NWS: Tri-City II: Race report

WEST RICHLAND, Wash. (September 1, 2003) Jeff Jefferson of Naches, Wash. held off a determined challenge from his younger brother Jason to win the Ranch & Home "125" Sunday evening at Tri-City Raceway. The win was Jeff Jefferson's third triumph of...

WEST RICHLAND, Wash. (September 1, 2003) Jeff Jefferson of Naches, Wash. held off a determined challenge from his younger brother Jason to win the Ranch & Home "125" Sunday evening at Tri-City Raceway. The win was Jeff Jefferson's third triumph of the season and second consecutive victory in NASCAR Elite Division, Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series competition in 2003. The win also allowed Jefferson to close the gap on series point leader Chris Hart to just 26 points going into the final two events of the season. Jason Jefferson finished second to record his eighth top five finish of the season and all but seal the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Year title. Two-time and defending series champion Kevin Hamlin finished third, with Gary Lewis and John Dillon rounding out the top five finishers.

Jason scored his third Bud Pole Award of the season with a quick lap around the half-mile triangular-shaped oval with a time of 18.148 seconds/99.184 mph. Kevin Hamlin clocked in second fast, followed by Brandon Riehl, Jeff Jefferson, and John Dillon rounding out the top five qualifiers. The field was set with a ten-car invert putting rookie Rod Schultz Jr. on the front row along Joe Benedetti. Travis Powell was the only driver not able to start the event after a practice crash left his Powell Awards Chevrolet damaged beyond repair.

Schultz Jr. led the field to green but lost the handle entering turn one, leaving the field to scatter for open real estate. The red flag was displayed and the field lined up for a complete restart. The second take worked out much better as everyone kept their machines pointed in the right direction allowing outside front row starter Joe Benedetti of Auburn, Wash. to get the jump on the field and lead lap one.

Benedetti's time at the front was short lived as he developed a push in the center of the corner causing his Emerald City Floor Coverings Chevrolet to drift high, and by lap 6, current rookie competitor Jeff Bailey of Kennewick, Wash. passed the former rookie-of-the-year and assumed the lead. By lap ten Bailey led series point leader Chris Hart, Garrett Evans, Benedetti, and Jeff Jefferson.

Evans ducked underneath Hart for second on lap 11, thrilling the crowd after his three race absence. The first caution flew on lap 16 for Robert Tesch from Keizer, Ore. Tesch's Chevrolet caught fire under the hood entering turn one, but he quickly pulled off the track and the local safety crew extinguished the flames almost immediately.

Front row starter Rod Schultz Jr. spun as the field took the green flag for the restart on lap 20, but was able to rejoin the field and no caution was displayed. Schultz dropped back to 12th place in the running order. At the lap 25 mark, Bailey was in complete command of the event stretching his lead to 20-car lengths over Evans. Hart, Jeff Jefferson, Benedetti, Dillon, Jason Jefferson, Hamlin, Riehl, and Lewis were all in tow.

Jeff Jefferson moved to the third position by lap 50 and closed on Bailey and Evans making it a three way battle for the lead. Hart led the next group, followed by Jason Jefferson, Dillon, Hamlin, Riehl, Lewis, Benedetti, and Travis Bennett. Rookie Rod Schultz Jr. spun for the third time and again no caution flag was displayed as he was able to merge back into the race without incident.

Series point leader Chris Hart and third place point holder Jason Jefferson waged a spirited battle from lap 51 through lap 61 that kept the crowd on their collective feet. Jefferson was finally able to complete the pass on the outside of Hart as the pair exited turn four on lap 61.

At the halfway point of the race, Bailey continued to dominated and extend his lead over Evans. Jeff Jefferson was glued to the rear bumper of Evans, followed Jason Jefferson, Hart, Hamlin, Dillon, Riehl, Lewis, and Benedetti. Bennett held down the 11th spot, with Matt Hall moving up to 12th, followed by Steven Howard, Rod Schultz Sr., Rick Suran, and Ed Watson.

Jeff Jefferson moved by Evans on lap 65, with Hamlin pressuring Hart for fifth. Hamlin was able to get by Hart on lap 67 bringing Dillon and Riehl along dropping Hart eighth. The second caution period came on lap 72 for oil on the track. Brian Saling from Spokane, Wash. lost a motor, but he did not drop the oil. The race was red-flagged for clean up of the oil and the field pulled to the front stretch infield. While stopped it was discovered that race leader Jeff Bailey was the car dropping the fluid. Bailey's rear-end plug had blew out depositing rear end grease all around the track. He would have to pit following the red flag and he would loose 20 and an apparent first career victory.

Jeff Jefferson assumed the lead on the lap 76 restart, but would battle brother Jason for the top stop over the 49 laps. The Jefferson brothers held the top two spots at lap 80, with Evans in third, followed by Hamlin, Hart, Riehl, Dillon, Lewis, Bennett, and Hall. The Chevrolet of Evans started to push severely, but the wily veteran was able to keep Hamlin at bay. The final caution flew on lap 105 when the cars of Hart and Riehl tangled coming out of the tri-oval with Riehl's Chevrolet climbing over the left front of Hart's Yakima Implement Chevrolet. Both cars spun scattering the field, but both driver were able to drive their away and rejoin the field.

Over the closing 18 laps, the Jefferson's battled for bragging rights, but each attempt at the lead that Jason made was blocked by his older brother. While first and second tussled for the top spot, Hamlin was finally able to make the move around Evans for third. Lewis and Dillon also made it by the four-time series champion in the closing laps.

Jeff Jefferson crossed the finish line .097 seconds ahead of his brother Jason Jefferson to win his second consecutive race in the AuBeta Networks. COM sponsored Chevrolet. Jason Jefferson finished second, followed by Kevin Hamlin, Gary Lewis, and John Dillon. The second five were led by Garrett Evans, with Travis Bennett in sixth, Brandon Riehl in eighth, with Rick Suran and Joe Benedetti rounding out the top ten finishers.

As Jeff Jefferson celebrated in Victory Lane his right front tire was noticeably flat. "I knew the tire was going down over the last 20 laps and I was praying the race would stay green," Jefferson said. "This is an important win for us as we were able to gain some points on Chris (Hart). He has been nearly perfect all season, but tonight the luck went our way."

Jefferson went on to credit his crew for the win. "This is a team effort," Jefferson said. "Rick Allison has given me the opportunity to drive a first class car and Chuck Carruthers is incredible with the set up every race. This has been and incredible season so far and now it is going to be real exciting over the final two races."

Finishing second but losing ten points to his brother was Jason Jefferson. Jefferson tried to find a way around his brother, but in the end was comfortable with second. "I can't be real disappointed with second," Jefferson said. "I always want to win and I always want to win here at Tri-Cities. Jeff was smooth tonight and I just did not have the bite off the corner when it counted. All I have wanted all season is top five and top ten finishes. We have been able to do that, thanks to Sam (Roebuck) and the crew. The fans got a great race to watch tonight and the fight for the championship is not over."

"Garrett (Evans) and Chris (Hart) are tough guys to pass," Hamlin said. "They don't block you, they just know how to use the track better than anyone. Starting so far back hurt us but I know we all put on a great show for the fans."

Normally a fifth place finish would not bring a smile to 1990 series champion John Dillon, but after not finishing a race in nearly two years, he is quite happy with the outing. "Hey, we finished one of these things," Dillon said. "I do not race very many times during the year and I know that hurts us, but I know we can be competitive. It was a lot of fun racing like that again."

The race took 49 minutes and 48 seconds to complete at an average speed of 78.331 mph. The margin of victory was .097 seconds with two lead changes between three drivers. There were five caution periods totaling just 12 laps. Jason Jefferson won his third Bud Pole Award of the season with a lap of 18.148 seconds/99.184 mph and collected the $325 bonus. Gary Lewis won the $750 bonus for the Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race for advancing the most positions in the event (14th to 4th). Jason Jefferson was the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Race for the ninth time in 12 races.

Chris Hart looses his advantage in the point standings but hangs on to the point lead after a 15th place finish. Hart now leads Jeff Jefferson by just 26 points going into the final two events of the season at tracks were he has two top five finishes already this season. Jason Jefferson sits 46 markers behind Hart to hold down the third position in the standings. Gary Lewis maintains the fourth spot, with Kevin Hamlin moving up to fifth on the strength of two straight top five performances. John Bender drops to sixth after a 20th place finish at Tri-Cities, with Joe Benedetti holding on to the 7th position. Rick Suran moves back by Jeff Bailey for 8th, dropping Bailey to 9th, and Steven Howard rounds out the NASCAR Top 10.

The next race for the Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series is Saturday, September 13 at the Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho were the series will make their second visit of the season in the running of the annual NAPA Auto Parts "150".

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jeff Bailey , Jason Jefferson , John Bender , Kevin Hamlin , Gary Lewis , Matt Hall