Lewis Wins Race; Jeff Jefferson Captures First Championship DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (September 29, 2003) Gary Lewis of Bothell, Wash. scored his second victory of 2003 in the season finale for the NASCAR Elite Division, Raybestos Brakes Northwest ...
Lewis Wins Race; Jeff Jefferson Captures First Championship
DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (September 29, 2003) Gary Lewis of Bothell, Wash. scored his second victory of 2003 in the season finale for the NASCAR Elite Division, Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series Saturday night at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval in East Wenatchee, Wash. Lewis led the final 31 en route to a 2.173 second victory over Jeff Bailey. Garrett Evans finished third with Jason Jefferson in fourth and Jeff Jefferson rounding out the top five finishers.
Twenty drivers took part in the final time trial session for the season and it was Gary Lewis who laid down the fastest lap of the afternoon as he toured the quarter-mile banked oval at 12.799 seconds/70.318 mph. Jeff Bailey was second quick, with Steven Howard, Jeff Jefferson, and Garrett Evans rounding out the top five qualifiers. Rod Schultz Sr. ended his season on the trailer as he lost a motor in practice and opted not to make the change.
By virtue of a six-car invert, two-time and defending series champion Kevin Hamlin started on the pole for the 150-lap clash with Chris Hart along side. Hart was hoping to take advantage of the starting position and distance himself from Jeff Jefferson in the championship standings. Hamlin got the early jump on the field and led the first lap with Garrett Evans bolting into second place.
At the lap ten point of the race, Hamlin and Evans extended a 10-car length lead on Hart, with Brandon Riehl, Jeff Jefferson, Jeff Bailey, Gary Lewis, Steven Howard, Jason Jefferson, Wes Rhodes, and Joe Benedetti all in tow. Evans made a move to the outside of Hamlin on lap 11, but Hamlin held the position squeezing Evans along the front stretch wall. Evans dropped back to second with a white stripe on the right side of his Chevrolet.
The first of seven cautions flags flew on lap 29 for Zan Sharp, Rick Suran, and Matt Hall as the trio spun exiting turn four. All three lost a lap to the field but were able to continue. The field took the green on lap 34, but the action slowed on lap 47 for Chris Rothfus and Rod Schultz Jr. when tangled in turn four.
The race restarted on lap 51 with Hamlin holding the point over Evans, Hart, Riehl, and Jeff Jefferson. With Hart and the Jefferson brothers eying the title, Hart held the advantage, with Jason Jefferson chasing a loose race car mired back in the ninth position. As the race entered lap 75, Jeff Jefferson saw his title hopes dwindling as he started to back up and fell to eighth in the running order. Hart was up to third and maintaining a steady pace behind Hamlin and Evans.
The action slowed for the fifth time on lap 93 when several slow cars bunched up the field as they exited out of turn causing Riehl and Bailey to get crossed up and spin. Both cars continued and stayed on the lead lap. Hart's hopes of a championship went away on lap 103 when a right front wheel broke sending the Holtzsinger/Yakima Implement Chevrolet to the pit area for repairs. Hart lost five laps and finished in the 14th position.
With Hart out of the championship fight it was left for the Jefferson brothers to battle it out on the track. Jason Jefferson was up to the fifth position with Jeff Jefferson in tow in the sixth spot. Hamlin and Evans continued to set a torrid pace and distanced themselves from the rest of the field. Evans pursued Hamlin like a lion on the prowl and on lap 119 pounced at the opportunity. Hamlin left an opening on the inside as the pair entered turn one. Evans dove in and got along side of Hamlin. Evans hooked the apron and the duo spun with Evans finding his car cascading off the nose of Hamlin's. Evans continued but Hamlin was forced to the pits with damage.
Lewis assumed the lead and hold on to win the Wenatchee "150" over Jeff Bailey. Evans rebounded for third, with Jason Jefferson and Jeff Jefferson finishing fourth and fifth respectively. With the fifth place finish, Jeff Jefferson claimed his first ever championship in racing and celebrated in Victory Lane.
"My hats off the Jeff and his team," Lewis said. "We came up short in the championship, but it is always a thrill to win. We had a great car and things just fell our way tonight. The win will make the off season a little shorter."
Recording his career best finish of second was Jeff Bailey who finished the season in the 8th place in the over standings and second in the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Year standings. "I wish we had a few more laps, I think we could have made a run," Bailey said. "I really wanted to win a race this season but came up just a bit short. This just makes me more hungry for winning and I can't wait to go to Irwindale for the Showdown. That is going to be a big deal and a lot of fun."
After finishing third and closing out a partial season campaign, Garrett Evans knew it could have been different. "We were lucky to finish third," Evans said. "It could have been different. I am happy for Jeff, a championship is something special that will last a lifetime."
Claiming the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Year title and finishing fourth in the race and second in the final standings was Jason Jefferson. "The car was not quite right early in the race and that cost us," Jefferson said. "I am happy but at the same time I am disappointed. This the first time in five years that I have not won a championship. It is tough to take. I'm thrilled for Jeff however. He has worked a long time for this."
With his first series title under his belt and a fifth place performance in the finale, Jeff Jefferson showed the emotion reserved for a champion. "This is the biggest day in my career," Jefferson said. "This whole team has worked so hard all season and for it to come down to the final race is a testament to the series and how dedicated each team is. Chris (Hart) is a tough competitor and I know he is disappointed as is Jason (Jefferson). In this sport, every point counts and every finish is critical. We did it and I owe it all to Rick Allison, Chuck Carruthers, and the whole crew."
"We gave it a shot," Chris Hart said. "A broken wheel ended our chances. That is the way it goes and it just didn't go our way. It was a good day for the fans and drivers from Yakima."
The race took 50 minutes and 32 seconds to complete at average speed of 56.331 mph. The action was slowed seven times for caution resulting in 44 caution laps. There was one lead change between two drivers with Kevin Hamlin leading the most laps (118). Gary Lewis won the $325 Bud Pole Award with a quick lap of 12.799 seconds/70.318 mph. John Bender won the $750 Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race Award by improving the most positions (17th to 8th). Jeff Bailey was the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Race with his second place performance.
The final point standings has Jeff Jefferson winning his first series title over his brother Jason Jefferson by 25 points. Chris finished third, with Gary Lewis and John Bender rounding out the top five in the the standings. Kevin Hamlin finished sixth, followed by Joe Benedetti, Jeff Bailey, Rick Suran, and Steven Howard rounding out the top ten finishers. The top ten in the final point standings will receive their invitation to compete in the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Shown at Irwindale (CA) Speedway November 6-8 pitting the top ten drivers of NASCAR Elite Division's four Late Model Series'. The event will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel November 7-8.
The next event for the Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series is the annual Awards Banquet and Championship party Saturday, October 11 at the Rialto Theater in Tacoma, Wash.