NWS: Meridian: Race notes

RIEHL OFF TO FAST START IN 2006 WITH VICTORY MERIDIAN, Idaho (May 1, 2006) - Bad weather pushed the Stock Building Supply NASCAR 150 at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon when the conditions were bright and...


MERIDIAN, Idaho (May 1, 2006) - Bad weather pushed the Stock Building Supply NASCAR 150 at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon when the conditions were bright and sunny. Brandon Riehl took full advantage of the opportunity to race and pushed his Aero Turbine/Darrel's Economy Muffler Chevrolet to victory lane in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series season opener.

Riehl, from Boring, Ore., finished second to Jeff Jefferson in the championship point standings last season and is eager to take the next step in 2006. It was his third career Northwest Series victory. He picked up a pair of wins last season at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway.

"It's great to start with a win and get the season off on a good note, but there are lots of good drivers in this series and we need to be more consistent all season long," said Riehl.

The game plan entering the race for Riehl was to be patient, wait for opportunities and pounce on each and every one. Chances to move forward in this race were not numerous due to the 24-car field on the tight 1/4-mile oval.

"Passing was difficult," said the victorious Riehl. "I didn't want to force things too much and create more problems. Lapped cars also made it interesting, not only with them being on the inside on re-starts but also navigating through them over the course of the race."

Riehl started seventh in the event, and, as promised, took advantage of every opportunity afforded to him. He worked his way up to second and was trailing Jeff Barkshire by nearly a quarter lap when Barkshire and John Bender made contact in turns three and four which sent Barkshire spinning out of contention on lap 117 of 150.

Barkshire, last season's Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award winner, started on the pole after a six-car invert looked to be on his way to his first Northwest Series win in his SPE Racing Engines/Centennial Batteries Dodge, but it was not meant to be on this day. The Auburn, Wash. driver was able to salvage a fifth-place finish, though.

"This may sound really strange especially since I benefited from (Barkshire's) misfortune the most, but I was disappointed to see that happen," said Riehl. "He's as good as there is out there and I would have liked to have seen him win. Actually, I really would have liked to been able to race him for it."

Two drivers used the weekend's event to get off on solid footing and erase the sometimes painful memories of a season ago. Gary Lewis and Travis Bennett finished second and fourth, respectively.

Bothell, Washington's Lewis set himself up for success on Saturday by earning the Budweiser Pole Award. He set a Northwest Series Meridian Speedway record by patrolling the track in 13.552 seconds (66.558 mph) and earned his 28th series career pole. He started the race in sixth after the invert and was able to work his way to a second-place finish in the Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevy.

"I knew it was going to be hard to pass here and it was," stated Lewis. "Lapped cars made it difficult, as well. But, it was a good weekend for us and we hope to use this as a springboard for the rest of the season."

Bennett has had a tale of two seasons in his first pair of full seasons in the Northwest Series. His 2004 season saw very little go wrong en route to rookie-of-the-year honors and a runner-up finish in points while little went right in 2005 with a finish out the top 10 in points.

The Ellensburg, Washington-based driver powered his Bowman's Electro Painting/Knudson Lumber Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish. A sub-par qualifying effort left Bennett starting the race in 18th before beginning his march to the front. By improving 14 positions over the course the race, he earned the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award.

Rookie drivers are going to be a factor this season in the Northwest Series with 10 Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award candidates in Sunday afternoon's field. Jason Fraser, of Snohomish, Wash., made the greatest impact this time around by finishing third in his series debut.

Race winner Riehl was impressed with Fraser's effort. "He qualified well and stayed right there all day long. That says a lot about his abilities on this short of a racetrack."

Fraser was ecstatic, but respectful, with the finish in his Rich's Car Corner.com/JRC Chevrolet while being amazed at the level of competition.

"We had a third-place car when all was said and done," said Fraser. "I could've forced the issue a little, but that could have caused some problems and I want to earn the respect of the veterans out here. It was definitely fun out there and different from Late Model racing. I've never been in a race where every lap is at 100%."

John Dillon, rookie Brent Harris, Bender, Wilbur Bruce and rookie Jay Sauls rounded out the top 10.

There were other awards for the Riehl team in addition to the winner's trophy. Riehl earned the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver of the Race" Award by virtue of improving his finish the most spots from the previous race. He finished 16th to close out the 2005 season at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval. Also, Riehl's crew chief Steve Dykman was the Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race".


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Drivers Jeff Jefferson , John Bender , Gary Lewis , Jeff Barkshire