MIKE LONGTON ADJUSTING TO NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES * Northwest Series Returns to Yakima Speedway on July 23 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 15, 2005) -- Mike Longton entered the first race of the season for the NASCAR...
MIKE LONGTON ADJUSTING TO NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES
* Northwest Series Returns to Yakima Speedway on July 23
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 15, 2005) -- Mike Longton entered the first race of the season for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series this year only because the race was at his home track of Yakima (Wash.) Speedway. He and his team had plans on running a few of the series date, and then a funny thing happened at the track.
Longton, a Yakima resident, finished eighth in the Okanogan Seattle Transport 125 and found himself at the top of nine drivers who are competing for the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award. Then he and his father, Rick, decided to make a go of the entire season.
The success of that first race has not followed Longton. In fact, the next event at Magic Valley Speedway brought bad luck and motor problems. Therefore, they did not make the show that night.
The key to the Sunoco rookie-of-the-year standings, though, is each driver's best nine finishes in the 10-race schedule are counted to decide the award winner. That basically means that each rookie contender gets one mulligan and Longton has used his.
That can provide some pressure to perform, but Longton has a solid grip on that issue. "We fight and dig for everything we can get each time out," he said. "If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out. Although, I think we can make it work out. We just have to be smart."
Rookie drivers can sometimes be caught off guard with the level of competition of their new series, but not the driver of the No. 37 Yakima Collision Center/Pendleton Excavating Chevrolet. "I knew how it was going to be, "he stated. "In local Late Model competition you have five or six cars that are good enough to win, but in this series there are 15 or 20 top quality cars that can win."
Longton certainly respects his competition, but is not intimidated by it. The eighth-place finish to start the season was just his second start in the series having run a race in 2004 at Yakima Speedway. He had the engine woes in Idaho, but bounced back with a 14th-place effort in Wenatchee. In the last race at Evergreen, he started on the outside pole and proved, once again, that he can run with the leaders. However, another motor problem forced Longton to call it a night after just 82 laps resulting in a finish in 18th.
The silver lining to that black cloud is that the next stop for the Northwest Series is Yakima Speedway where Longton has a high level of confidence. "It's a fairly difficult track to master, but I've had the opportunity to race there quite a bit giving myself a certain comfort level," he said. "Now, comfort isn't everything. You still have to have the car right, but my experience on that track gives the team a confidence boost."
Longton does need a solid showing in Yakima on a couple of fronts. He is currently ranked 18th in the championship point standings, but is just over 100 points out of 10th place. Each of the top 20 drivers get share of the point fund at the season-ending awards banquet. Also, the top 10 drivers get invited to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown to be held at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway this November 10-12 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.
In the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year rankings, Longton sits in third, 12 points behind leader Jeff Barkshire. With anywhere from five to nine rookie contenders in any one race, ground can be made up quickly in this race. Again, his ability to have another top-10 run in Yakima could go a long way in determining the eventual winner of this award.
Longton enjoys his personal battle with his car and the track each time out, as well as, the many other fine Northwest Series teams, but the most pleasant surprise in his rookie season has been the camaraderie between the competitors and the veteran driver's willingness to help.
"Jeff Jefferson obviously knows about success in this series and he has been a huge help to us and the same can be said of Brandon Riehl," said Longton. "I also can't forget to mention Travis Bennett with whom I have been friends with for a long time."
"Those guys who are top-10 points finishers don't owe us rookies anything, but they take the time to help out and provide advice. That's pretty cool," he stated. "When I get to that point, that is how I want to do it, too."
What: Magic Metals 125 (Race No. 5 of 10 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).
Where: Yakima Speedway, Yakima,
When: 9:05 p.m. PDT (approx.), Saturday, July 23, 2005.
Track layout: 1/2-mile oval.
Race length: 125 laps/62.5 miles.
Posted awards: $53,025.
2004 winner: Tom Sweatman.
2004 polesitter: Jeff Jefferson.
Top 10 in points: 1. Jeff Jefferson 666, 2. Brandon Riehl 607, 3. Pete Harding 595, 4. Garrett Evans 587, 5. Gary Lewis 581, 6. Wilbur Bruce 579, 7. John Dillon 578, 8. Jeff Barkshire 572, 9. Travis Bennett 545, 10. Jeff Bailey 544.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): 10:00 p.m. Registration opens, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Practice, 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying, 9:05 p.m. Magic Metals 125.