Ashton Lewis, Jr. caught up in late race wreck. FORT WORTH, TX (March 29, 2003) -- Driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. thought that his luck with the No. 46 Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet had finally changed, when with nine laps to go he was caught up in a 15...
Ashton Lewis, Jr. caught up in late race wreck.
FORT WORTH, TX (March 29, 2003) -- Driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. thought that his luck with the No. 46 Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet had finally changed, when with nine laps to go he was caught up in a 15 car wreck.
On Thursday, Lewis was 30th on the time sheet after the first practice. He knew, without a doubt, that time did not show what his car was capable of. The first portion of the practice session the car was in "race trim". Towards the end of the practice session the team changed to "qualifying trim", but did not get to make any practice runs because of cautions on the speedway.
"I know our car is better than it appears on paper right now. I feel like when we qualify this afternoon we will have a good, solid run," Lewis said.
Qualifying started at 3:30 that afternoon, and Lewis had the disadvantage of being the 11th car to qualify. He did run a very strong lap of 29.222, which kept him in the top six for the first two-thirds of qualifying. Then, a couple of cars had problems on the track which caused some delays, and during that time the sun went behind the bleachers. The significance in that is it causes the track to cool, which makes it faster. The cars that qualified towards the end all ran very quick speeds, and Lewis ended up in the 16th starting position.
"We would have been much higher if everyone had qualified under the same conditions, but the car is strong and I'm looking forward to Saturday's race."
As the CAP race team arrived at the 1.5 mile superspeedway on Saturday morning it was to cool and windy conditions, but the attitude of the team was incredibly upbeat. When the 200 lap race started, Lewis was pleased with the handling of his car , and he was steadily working his way through the field.
The first caution came out on lap three of the race when the No. 6 of Damon Lusk hit the wall. The second caution came out thirty laps later when the No. 25 of Bobby Hamilton and the No. 79 of Joe Aramendia got together on the frontstretch. During this caution the cars made their first pit stops. The CAP crew had a long pit stop because two of the lug nuts fell off on the right rear tire, but Ashton only lost four positions on the track as a result.
After this pit stop, there was a scare in the CAP pits. Jimmy Jenkins, who holds the catch can during pit stops, was helping tire specialist James Turski. Jimmy was using a butane torch to scrape rubber off of the used tires, when some of the rubber fell on his shoe and ignited the fuel that had spilled on him from the catch can. Jenkins suit was in flames from his feet to his chest. Crew member Bryan Roberts and a Fox TV pit reporter both tackled Jenkins to have him roll. The fire fighter from the CAP pits then sprayed him with an extinguisher, putting out the flames. Jenkins was not injured at all during the incident, but it did create quite a stir in the pits.
There were three more cautions, two for solo cars spins and one for debris on the track. On lap 80, during the caution for debris, Lewis piloted his car to pit road for a two tire pit stop. By lap 94 of the race Lewis had worked his way to the seventh position and was certainly one of the cars to beat on the track. His car was a little tight through the center and off, but certainly still running strong.
On lap 150, under green flag conditions, Lewis made what was to be his final pit stop. The crew put on four tires, filled up the fuel tank and made track bar and air pressure adjustments. It was a very quick pit stop, but since it was under green flag conditions it put Lewis one lap down in 20th place. By lap 166 as the green flag pit stops were cycling through, Lewis was in 16th position. There were only eight cars on the lead lap and fourteen cars one lap down. On lap 170 the worst thing possible for all of the cars a lap down happened. A caution came out when the 77 car of Bruce Bechtel hit the wall very hard. This gave the eight leading cars the opportunity to pit without losing a lap, thus locking all of the other cars a lap down. The red flag was put out for a short time during this caution for speedway workers to check the wall, but no serious damage was found.
The eighth caution came out on lap 187 for debris on the track. The green flag was shown with nine laps to go, and that's when Lewis' trouble began. The No. 48 of Shane Hmeil and the No. 20 of Mike Bliss got together heading into turn one. Bliss car was turned directly in front of Lewis, who had nowhere to go, and hit Bliss on the drivers side of the car. In all, fifteen cars ended up involved in this late race wreck, with at least six being transported to the care center, and released without serious injury.
"I just can't believe that something like this happened to us again. I really thought we were going to have a strong finish here. I hate that so many cars got wrecked so close to the end, but I'm glad everyone is OK."
"I'm really not sure just what the worst part of this whole deal is, but I think it's losing this car. This is car 05, which has always been my favorite car. I guess I'll just put this behind me and start focusing on Talladega."
The next race on the Busch schedule is the Aaron's 312 at Talladega Superspeedway. The race will be aired live on Fox and broadcast live on MRN beginning at 1:30 ET on Saturday, April 5, 2003. Qualifying for the event will take place Thursday, April 3 at 4:00 pm ET and will be aired live on Speedchannel.