RIEHL REALLY IMPRESSIVE AT YAKIMA SPEEDWAY YAKIMA, Wash. (September 4, 2005) - For the second time this season Brandon Riehl thoroughly dominated a NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series race at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway.
RIEHL REALLY IMPRESSIVE AT YAKIMA SPEEDWAY
YAKIMA, Wash. (September 4, 2005) - For the second time this season Brandon Riehl thoroughly dominated a NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series race at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway. And after both wins he left the track holding the top spot in the championship point standings.
Riehl, of Boring, Ore., collected his first career series win in the season's first race in May in Yakima which, in effect, defaulted him to the top of the points heap. However, after Saturday night's Aero Turbine Mufflers 200, the penultimate race of the 2005 season, getting the inside lane to the championship has much larger implications.
The 200-lap event at the 1/2-mile oval introduced live pit stops to the race strategy equation with a heavy weight being placed on tire wear. Teams used a variety of philosophies regarding their tire usage and, at the end of the night, no single strategy proved to be any better than the others.
Riehl brought his Aero Turbine/Darrell's Economy Muffler Chevrolet down pit road on lap 143 for right side tires after passing on a few earlier opportunities. "I kept asking if we were going to change tires and that new rubber would be really nice and they finally said to bring it in," said Riehl. The pit stop, however, did not go without a hitch as his crew stripped a stud on the right rear tire resulting in the lug nut not being secure. NASCAR officials made Riehl make another stop to correct the problem. Fortunately, for Riehl, he was able to stay on the lead lap and remain in contention for the victory in a race in which he had already led 142 laps.
The march back to the front for Riehl was not without incident. He was penalized by NASCAR for being a little overzealous sending him, once again, to the tail end of the lead lap cars. This just proved to be a bump in the road for Riehl's dominant ride.
On the backstretch during lap 185 Riehl got along side Jeff Barkshire, who had taken over the lead when Riehl pitted, and by the next time around the track Riehl completed the pass and began driving away from the rest of the field and crossing the finish line just over two seconds in front of Barkshire.
"The car was just awesome tonight. It did everything I asked of it," said the winner. "All the credit goes to the crew. They work so hard all season long and I wouldn't be here without them."
"It was really special to win Aero Turbine event. They are such a great sponsor with great people," Riehl added.
Leading Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Barkshire equaled his season and series career-best finish of second. His Centennial Batteries/Pure Power Lubricants Dodge was one car that did not change tires during the event, but it was not the plan from the outset.
"We really meant to follow (Riehl) in and change right sides then, but we were talking about something else when he ducked onto pit road," stated the Auburn, Wash. driver. "After that, other than Riehl's car, we could hold our own and it was too late to give up the track position."
"I did that thing where I turned into the pits kind of late to keep him from following me," said Riehl. "I've always seen the drivers on television do that and it was cool that it worked."
Jeff Bailey, of Kennewick, Wash., finished a season-best third on the night in the S&P Construction/Craig Racing Engines Chevy.
It turned out to be quite a weekend for the Bailey Motorsports team. On Saturday during Bud Pole qualifying, Bailey paced the field with a lap of 18.970 seconds (94.887 mph) locking him into the pole position for Sunday's race.
However, Bailey held the key to that lock as he was forced to the back of the field after being late to NASCAR's mandatory driver's meeting on Sunday handing the pole position to Riehl.
"That was frustrating and had us all upset," said Bailey. "But the car was just so fast both days. It took some work to get through, but we were able to make it happen."
Oddly enough, Barkshire, who qualified second on the grid Saturday night, also was late the driver's meeting meaning that both front row drivers had to move to the back of the pack.
That was not the only drama that played its way out over the course of the day. Teams had a 30-minute practice session on Sunday afternoon and about half way into it two-time defending champion and point leader entering the event Jeff Jefferson lost the motor in the LeMay Museum/Morgan Transport Chevrolet. At that late hour there was not enough time to be changing motors so they needed to find a car. Jefferson ended up renting Garrett Evans' back-up car.
At the end of the day, the venture could be considered a success. Taking another driver's car to victory lane was going to be a difficult proposition. Finishing the race and collecting as many points as possible was the more realistic goal. And that is exactly what Jefferson did. It was his second straight finish out of the top 10 and he did lose the top spot in points, but a complete implosion was avoided.
"Actually, if the car had not been so tight we might have been able to make some noise," said Jefferson. "We did everything to loosen it up, but it didn't work. We're alright, though."
How can Jefferson not feel confident? He trails Riehl by only 14 points which is exactly one less point than he was behind Evans going into last season's finale prior to winning his second title.
The final race of the season to determine the 2005 champion will be held on the weekend of September 24 at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval, a track that Jefferson has won two of the last three events at with the third being a second-place effort.
While Riehl took advantage of Jefferson's struggles, Pete Harding, who entered the event just 13 points in back of Jefferson, did not. Harding lost a lap early in the race when he was caught up in a minor accident, but he was not able to get his car started before the field behind the pace car came back around. He eventually lost another lap and never could recover. He currently sits 30 points behind Riehl and 16 behind Jefferson which is not beyond the realm of elimination by a long shot.
Ed Watson, who is stalking a top-10 finish in the point standings, finished the race in fourth in his Creekside Retirement Communities Chevrolet. It was Watson's third consecutive top-10 finish and the third top-five performance in his last five outings. He will enter the final race of the season 57 points out of 10th place after being 139 points behind 10th before this five-race hot streak. The Mount Vernon, Washington driver also earned his second POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award of the season. This award is given to the driver who improves his position the most over the course of the event. Watson improved 14 slots after starting the race 18th.
Bothell, Washington's Gary Lewis has a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes in points on the line, but he was able to sneak back into the top 10 with a fifth-place showing in this event. Lewis has had very little luck this season yet continues to scratch and claw for every point. He is driving a back-up car and a back-up motor, but that seemingly drives the World's Gym of Everett/Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis team of Lewis' even harder.
The reason for the back-up motor was due to damage suffered to the primary engine in the last event at Magic Valley Speedway causing Lewis to finish 21st. That improvement from 21st to fifth garnered Lewis the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award for the race.
Wilbur Bruce, Erick Hargraves, Steven Howard, Evans, and John Dillon rounded out the top 10.
Another thrilling chase for the championship, Northwest Series-style, is on tap for the Wenatchee race at the end of the month. Last year it went down to the final turn of the final lap and that scenario apparently is prepared to play out again.