The Showdown Lowdown NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 11, 2004) - This is a glance at the current top ten drivers in the championship standings in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series.
The Showdown Lowdown
NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 11, 2004) - This is a glance at the current top ten drivers in the championship standings in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series. At season's end the top ten drivers in each of the four series (Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest) in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division will be invited to compete in the second annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on November 11-13.
No. 1 - Garrett Evans, East Wenatchee, Wash. (No. 64 Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Financing Chevrolet), Team: Vickrey Racing. Points: 1282. Previous ranking: 1. One step closer is what Evans is to his fifth Northwest Series champion. The winner of 50 career series races stretched his points lead over Travis Bennett by 10 points with a third-place finish in the 6th Annual Rumble in the Rockies Miller Lite 125 at Montana Raceway Park in Kalispell, Mont. His last championship came in 2000, but the veteran driver has a rejuvenated spirit this season. He has posted top-10 finishes in each race this season with six of those being of the top five variety. Evans will be looking to improve upon a finish of eighth at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway just three weeks ago. Evans leads the Northwest Series into Yakima, where he has six career wins, for the Frank's Chevrolet 125.
No. 2 - Travis Bennett, Ellensburg, Wash. (No. 33 Bowman's Electro Painting/Zeb's Truck Stop Chevrolet), Team: DS Racing. Points: 1225 (-57). Previous ranking: 2. Like Evans, Bennett has finished in the top 10 in each of the Northwest Series races this year. The leading Auto Meter rookie of the year contender in the series finished fifth at the Rumble in the Rockies for his fifth top five of the season. That finish may be slightly more satisfying than most as Bennett and his team were forced to change an engine between practice and the main event at Kalispell. Frustration, though, may be setting in for the youngster as he has finished behind Evans in each of the last three races meaning that he has been unable to gain any ground in the race for the championship.
No. 3 - Jason Jefferson, Naches, Wash. (No. 97 Mike Olson Dodge/Simmonson Automotive Dodge), Team: Simmonson Racing. Points: 1212 (-70). Previous ranking: 4. For the second race in a row, last season's runner-up in points moved up one slot in the standings. The reason for this week's advance was his series-best third victory of the year at the Rumble in the Rockies. After a stretch of four races that saw Jefferson have some bad luck and slide in the points race after winning the first two races of the year, he has now posted back-to-back top-five finishes. It seems as though the #97 team is getting hot at the right time to finish what they started back in May, a championship season.
No. 4 - Pete Harding, Surrey, B.C. Canada (No. 39 L.P. Body Shop/Harding Forklift Chevrolet), Team: Harding Racing. Points: 1186 (-96). Previous ranking: 3. Ordinarily, a race team would be pleased with a sixth-place finish, but Harding and his crew undoubtedly were disappointed. That finish cost them one spot in the point standings and 15 points to the leader Evans. All is not doom and gloom for the Canadian team, though. Harding, over the years, has won five Northwest Series events at the Yakima Speedway. He feels that his driving style is well suited for the flatter tracks, which explains his continued success at Yakima. In the race three weeks ago, Harding finished second to Tom Sweatman.
No. 5 - Jeff Jefferson, Naches, Wash. (No. 42 Sunfair Chevrolet/LeMay Car Museum Chevrolet), Team: Morgan Racing. Points: 1157 (-125). Previous ranking: 7. The defending champion has not had the consistent season for which he had hoped. He started the season with two sub-par performances before winning at Yakima in the season's third race that touched off a series of strong finishes for the #42 team. A mechanical problem threw a wrench in the works three weeks ago at Yakima Speedway interrupting that stretch, but Jefferson rebounded nicely with a second-place run at the Rumble in the Rockies last Saturday. There has been one consistent fact in 2004 for Jefferson and that is he has brought one of the fastest cars to every race. Jefferson has won three Bud Pole Awards this season including one in the last race at Yakima.
No. 6 - Gary Lewis, Bothell, Wash. (No. 73 Nutter Racing Engines/Sign Factory USA Pontiac), Team: Lewis Racing. Points: 1149 (-133). Previous ranking: 5. Lewis and his team may be tempted to sandbag a little in qualifying. He won his third Bud Pole Award of the season in Kalispell and finished a disappointing 12th. In the three races in which Lewis won the pole his average finish is 18th while his average finish in the other five events this year is fourth. He has logged a second and a 10th in the two prior events at Yakima Speedway this season.
No. 7 - Wes Rhodes, Lacey, Wash. (No. 6 Knight Fire Protection Chevrolet), Team: Foulkes Racing. Points: 1142 (-140). Previous ranking: 9. Rhodes came into the Rumble in the Rockies as the race's defending champion and very much in need of a strong run. That is exactly what he got. He finished a season-best fourth in the event causing a jump of two spots in the standings. He and his team head to Yakima looking to erase the memory of their trip there a few weeks ago in which very little went right for them that night. The #6 team had to replace a motor during practice forcing a start at the tail of the field only to wreck in the race's final stages. His four top-five finishes this season is a personal season-best over his six years in the Northwest Series.
No. 7 - Brandon Riehl, Boring, Ore. (No. 69 Aero Turbine/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevrolet), Team: Hanson Racing. Points: 1131 (-151). Previous ranking: 6. Riehl brought a fast car to Montana only to lose a couple of laps early due to a visit to the pits. He was able to get one of those laps back and was working on the other when the young driver did an admirable thing. As the race was winding down, Riehl found himself behind race leader Jason Jefferson, and in front of the second-place car of Jeff Jefferson, in a position to race for that final lap back. However, he knew that he was not going to have enough time to make a difference in the finish so he moved to the high side allowing the Jefferson brothers race for the win. After finishing 11th in points last season, Riehl looks for his first berth in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.
No. 9 - Steven Howard, Roy, Wash. (No. 38 Great Northwest Homes/Seddon Marketing Group Chevrolet), Team: Howard Racing. Points: 1116 (-166). Previous ranking: 8. Howard did not have his best performance at the Rumble in the Rockies with an 11th-place finish. He did, however, keep himself in a position for a coveted berth in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. Howard's team can feel good about heading back to Yakima Speedway where they equaled their season-best with a fifth-place finish three weeks ago. With that second top five of the season, the series' youngest driver set a new career season-best after having run just two full seasons and two partial seasons in the Northwest Series.
No. 10 - Joe Benedetti, Auburn, Wash. (No. 2 Bret Chevrolet/RaceCals Chevrolet), Team: Benedetti Racing. Points: 1094 (-188). Previous ranking: 10. With just four races remaining on the schedule this season and teams wanting to get a spot in the top 10 for that trip to Irwindale, Benedetti is no doubt looking less at Evans and Bennett, the points frontrunners, but more at John Bender, Tom Sweatman and Jeff Bailey. Those three drivers are all with 88 points of Benedetti looking to sneak into that 10th and final slot for the Showdown. Benedetti logged his fifth top-10 effort of the season with a seventh-place showing in Kalispell, but that is not the good news for the #2 team. Three weeks ago, they posted a third-place finish at Yakima that vaulted them into the top 10 in points. A similar effort this time will go a long way in solidifying a spot in the top 10.
On the bubble:
No. 11 - John Bender, Snohomish, Wash. (No. 18 Oso Lumber/Reece Asphalt Chevrolet), Team: Kearney Racing. Points: 930 (-187). Previous ranking: 11. After posting two top-10 finishes in the season's first three races in 2004, the Bender team has not had the best of years. For the fifth straight race, the #18 team finished out of the top 10 with a finish in 14th at Kalispell. However, a good showing over the season's final four races can erase that disappointment. Bender is just 43 points behind Benedetti in 10th for that last invitation to the Showdown.
New to the top 10: None
Dropped out of the top 10: None
Largest jump in the top 15: Jeff Jefferson and Wes Rhodes (+2)
Largest drop in the top 15: Brandon Riehl (-2)