THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT FOR JEFFERSON DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 24, 2005) - For a good portion of the Magic Metals 125 at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway Saturday night in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series, the events were unfolding...
THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT FOR JEFFERSON
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 24, 2005) - For a good portion of the Magic Metals 125 at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway Saturday night in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series, the events were unfolding in an eerily familiar fashion.
In the series' previous event just two weeks ago at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., Jeff Jefferson led a large portion of the race but was eventually reeled in by the better handling car of Pete Harding, who went on to win the race.
This time, Jefferson powered his No. 42 LeMay Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet to the lead around Garrett Evans during lap 54 with Harding in tow. Over the next 50 laps, the 1999 Northwest Series champion Harding, just like at Evergreen 14 days earlier, appeared poised to use a better-turning racecar to move past Jefferson and collect a second consecutive victor's trophy. But, all the circumstances were not the same on this night.
"Not to take anything away from Pete because it may not have mattered, but my car was a bit off last time out," said Jefferson, a native of Naches, Wash. "Tonight, it was a lot better and I felt very comfortable that I could hold him off. I just had to be patient and run my race."
Harding, on the other hand, found himself on the other side of the fence. "I think I was still a touch better than he was in the center of the turns," said Harding, racing out of Surrey, B.C. Canada. "But, all in all, the car was not as good as it was two weeks ago. I took some peeks on the outside of him, but I could not make it stick up there to make the pass. You have to have a superior racecar to pass Jeff. He doesn't make many mistakes."
As the laps wound down it was evident that this time around Jefferson's car was stronger than the No. 39 L.P. Body Shop/Yale Forklift Chevrolet of Harding. A restart on lap 113 provided Harding with a final chance at the win, but Jefferson was going to have none of that. He beat Harding to the line by .464 seconds thus collecting his second win in the last three events and the 12th victory of his series career. That total is good for seventh on the all-time list in the 21-year history of the series. Evans leads the way with 50 wins.
Concerned more with recent engine woes than those 50 wins is the four-time series champion Evans. For the second straight event, the No. 64 Leonard Evans/Signature Finance Chevrolet team had to roll out a back-up car due to a damaged motor. Evans' team was able to get the proper set-up in the back-up in fine fashion. The veteran driver from East Wenatchee, Wash. was able to post the fifth-fastest qualifying time and parlay that into a start on the outside pole after the top six qualifying cars were inverted for the start of the race. Then, with that starting position, Evans got the jump on polesitter Wilbur Bruce and led the race's first 54 laps.
"I really can't explain the motor problems, but it does have us a little concerned," said Evans. "At the same time, though, we're pretty happy with the third-place showing."
Brandon Riehl, of Boring, Ore., rebounded from a nightmarish night at Evergreen two weeks ago, which resulted in a finish in 16th place, 26 laps off the pace, for a solid fourth-place performance in his Aero Turbine/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevy. With that improvement of 12 spots in the finishing order, Riehl collected the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award for the event.
Although he never led a lap despite starting on the pole, Bruce did take up residence at the front of the field in his Quality Rentals/Six Robblees Chevrolet. The Lakewood, Wash. resident finished the race in fifth and notched his second top five of the season.
Jeff Bailey, Travis Bennett, Gary Lewis, Jeff Barkshire and John Dillon rounded out the top 10.
The Jefferson/Harding battle for the win was not the only common thread between this race and the one at Evergreen two weeks ago.
For the second straight race, Snohomish, Washington's Darren Trimble won the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award in his OSO Lumber/Natural Concepts Landscaping Chevrolet. This award is given to the driver who improves his position the most over the course of the race. Trimble started 23rd in the 24-car field and moved up seven spots for a finish of 16th.
Also for the second race in a row, the Northwest Series added a new name to its list of 54 drivers to have won a Bud Pole Award in series history. Bennett placed his name on the list at Evergreen while Yakima's own Troy Tramell added his Saturday night. Tramell, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, motored the No. 5 Express Personnel/Yakima Implement Chevrolet around the 1/2-mile oval in 19.056 seconds (94.458 mph).
By preparing the winning car, Chuck Carruthers earned his second Lunati "Crew Chief of the Race" Award of the season.
The 2005 campaign has reached the halfway point and the top-evolving storyline is Jefferson's bid to win three consecutive Northwest Series championships, a feat yet to be accomplished in the series. In fact, if Jefferson is able to leg out the triple, he will become just the fifth driver in NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division history to win three or more straight titles. In the Midwest Series, Steve Carlson won four straight from 2000 to 2003 and the legendary Dick Trickle put up three in a row from 1983-1985. Dave Mader III also won four straight crowns from 1985 to 1988 in the Southeast Series, which has also produced Jody Ridley who earned three consecutive titles from 1991-1993. No driver in the Southwest Series history has ever won more than two straight championships.
Sitting atop the championship point standings suits Jefferson just fine, but it will not diminish his determined nature. "Sure it's great to be in first place, but I made up more ground than this last year," stated Jefferson. "This is not over by a long shot. There is still lots of racing left."
Jefferson will carry a fairly hefty 79-point lead over Riehl into the series' next race on August 13 at Evergreen Speedway. Ticket information for the Turn 1 Energy Drink 125 can be obtained by calling the speedway at (360) 805-6100 or by logging onto www.evergreenspeedway.com.