DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2005) -- The final race of the 2005 season is at hand. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series championship will be decided at the Dick's Heating and Air Conditioning 200 at the Wenatchee Valley's Super...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2005) -- The final race of the 2005 season is at hand. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series championship will be decided at the Dick's Heating and Air Conditioning 200 at the Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval in East Wenatchee, Wash.
Brandon Riehl, of Boring, Ore., brings a 14-point lead into the event over two-time and defending series champion Jeff Jefferson. Riehl took the lead from Jefferson, who at one point this season held an 86-point advantage, by winning his second race of the season at Yakima Speedway on September 4.
A season ago, Jefferson trailed Garrett Evans by 15 points going into the final race and eventually edged Travis Bennett for the title by just one point.
Actually, this season's championship chase is no where as close as the 2004 version that saw the top three drivers enter the final race separated by a total of 15 points. This year, it's a whopping span of 30 points as Pete Harding lurks in the third spot.
THE TRACK: Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval is hosting its 36th Northwest Series event. The first race run in Wenatchee was on July 23, 1988 in which Ron Eaton took the checkered flag. There have been 16 different Northwest Series winners at WVSO with Eaton and Gary Lewis leading the way with five wins victories each. Of those 16 winning drivers, seven (Wilbur Bruce, John Dillon, Eaton, Evans, Pete Harding, Jefferson and Lewis) are expected to race this weekend. Evans holds the mark for most Bud Poles won with nine.
LAST TIME OUT: The last race for the Northwest Series was Sunday, September 4 at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway. Riehl used a dominant car to win the 200-lap marathon complete with live pit stops. It was his second career Northwest Series win with both coming at the 1/2-mile in Yakima. However, it was his third NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division win of the season having won a Southwest Series race earlier this season.
POLE-ING DATA: The Bud Pole Award for the season hangs in the balance in this race, as well. Both Bennett and Jefferson have won a pair of poles while John Bender and Riehl have one each and are not out of the mix. If there should be a tie in poles won for the season, the highest finishing driver in the point standings will collect the year-end bonus. Jefferson has won the season's Bud Pole Award in each of the last three seasons.
TRAFFIC REPORT: The Northwest Series has raced a total of 1152 laps this season, but no driver has run them all. Dillon, the 1990 series champion, leads all drivers with a total of 1150 laps followed closely by Bruce and Evans with 1149 each. Bender (1130) and Riehl (1126) round out the top five in this category. Riehl led a total of 156 laps in the last race and now leads the field with 215 laps led on the season. Bender ranks third with 202 while Jefferson has paced everyone for 159 circuits.
POINTS ARE THE POINT: Mathematically, virtually every driver in the top 10 has a shot to win the 2005 championship, but more than likely the winner will come from the Riehl-Jefferson-Harding trio with Evans and Bruce lying in the weeds hoping for an opportunity. However, the championship is just one facet of what's on the line this weekend in Wenatchee. Finishing in the top 10 in points has been a goal of just about every team this season. The reason for that is simple; to get an invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown which will pit the best 40 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers across the country against each other at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. The event will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel and awards competitors nearly $500,000 in prize money. Fifteen drivers have theoretical chances at those coveted 10 Northwest Series slots.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion, filled the Southwest Series with pride a year ago as one of their own collected the biggest prize in all of motorsports. This season, Greg Biffle is trying to do the same for the Northwest Series. After the first of 10 races in the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Biffle sits in second place in the standings just 20 points behind leader Tony Stewart. Kevin Hamlin, the 2001 and 2002 Northwest Series champion, now has seven NASCAR Busch Series races under his belt as he builds toward a full season run in 2006.
INSPECTION FEES NEEDED: There are two new members of the Northwest Series racing family as John and Amy Bender welcomed their first child, Brooklynne Helen, last weekend, Pete and Cheryl Harding greeted their first grandchild, Stewart Walker, as well. Congratulations to all.
What: Dick's Heating & Air Conditioning 200 (Race No. 9 of 9 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).
Where: Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval, East Wenatchee, Wash.
When: 3:30 p.m. PDT (approx.), Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005.
Track layout: 1/4-mile oval.
Race length: 200 laps/50 miles.
Posted awards: $56,225.
2004 winner: Gary Lewis.
2004 polesitter: Jeff Jefferson.
Top 10 in points: 1. Brandon Riehl 1257, 2. Jeff Jefferson 1243, 3. Pete Harding 1227, 4. Garrett Evans 1188, 5. Wilbur Bruce 1179, 6. John Bender 1121 7. Jeff Barkshire 1119, 8. John Dillon 1112, 9. Jeff Bailey 1106, 10. Gary Lewis 1066.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Sat. 9/24: 12:00 p.m. Registration opens, 3:00-4:45 p.m. Practice, 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying, 7:30 p.m. 2 25-lap qualifying races. Sun. 9/25: 9:30 a.m. Registration opens, 12:30-1:00 p.m. Practice, 3:30 Dick's Heating & Air Conditioning 200.