NWS: Evergreen: Travis Bennett - NASCAR spotlight

TRAVIS BENNETT LOOKS TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP IN 2005 * NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series Season To Get Underway On March 26 * Evergreen Speedway Hosts Its 56th Northwest Series Race DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 18,...


* NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series Season To Get Underway On March 26

* Evergreen Speedway Hosts Its 56th Northwest Series Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 18, 2005) -- Travis Bennett is heading full steam into the 2005 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series season looking to take the next step; a step which he narrowly missed in 2004.

A year ago, Donnie Scriver, owner of the No. 33 Chevrolet, decided to put Travis Bennett, of Ellensburg, Wash., into the driver's seat vacated by two-time series champion Kevin Hamlin. Bennett had a mere seven Northwest Series events under his belt and questions swirled in everybody's minds, especially Bennett's.

Bennett went into his first full season with just two goals; win the Rookie of the Year award and finish in the top 10 in points.

By season's end, the Rookie of the Year title was sewn up and not only was he in the top 10 in points, he finished second by a single point to Jeff Jefferson, who has won the last two series championships. But it was still more than that. Bennett finished in the top 10 in every event a season ago and was the only driver in the series to complete every lap along the way.

"It certainly wound up being more than we expected and it set the bar for us, as a team," said Bennett. "At the same time, it whets our appetite for a championship."

An off-season of sleepless nights playing the "what if" game is over and it is time for the 2005 chase for the championship to commence.

Bennett doesn't put much stock into the sophomore jinx phenomenon. Actually, he feels quite to the contrary. "I believe this year will be easier in many respects," he said. "I know what to expect from the tires, from the other competitors, how the technical inspection works, and how the car changes over the course of the race. These are things that I had no clue about last year at this time."

The No. 33 Bowman's Electro Painting/Zeb's Truck Stop/Knudson Lumber Chevy has been given a complete overhaul over the winter and will sport a little different paint scheme in 2005. However, don't expect to see Bennett in the same car later in the season as a brand new car is in the works for the DS Racing team.

"The car we ran last year has all new parts inside and out and is in great shape, but I am pumped about getting into the new one at some point this season," Bennett said. "I've never had a brand new racecar. It'll be an exciting and fun time."

The business at hand, though, is the Big O Tires 125 to be held on the .646-mile oval at the storied Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. The event will be the 56th Northwest Series race to be held at Evergreen. In fact, it hosted the very first series race 21 years ago that was won by Garrett Evans. Evergreen has been home to multiple races in the series each year since.

"I love that track. Going into last year I did not have a great deal of experience there and still don't compared to some of the other guys. But last June in practice, I followed John Zaretzke, who really knows how to get around up there, and ended up being very comfortable," said the 26 year-old Bennett. "It's got some little things that you have to watch out for like the little hump coming out of turn four. If you don't hit your marks, then that hump can really upset the car and you can get yourself turned around. All in all, though, it's a fast track as you get the car close to the wall in the straight-aways."

Bennett expects the competition in the Northwest Series to be even stronger in 2005. The Northwest Series will see many of the drivers as in years past, but a solid group of rookies is expected to join the fray, as well. "In addition to that, I think with the way that the dates have worked out that, we'll see more (NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division) Southwest Series guys at our events which is a great thing," he stated.

"This first Evergreen race is going to mean a lot at the end of the season and it's going to set the tone for a great season," Bennett said. His belief is that if a driver has a poor performance at a particular race this year that if will be very difficult to overcome. "The driver who emerges as champion at the end will not only have to be good, but also have had some good luck along the way. The margin of error is pretty thin."

Bennett's hope is for competitors to have their eyes wide open every lap this season. "We're going to be digging and scratching for every point this year because we have firsthand knowledge that every single point has meaning."


What: Big O Tires 125 (Race No. 1 of 10 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series)

Where:  Evergreen Speedway, Monroe, Wash.

When: 8:30 p.m. PDT (approx.), Saturday, March 26, 2005

Track layout:  .646-mile oval

Race length: 125 laps/80.75 miles.

Posted awards: $49,874.

Top 10 in points (2004): 1. Jeff Jefferson 1,687, 2. Travis Bennett 1,686, 3. Jason Jefferson 1,646, 4. Garrett Evans 1,635, 5. Gary Lewis 1,628, 6. Pete Harding 1,622, 7. Brandon Riehl 1,589, 8. Wes Rhodes 1,575, 9. Joe Benedetti 1,546, 10. Steven Howard 1,538.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): 9:30 a.m. Registration opens, 1:00-2:00 p.m. Practice, 2:30-3:00 p.m. Practice, 4:45 p.m. Time Trials.


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Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jason Jefferson , Kevin Hamlin , Gary Lewis