each other for a position.
"I was behind Steve for fifteen laps, watching him and waiting for him to make a mistake," recounted Whitt after the race. "The inside line was the fastest, and my car was handling better down low. He raced me very hard, but I could keep mine on the bottom and he couldn't. His car finally moved up high, and I ducked down the inside and passed him."
Brandon and Steve finished in eleventh and twelfth respectively, extending Brandon's lead in rookie points to six (78-72). Steve, however, still ranks ninth in the overall championship standings, eleven points ahead of Whitt, setting up tightly fought Nocal/Socal battle for the remaining five races of the season.
"He raced me clean," Brandon said of Steve, "and it was a blast. But of course I would prefer to have a bigger cushion in rookie points. We have to give it the extra 10% for the rest of the season to make sure we accomplish our goals of winning Rookie of the Year and finishing Top Ten in the overall championship."
According to Brandon, his young, family-run team is coming together more and more every race, evidence by the collective effort to improve the car between qualifying and the race. "After qualifying fifteenth with a tight car, we all put our heads together, and everybody gave their input. It is becoming a very open process, and people are feeling more comfortable speaking up when they can make a contribution. My crew chief and I like to hear all ideas, and then sort out which ones are the best."
Brandon and the Clean Line Racing team head to Madera this Saturday with some valuable experience at the track, due to Brandon's third place finish at a Madera SRL event earlier this month. The SRL events use the same race car as the Southwest Featherlite Tour, but on different tires. The SRL event was Brandon's best finish of 2002, and his first race outside the Southwest Featherlite Tour.