NWS: Yakima III: Race notes

Jeff Jefferson Perseveres at Yakima Speedway YAKIMA, Wash. (Aug. 14, 2004) - Jeff Jefferson visited victory lane for the third time this season on Saturday night in NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series action. The race was the...

Jeff Jefferson Perseveres at Yakima Speedway

YAKIMA, Wash. (Aug. 14, 2004) - Jeff Jefferson visited victory lane for the third time this season on Saturday night in NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series action. The race was the Frank's Chevrolet 125. The place was Yakima (Wash.) Speedway. The job was no small task.

As has been the case all season long, Jefferson has shown up with one of the fastest cars in the field. That was demonstrated by the winning of his fourth Bud Pole Award of the season by driving the Sunfair Chevrolet/LeMay Car Museum Chevy around the 1/2-mile track with a lap speed of 94.039 mph.

That was the easy part for the Naches, Wash. native. There were still two more difficult hurdles to overcome for the 2003 series champion. The first was the draw for the invert, and the second, of course, was the race itself.

The invert to start the race has become a big part of the story in the Northwest Series this season with the "10" has been drawn in three of the last four events. Jefferson was responsible for two of those. Series rules require a six, eight or 10-car invert after qualifying times have been posted. The pole winner simply selects a number in a random drawing held by NASCAR officials. Jefferson and his wife, Dion, have drawn the "10" in two of his previous three pole efforts. The candidate, or victim, as the case may be, on this night would be crew chief Chuck Carruthers, who drew an eight. That meant Jefferson would have to get past a minimum of seven cars to win the event, which is often not as easy as it sounds.

Now, the tallest order of the day was at hand, winning the race from the eighth-place starting position. Jefferson wasted no time in rocketing toward the front. After 20 laps he had worked his way to third and then was battling Brandon Riehl for the race lead after just 30 laps. On the race's 35th lap Jefferson overtook Riehl and led for the rest of the night eventually crossing the line by .65 of a second in front of second-place Riehl.

To move from eighth to first in that short time, the car must have been pretty close to perfect, right? "Not quite. I had my hands full tonight," said the victorious Jefferson. "I don't know if it was the track or the car, but this was not an easy win."

Flashbacks of a disastrous turn of events in a race just three weeks ago at Yakima Speedway surely swirled in Jefferson's mind. In that event just as this one, he brought a great car and was the fastest qualifier. However, just 27 laps into the race a mechanical difficulty forced Jefferson out of the race resulting in a last-place finish for the #42 car.

As for this winning car, Jefferson said, "It was not smooth at all. I was hearing some weird noises and I just wanted to keep it on the track taking it as easy as I could. I feel pretty fortunate to have been able to keep everyone else behind me."

Riehl, hailing from Boring, Ore., led six laps in the race's early going and went on to bring his Aero Turbine/Darrel's Economy Muffler Chevrolet home in second-place. It was a career-best Northwest Series finish for Riehl, who is in his second season with the series. "The car was pretty good and I had the lead, but when (Jefferson) came up behind me it was just too early to take big risks. I didn't want to take a chance and mess up the good run at that point."

After surrendering the lead, Jefferson pulled away by a good margin from Riehl. From then on, Riehl was relegated to relying on restarts after caution flags to get close to the lead car. Unfortunately, for Riehl, he would have just two chances to battle for the lead on restarts since two long green flag runs dominated the race. "Ordinarily, we have more restarts than two, but that's what we had," Riehl said. "This is a great finish for us, though. It gives both me and this team some confidence heading into these last three or four races of the season."

Gary Lewis of Bothell, Wash. collected third-place honors. It was the fifth top-five effort of the season for the Lewis team in the Sign Factory USA/Sandblasters Pontiac. "My car was a little loose all night long, so I didn't think we would be able to be a big factor in the race," Lewis said. "So, we're pretty happy with this finish."

Fourth place went to Yakima's Jason Jefferson, Jeff's younger brother. It was a night of "what ifs" for the Mike Olson Dodge/Simmonson Automotive Dodge team. They posted the seventh-best time in qualifying which meant a start on the outside of the front row with the eight-car invert. NASCAR officials, though, impounded the vehicles after qualifying meaning that only certain work could be done on the car and only done in the presence of an official. It was determined that a member of the crew performed some illegal work on the car and NASCAR officials ruled that the #97 Dodge would have to start the race from the back of the field due to the violation of impound procedures. Moving from the very back of the field to a finish of fourth had to have been a bitter-sweet situation for the Jason Jefferson team. The start on the front row could well have put them in position to win their fourth race of the campaign.

Auburn, Washington's Joe Benedetti rolled across the finish line in fifth for his third straight top-10 finish. Setting off this streak for Team Benedetti was a disappointing finish in 18th on July 3 at Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley's Super Oval after the Bret Chevrolet/RaceCals Chevy sustained major damage.

John Bender, Travis Bennett, Bryan Wiener, Garrett Evans and Jeff Bailey rounded out the top 10.

In addition to winning the race and the Bud Pole Award, Jeff Jefferson also won his first 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 race. Jefferson improved seven places from eighth to first to claim the prize.

The Featherlite "Most Improved Driver" Award went to Lewis. This award is presented to the driver who improves his position the most from the previous event. Lewis placed 12th at the Rumble in the Rockies in Kalispell, Mont. on August 7 before posting his finish of third in this race thus improving nine positions.

Just three races remain on the schedule remain before the Northwest Series crowns a 2004 champion and determines its top 10 drivers, who will advance to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown to be held at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in November, a special event pitting the top 10 drivers from each of the four NASCAR Elite Divisions against each other. Therefore, contending teams must try and balance their desire to win races and their need to collect points.

Evans came into the contest with a 57-point lead on Bennett. The Evans crew maintains that they are still working to win races and not merely play it safe racing for points. They feel the need to win at least one more race before Evans can put a lock on his fifth series championship. After a ninth-place finish in this race, Evans saw his lead shrink to 48 points, lending some credence to their argument.

However, Bennett is no longer the second-ranked car. Jason Jefferson snuck past the rookie Bennett into second place by a single point with his run from the back to fourth while Bennett battled his car all night before placing seventh. Jeff Jefferson moved into fourth while Lewis slid into fifth.

The main competition for Evans in the championship hunt will come from Bennett and the two Jeffersons who are all within striking distance. Last season's champ Jeff Jefferson, who is 83 points behind Evans, says, "We are going to keep digging to try and win this thing until someone tells us to stop." Evans and Jeff Jefferson once again want to enjoy the sweet taste of victory while Bennett and Jason Jefferson are in search of their first taste.

The other points race is for that 10th and final invitation to the Showdown. Just 130 points separate the six drivers ranked from eighth to 14th. Currently, the three on the outside looking in are John Bender, Jeff Bailey and Tom Sweatman, respectively. Bender is only 45 points off the pace of Steven Howard who currently holds the slot for that final invitation.

The Northwest Series returns on September 4 for the Ranch & Home 125 at TriCity Raceway in West Richland, Wash.

<pre> TOP TEN DRIVERS Pos. Driver Points 1. Garrett Evans 1420 2. Jason Jefferson 1372 3. Travis Bennett* 1371 4. Jeff Jefferson 1337 5. Gary Lewis 1314 6. Pete Harding 1310 7. Brandon Riehl 1301 8. Wes Rhodes 1269 9. Joe Benedetti 1249 10. Steven Howard 1246

* denotes rookie

AUTO METER ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS Travis Bennett 89 Bryan Wiener 61 Jim McVey 25 John Tibbitts 24

POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Joe Benedetti 2 John Bender 1 Shane Biles 1 Pete Harding 1 Jason Jefferson 1 Jeff Jefferson 1 Jody Tanner 1 Bryan Wiener 1

FEATHER LITE "Most Improved Driver" Gary Lewis 2 Jeff Bailey 1 Joe Benedetti 1 Pete Harding 1 Jason Jefferson 1 Jeff Jefferson 1 Brandon Riehl 1 Jody Tanner 1

BUD POLE WINNERS Jeff Jefferson 4 Gary Lewis 3 Garrett Evans 1


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Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jeff Bailey , Jason Jefferson , John Bender , Gary Lewis