Irwindale, Calif. - - Veteran driver Bobby Dotter's finely-tuned racer's eye saw an opening on the lap after the lap after the (advertised) 300th lap of the Winston West Home Depot 300 at Irwindale Speedway and the Charlotte, North Carolinian drove his familiar #18 Chevy right into the winner's circle, accompanied by a roar from the crowd and a groan from young Matt Crafton.
If any one driver could be said to have "dominated" the 300-lap Winston West finale it was Tulare's Matt Crafton. Driving in his first "West" race and leading the lion's share of the laps, the 24 year-old NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour Champ for 2000. Crafton's driving was remarkably fast and clean throughout the race. What looked like a bad set of tires mid-race dropped him back a few places, but back he came each time going right for the lead and getting it with alacrity.
A record 37 cars entered and drew for qualifying besting by 9 the largest turn-out of Winston West cars ever at the Speedway. Fastest-qualifier Austin Cameron of El Cajon, lead early and looked strong all race, eventually ending up a disappointed sixth 1.061 seconds behind the race winner.
Cold weather and the threat of rain all day long prevented this twelfth of twelve Winston West races from attaining a predicted sell-out, but all 5,160 fans who braved the cold and a short rain delay just as the evening's main events were to commence were treated to some 355 laps of spectacular Saturday Night-style short track feature event action.
With the rain delay and the subsequent track drying session, the announced 75-lapper for the UltraWheels Spec Trucks needed to be trimmed to 50 laps, but they were 50 hot and heavy ones with Frank Steiner of Perris winning the wild affair with a margin of victory of .216 seconds over Poways' Joe Herold. Herold's fellow "Northcountian" Nathan Wulff of Escondio was third by a hair. Fastest Qualifier (19.221) Jim McGill of Temecula, ended up fifth in the main, with Laguna Hill's Jon Campbell fourth.
Multi-talented motorsports TV commentator Mike Joy, who was in town to MC the Winston West banquet on Sunday night, was visiting Irwindale Speedway for his first time and impressed with the surroundings, calling them "first class". Also on hand as honored guests were NHRA top fuel (and Auto Club/Winston Finals fastest qualifier at Pomona earlier in the day) driver Mike Dunn and his car owner and former top fuel champion Darrell Gwynn. Gwynn who, immediately on arrival, identified himself as a, "Huge short track fan" was equally impressed with the facility and the level of competition that it engendered.
The race went off as a prohibitive/odds-on/no-loose bet for NAPA driver Brendan Gaughn, of Las Vegas, who only had to take the green flag to win this year's Winston West Championship. However, anyone who knows either Gaughn or his team owner Bill MacAnnaly knows that Gaughn does not have a "cruise and collect" mode in his driving style repertoire. Gaughn was up down and then up again during the 300+ lapper; seemingly having to fight his way around on every lap to Crafton's seemingly easy drive. In the end Gaughn took a nicely-driven third place which got him the coveted 2000 season title and then some.
A late yellow caused the scheduled 300-lapper to run 305 laps (a Winston West race, contrary to a Winston Cup race must have a green-white-checker finish) and a hard bump from behind by John Metcalf that sent Crafton wall-ward on lap 303 were all it took for Dotter to sneak past Crafton by less than the distance of the nose to the front edge of the front wheelwell. Crafton was, needless to say, none too happy with the outcome, even though second place in your first Winston West race rates a hearty "not bad" at any speed shop.
He wasn't asked the question, but it's safe to assume that Crafton's preference would have been for the WC-type finishing rules (at least this time). Interestingly enough, had Crafton won the race he would have been the first driver in memory to have triumphed in his first attempt at a NASCAR Winston West event.
Dotter was characteristically modest in victory, saying that he didn't feel that he had much better than a fifth place car at Irwindale, but proving that the "fifth place car" had a first place driver aboard. Dotter was lurking about in the top 10 all night long and, when the opportunity presented itself, the rest is in the scorebook.
Looking at the season just concluded on a percentage basis, Bobby Dotter has won 33 1/3% of this season's Winston West races as well as double the number of main events as the next nearest on the win list, Gaughn (4 to 2). He was also the only WW driver to "double" at Irwindale this season or last. (We didn't even think about asking what his favorite short track is.)
Gaughn Champion, Dotter Winner, Crafton Rookie-of-the-race. We're already looking forward to the "Wild West" at Irwindale and beyond in 2001. -DS
<pre> NASCAR WINSTON WEST HOME DEPOT 300 (305 LAPS) 1. 18 Bobby Dotter, Charlotte, NC People Against Drugs Chevrolet Monte Carlo 2. 21 Matt Crafton, Tulare, CA Miller Motorsports Ford Taurus 3. 16 Brendan Gaughan, Las Vegas, NV NAPA/Martin Senour Chevrolet Monte Carlo 4. 57 John Metcalf, Aurora, CO Team RE/MAX Chevrolet Monte Carlo 5. 77 Joe Bean, San Diego, CA Food 4 Less/Coca-Cola/City of Hope Ford Taurus 6. 12 Austin Cameron, El Cajon, CA Mar-Con/Creative Touch Chevrolet Monte Carlo 7. 9 Mike Duncan, Lamont, CA * Surface Pumps Chevrolet Monte Carlo 8. 00 Scott Gaylord, Lakewood, CO Oliver Gravity Separators Chevrolet Monte Carlo 9. 08 Scott Lynch, Burley, ID Mr. Gas Chevrolet Monte Carlo 10. 83 Rick Bogart, El Cajon, CA * McMillin Realty Chevrolet Monte Carlo * rookie-of-the-year contender
ULTRAWHEELS SPEC TRUCKS 50
1. 3 Frank Steiner, Perris, CA Chevrolet 2. 15 Joe Herold, Poway, CA Chevrolet 3. 72 Nathan Wulff, Escondido, CA Dodge 4. 25 Jon Campbell, Laguna Hills, CA Chevrolet 5. 7 Jim McGill, Temecula, CA Chevrolet (all trucks identical specification chassis')
NEXT RACE: SATURDAY NOVEMBER 18, 2000: Mechanix Wear Speed Trucks, MSRA Pro 4 Modifieds & Legends Cars (all final races of the 2000 season) FOR INFO. or CREDENTIALS: Doug Stokes (626) 358-1100 x206