SAULS EARNS FIRST NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES VICTORY EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. (July 1, 2006) -- A 125-lap race on a 1/4-mile track covers just 31.25 miles and can provide an illusion to rookie drivers that they have to hurry.
SAULS EARNS FIRST NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES VICTORY
EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. (July 1, 2006) -- A 125-lap race on a 1/4-mile track covers just 31.25 miles and can provide an illusion to rookie drivers that they have to hurry. Patience, though, often is preached as an integral strategy in short track racing by veterans. The senior approach was taken by Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Jay Sauls in the Holiday Inn Express 125 Saturday night at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval in East Wenatchee, Wash. He executed it flawlessly and was paid with his first career NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series win in just his fourth career start.
He is the first Northwest Series rookie to win a race since April 26, 2003 when Jason Jefferson took the checkered flag at Tri-City Raceway in West Richland, Wash.
Sauls led just 20 laps in the race, but was in front of the field for the most important lap of all, the final one. The youngster, out of Puyallup, Wash., assumed the lead on a lap 106 restart when then race leader Jeff Barkshire found himself entangled with the lapped car of John Dillon. Sauls, who was right on Barkshire's rear deck lid, was able to drive to the outside, avoid contact and take the lead in a Northwest Series race for the first time in his career.
The contact between Barkshire and Dillon brought out the caution flag and all that remained for Sauls was to hold off the hard-charging Gary Lewis, who came into this race having won the previous two events, and Shane Mitchell. This not so small task commenced on lap 119 when the green flag waved for the final time. Sauls took care of business, hit his marks and beat Lewis to the finish line by .417 seconds.
An ecstatic Sauls emerged from the No. 20 Tri-State Restaurant Supply/Canyon Auto Paint Supply Chevrolet with an astonished look on his 21 year-old face as if he could not believe where he was. "Wow! Just wow!" he said in a soft voice. "I can't believe this," he added. "We had a good car but so did a few other guys."
While it was Sauls' first Northwest Series race in Wenatchee, he had competed at the track before in various Late Model shows, so he knows that passing is at a premium and not to be in too much of a hurry. "I was trying to save a little bit for the end, but I wasn't sure there for a while if it was going to matter or not. If I hadn't saved some car, then I may not have been able to hold (Lewis) and (Mitchell) off in those last few laps."
As more time went by after the race, the more incredulous Sauls got, who felt as though he was walking on air. "To win a race like this with this type of competition leaves me a little speechless," he said seemingly as fresh as he was to start the day which demonstrated his state of mind. Daytime temperatures were well above the 90 degree mark which undoubtedly took its toll on all the competitors over the course of afternoon practice sessions and time trials.
Lewis, who started the race in 12th, put himself in a position to win his third consecutive race by working his way through the field on a track on which is notoriously difficult to pass. He was unable to overcome Sauls, but his second-place finish continued to fuel his march toward his second series championship.
"I didn't qualify particularly well putting us in the middle of the pack to start the race," said the Bothell, Washington resident. "The car was good tonight just as it was been all season. We just ran out of laps in the Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevy."
Lewis added, "I want to apologize to the fans for my exchange with Shane Mitchell immediately following the race. It was a heat of the moment reaction and I'm sorry for that."
Mitchell, racing out of nearby Orondo, Wash. and also a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender , finished third for his second straight podium finish in the No. 99 Mitchell Trucking and Paving/Coca-Cola Chevrolet.
Auburn, Washington's Barkshire finished fourth in his Centennial Batteries/SPE Racing Engines Dodge for his third top-five finish of the season, but comes as little consolation for last season's top rookie. Two times this season Barkshire has been on the cusp of earning his first Northwest Series win only to have the demons of bad luck bite him.
Yet another Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Brent Harris, out of Wenatchee, Wash., collected his first series top-five finish with a fifth-place effort in the R&S Construction Pontiac.
John Bender, Garrett Evans, Mike Longton, Matt Hall and Steven Howard rounded out the top 10.
Four-time Northwest Series champion and 22-year veteran Evans won his 64th career Bud Pole Award, extending his own series career record, with a lap time of 12.875 seconds (69.903 mph). It was also a record 10th time winning the Bud Pole in Wenatchee for the driver of the Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Finance Chevrolet out of East Wenatchee, Wash.
Hall, out of Spokane, Wash., turned in his best finish of the season, to date, in the No. 28 Affordable Graphics Northwest/King Soft Water Chevy. He started the race 22nd in the 26-car field before finishing ninth. That improvement of 13 places earned him the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award given to the driver who improves his finish the most over the course of the event.
Perennial top-10 contender in points Bender may have gotten his season back on track with a finish in sixth, the season's first top 10 for him. The Snohomish, Washington-based driver struggled to a 24th-place finish two weekends ago at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway. By improving his finishing position 18 places over the course of the two races, the OSO Lumber/Natural Concepts Landscaping Chevrolet team earned the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award.
Lewis with a pair of wins and second-place finishes on the season extended his lead on Travis Bennett in the championship point standings. He came into the night with a 40-point advantage and left with a lead of 80 points as he looks to earn a second series title. Bennett remains in second place and has 39 points between himself and Sauls, who took over the third slot with his victory. It's from Sauls in third to Dillon in 14th where the congestion occurs. A total of 104 points separate those 12 drivers.
In addition to his leap from eighth to third in championship points, Sauls also took over the lead in the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year standings from Longton. Sauls now has 31 points with Longton right behind him with 29 tallies. Mitchell (25 points), Jason Fraser (23) and B.J. Tidrick (22) are within striking distance, as well, in this tightly contested battle for rookie honors.
The Northwest Series takes a short break and will be back on the track for the Top Foods/Haggen's Wired X Energy Drink 125 on the 3/8-mile oval at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. on July 15. That race will begin a stretch of four races in four weeks for the Northwest Series.