NWS: Wenatchee II: Season finale preview

NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES TITLE ON THE LINE AT WENATCHEE DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 16, 2005) -- Last season, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series' championship was decided on the final...


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (September 16, 2005) -- Last season, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series' championship was decided on the final turn of the final lap, and eventually a single point was the decided the title. This year the stage is set for another thrilling finale.

Once again, the storylines are plentiful. Will Jeff Jefferson win an unprecedented third consecutive Northwest Series championship? Can Brandon Riehl hang onto his current lead in points and take home the big prize? Or what happens if Pete Harding takes his second title -- will it be time to pass the torch to his son, Shane, or not?

That's just three of the many scenarios that could play out September 24-25 at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval, located in East Wenatchee, Wash. Sunday's Dick's Heating and Air Conditioning 200 is last of three straight 200-lap races for the Northwest Series.

More will be on the line beyond the title in this event, though. The top-10 finishers in points will be invited to Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway for the prestigious and nationally-televised NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown on Nov. 10-12. For that matter, everyone will be jockeying for their final position in the 2005 championship point standings.

The primary focus of the event, however, will be the championship battle in which Riehl currently holds a 14-point advantage over Jefferson and a 30-point edge over Harding. It would take extraordinary circumstances for four-time champion Garrett Evans, who sits 69 points in back of Riehl, to complete his drive for five titles.

"I think I would rather be behind," says Riehl. "I think it may be a little easier to come from behind than have a target on your chest."

Conversely, Jefferson sees the other side of the coin and would prefer to hold the lead. "I'd like to have the lead and take care of business," he said, "As opposed to forcing the issue or looking for help to come from someone else."

Possibly the biggest key to success for Sunday afternoon's race will come on Saturday evening when time trials and the twin 25-lap qualifying races are held.

"Track position will be a big determining factor in the outcome," says Jefferson. "With over 20 cars out there, it can get a little cozy once the field gets strung out."

It's not long before the leaders catch up with the rear of the field on the picturesque 1/4-mile banked oval situated on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. It is once lapping begins that someone's night can be ruined. "You can't get too impatient with slower cars, but at the same time you have to keep digging," says Riehl.

Of the top three championship contenders (Riehl, Jefferson and Harding), the two-time and defending series winner Jefferson, of Naches, Wash., has the best record over his last five visits to Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval. In his last five trips to WVSO, Jefferson has five top-five finishes. In his last three races there, he has two victories and a second-place finish. On the qualifying front, Jefferson has one Bud Pole Award in the last five Wenatchee races and it came in the final race of last season.

Riehl, too, has done well in Wenatchee. In his last five trips there he has an average finish of 11th, but if you subtract his first two visits during his rookie 2003 season, then that average drops to sixth. He has three top-10 runs and a Bud Pole to show for his last three starts at WVSO.

Harding's recent luck has not been as good. The resident of Surrey, B.C. Canada does have a win in his last five showings in Wenatchee, but that came in July 2002. His last three races there have produced an average finish of 14.7 including a 21st-place effort there this past July 3.

As previously pointed out, starting position is going to play a huge role in the outcome of this event. Once again, Jefferson holds an edge here. This season his average starting position, including the Northwest Series' invert of the top 6, 8, or 10 starting positions, is 6.1 and he has collected a pair of Bud Poles this season. Riehl is just behind him with an average start right at seventh and the Boring, Oregon-based driver has one pole to his credit this season. Harding has not qualified as well this season with an average start of 12th and no poles earned this season.

Time trials and the two 25-lap qualifying races will take place Saturday evening and the running of the Dick's Heating and Air Conditioning 200 will take place at approximately 3:30 p.m. PDT on Sunday. Ticket information can be obtained from the race track at 509-886-5801 or at www.wvso.com.


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.


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