TIDRICK EARNS HOMETOWN VICTORY IN AERO EXHAUST 200 YAKIMA, Wash. (September 4, 2006) - The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series' rookie class battling for the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award has made its presence felt each and...
TIDRICK EARNS HOMETOWN VICTORY IN AERO EXHAUST 200
YAKIMA, Wash. (September 4, 2006) - The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series' rookie class battling for the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award has made its presence felt each and every race this year and Sunday evening's Aero Exhaust 200 at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway was no exception. Yakima's own B.J. Tidrick, one of the members of that rookie class, collected the first win of his Northwest Series career by holding off two of the most experienced drivers on the track in four-time series champion Garrett Evans and current championship point standings leader Gary Lewis, also a former series title winner.
All the Northwest Series' rookie class has accomplished this year is two wins, 10 top-five finishes, 35 top-10 performances and four Bud Pole Awards.
"This is really cool," said the triumphant Tidrick after accepting the cheers from the hometown crowd. "I don't know really what else to say. It's just a huge thrill to win a race of this caliber with this many talented drivers."
Tidrick set the tone for the event during Saturday's time trials by winning his first career Bud Pole Award in his Winner's Choice/CBT Hobbies and Slot Cars Chevrolet thus locking himself into the first starting position for Sunday's main event.
In those late Saturday afternoon time trials, Tidrick was the second car out and posted a lap time of 19.017 seconds for an average speed of 94.652 mph on the 1/2-mile oval. Oddly enough, the first car out was that of Wilbur Bruce and he posted the second-quickest lap, and locked himself into the outside starting position on the front row.
When the green flag waved to start the Aero Exhaust 200 Bruce wasted little time in going after the less experienced Tidrick. Bruce beat Tidrick to turn two and completed the pass on the backstretch. The rookie was unable to lead the first lap despite having the advantage to the inside of the track. Tidrick, making just his ninth series start, could have been enveloped in self doubt at this point, but he knew his car was good enough to contend all evening long and did not allow the early pass to rattle him.
"I knew Wilbur's car was really good, but I knew mine was too," said the victor. "I really wasn't concerned at all about not leading the first lap. It was a long race and I had plenty of time."
Bruce's car was strong indeed and led the race's first 37 laps but he was forced to surrender that lead to Tidrick on lap 38 when he had to pit for a flat right front tire on his Quality Rentals/Rent 'N Roll Chevy. Bruce further demonstrated the horsepower under his hood by working his way from the back of the field after the flat tire to a sixth-place finish.
Tidrick assumed the lead on lap 38 and paced the field for the remaining 162 laps, but he did look back. What he saw in his mirror was the familiar, yet distinct, blue No. 64 Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Finance Chevrolet of Evans.
"Like I said, I knew I had a great car under me, but here I am, a rookie leading a Northwest Series race for the first time, and Garrett Evans is right behind me. I grew up watching him win races and championships. The guy is a legend," said Tidrick. "Then, they tell me that [Gary Lewis] is behind him and I thought to myself, 'Here we go.'"
Predictably, Evans and Lewis did not fade away or cut the youngster any slack. However, Tidrick was up to the challenge and was able to hold his own with the veterans breathing down his neck.
"I was able to get good re-starts, but toward the end [Evans] was pretty much all over me and I was starting to worry a little." Tidrick said. "On that last re-start on lap 195, I probably jumped the start a little because he was coming after me."
The iconic Evans, out of East Wenatchee, Wash., concurred with Tidrick's assessment of the situation, but it was not re-starts that Evans was seeking. He would have preferred to apply his pressure under longer green flag runs and not allow the rookie to gather his thoughts and regain his composure under caution.
"My crew chief John Vickery and all the guys gave me a great car tonight, one that could have won this race," said Evans. "If we didn't get that last caution, I really believe that we would have won. My hat is off to [Tidrick], though. He did a good job."
Lewis, out of Bothell, Wash., finished third for his seventh podium finish this year, a season in which he clearly has been the most consistent and, at times, dominant driver in the series.
"It took us a few laps to get going, so I would have liked to have longer green flag runs to get up there and race for the win," Lewis stated. "The Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevy was a bit on the tight side, but very happy with another solid performance."
Auburn, Washington's Jeff Barkshire finished fourth for his sixth top-five finish of the year in the Centennial Batteries/SPE Racing Engines Dodge.
It was an eventful weekend for fifth-place finisher Travis Bennett of Ellensburg, Wash. In Saturday's time trials, he and his team gambled on an aggressive set-up for the Catlin Electric/Farmer's Insurance Chevrolet that didn't pay off. NASCAR officials impounded the cars following time trials meaning Bennett would have to race the 25-lap qualifying race with the ill-handling car. The result of that was a start of 23rd on the 24-car grid for the main event.
On Sunday, though, the Bennett team was able to make adjustments for a more competitive machine. And that is exactly what they did. By virtue of passing 18 cars and improving his position the most over the course of the event, he earned the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award.
Additionally, he collected the Featherlite "Most Improved Driver of the Race" Award by bettering his finish from the previous event. In early August at Magic Valley Speedway, Bennett battled ignition and electrical problems which forced him into a finish in 21st.
Bruce, Mike Longton, Jay Sauls, Steven Howard and Jason Fraser rounded out the top 10.
Tire wear over the course of the 200-lap event was thought to be an area of concern prior to the race. Teams, by series rules, were not allowed to change tires under caution unless they were flat or damaged. They, however, could change all they wanted under green, but that is a flawed strategy on a 1/2-mile track that would culminate in losing at least one lap. As it turned out, the Hoosier racing tires performed quite well. According to Ralph Lewis, crew chief for Gary Lewis, leaders were running 20.1 second laps in the early portion of the race and at the end of the race times had only dropped to the 20.4 second range.
Unofficially, in the championship point standings, Lewis is right on the cusp of his second Northwest Series title. All he needs to do to seal the deal is take the green flag in the season finale on September 16 at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval in East Wenatchee, Wash. While the championship seems to rest securely in Lewis' hands, it does not mean that plenty won't be on the line in that final race. Every team will be jockeying for their final position in the point standings with particular emphasis on the top 10 and an opportunity to race in the prestigious NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in October. The six drivers currently ranked from 11th through 16th are all mathematically alive to earn one of those 10 invitations.
Also hanging in the balance is the ultra-competitive battle for that Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award. Shane Mitchell, out of Orondo, Wash., has a slim two-point advantage on Jay Sauls, of Puyallup, Wash. This year the winner of this award is based on the driver's best finish in 80% of the season's events. Therefore, the award will go to the higher finishing driver between Mitchell and Sauls.
The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series is down to the final race of the season and its 22-year history. Area race fans will surely want to be on hand for the September 16 finale at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval. Ticket information for this race can be obtained by calling the track at (509) 884-8592 or by logging onto www.wvso.com.