HISTORY ON JEFFERSON'S SIDE AS HE MAKES HISTORY EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. (September 25, 2005) -- The drama of taking the championship points battle down to the final race of the season is like no other in motorsports. The NASCAR...
HISTORY ON JEFFERSON'S SIDE AS HE MAKES HISTORY
EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. (September 25, 2005) -- The drama of taking the championship points battle down to the final race of the season is like no other in motorsports. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series did just that in the Dick's Heating and Air Conditioning 200 held at the Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval located in East Wenatchee, Wash.
Brandon Riehl entered the event with a 14-point advantage over two-time defending champion Jeff Jefferson and put his car on the Bud Pole during time trials applying more pressure to the Jefferson team looking for an unprecedented three-peat. However, Jefferson had his own pressure in mind as he started the race in third right on Riehl's rear deck lid.
"If I win the race, then there is nothing he can do," said Riehl prior to the event. "And, at the same time, winning the race doesn't guarantee him anything."
The only guarantee Jefferson had was his recent performance at the 1/4-mile oval. He had won two of the last three races there and finished second in the other in his LeMay Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet. "We've done well here lately, but that doesn't mean that much today. It gives us a confidence level, but you never know what can happen," said Jefferson.
By needing a measure of help to overcome the points deficit Jefferson's strategy was very simple. "We're going to go out and try to win the race," said the native of Naches, Wash. "That's all I can control."
As the 25-car field thundered toward the start/finish line to take the green flag, Riehl and Jefferson began their game of catch-me-if-you-can. Jefferson wasted little time in moving past Jeff Barkshire, who started on the outside pole, bringing the championship match-up to the front of the pack.
Racing for both a win and a championship was an exhilarating experience for Jefferson. "I don't think that I have ever had more fun in a race car than battling with (Riehl) early in the race," said Jefferson.
The Riehl/Jefferson battle reached a furious peak when the race lead changed hands four times in eight laps from lap 47 through 54. Unfortunately, the battle ended there. It was taking place in lapped traffic and Riehl made contact with another car and suffered damage to the right side of his Aero Turbine/Darrel's Economy Muffler Chevrolet. That forced him to the pits and effectively ended his title run.
"There's only so much room out there and it was unfortunate," said the disappointed Riehl. "We got a couple wins this year and we are continuing to improve our consistency."
Jefferson felt for Riehl misfortune. "I was disappointed that we couldn't race all the way to the end. It would've been fun."
"I take my hat of to them, though. They fought all season long. I also want to congratulate Garrett Evans, Wilbur Bruce, Pete Harding and every race team this year on their efforts this season," continued the race winner.
Harding came into the race 30 points behind Riehl, but never proved to be a factor in the race. A sub-par qualifying effort resulted in starting the race in 15th. He never could work toward the front of the pack and eventually retired his racecar after 111 laps with a broken right front suspension.
Auburn, Washington's Barkshire posted his third second-place finish of the season as he followed Jefferson across the finish line by .325 seconds. While climbing out of his Centennial Batteries/Pure Power Lubricants Dodge his elation was tempered with a hint of frustration. "I'd really like to win one of these things instead of come in second all the time," he said.
The newly crowned three-time champion in Jefferson overheard the comment and quickly replied to Barkshire, "It will happen real soon. Be patient. You're definitely on the right road."
As disappointed as Barkshire was with his third runner-up finish of the season, there may have never been a more frustrating third-place finish in racing than that of Travis Bennett, out of Ellensburg, Wash. The 2004 rookie of the year has had his share of struggles this season, but pulled it together in the final race to log his best finish of the season in the Wenatchee Harley-Davidson/Wenatchee Petroleum Chevrolet. That, however, was not enough to get the youngster into the top 10 in points. He finished one point out of 10th this season after losing the championship to Jefferson a year ago by the same margin.
The reason for the push to get into the top 10 is to get an invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. This special awards-only event will pit the top-10 drivers from each of the four NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division series on November 10-12 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. This event will distribute over $500,000 in prize money and be televised live on SPEED Channel.
"I really can't believe that it came down to one point again," said a despondent Bennett.
Four-time series champion Evans finished fourth. It was the fourth top-five finish of the season for the East Wenatchee, Wash. driver in his Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Finance/Pure Power Lubricants Chevrolet.
Fifth place went to Gary Lewis out of Bothell, Wash. This season was hard on Lewis, as well. He saw a streak of nine consecutive seasons with at least one victory come to an end. It would have been easy for the normal championship contender to lose focus as the season came to a close. He came into the race with a tenuous hold on 10th place in points and that final slot for the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. In typical fashion, Lewis scratched and clawed all race long while solidifying his spot in the top 10 by finishing ninth in points in the World's Gym of Everett/Nutter Racing Engines Pontiac.
Roger Habich, Bruce, Wes Rhodes, Tom Sweatman and Jeff Bailey rounded out the top 10.
The top 10 in the championship point standings who will comprise the Northwest Series contingent at the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown are led, of course, by Jefferson followed by Riehl, Evans, Bruce and Harding. The second five consists of Barkshire, Bailey, John Dillon, Lewis and John Bender.
Oddly enough while the top 10 drivers entering the race stayed in tact, at the completion of the race only Dillon retained the same position he held prior to the event.
Riehl collected his second Bud Pole Award of the season on Saturday evening in time trials as he made his way around the track in 12.837 seconds (70.110 mph).
The POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award was won by Wes Rhodes out of Olympia, Wash. in the Knight Fire Protection Chevy. This award is given to the driver who improves his position the most over the course of the race.
Monroe, Washington's Roger Habich collected the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award in the Rock Church/Rock of Ages Plumbing Chevrolet. The driver who improves his finish the most from the last race earns this award.
The Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award was won by Jefferson's crew chief Chuck Carruthers.
NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series
Unofficial Standings as of September 25, 2005
TOP 15 IN POINTS 1. Jeff Jefferson 1423 2. Brandon Riehl 1372 3. Garrett Evans 1348 4. Wilbur Bruce 1325 5. Pete Harding 1321 6. Jeff Barkshire * 1289 7. Jeff Bailey 1240 8. John Dillon 1236 9. Gary Lewis 1221 10. John Bender 1218 11. Travis Bennett 1217 12. Steven Howard 1138 13. Roger Habich 1125 14. Ed Watson 1109 15. Matt Hall 1057
BUD POLE WINNERS Jeff Jefferson 2 Travis Bennett 2 Brandon Riehl 2 Jeff Bailey 1 John Bender 1 Troy Tramell 1
POWERADE "POWER MOVE OF THE RACE" Pete Harding 2 Darren Trimble 2 Ed Watson 2 Travis Bennett 1 Wes Rhodes 1 Zan Sharp 1
FEATHER LITE "MOST IMPROVED DRIVER" Gary Lewis 2 Jeff Bailey 1 John Bender 1 Garrett Evans 1 Roger Habich 1 Pete Harding 1 Steven Howard 1 Brandon Riehl 1
SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS Jeff Barkshire 86 Jim McVey 63 Ed Thomsen 49 Mike Longton 37 Darren Trimble 36 Erick Hargraves 33 Troy Tramell 29 Marty Sokulski 20 Dennis Wurtz 6