NWS: Yakima III: Round 8 preview

TIRE STRATEGY WILL BE THE X FACTOR IN AERO TURBINE 200 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 26, 2005) -- Where the road meets the rubber will have the attention of every NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series team at the big...


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 26, 2005) -- Where the road meets the rubber will have the attention of every NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series team at the big Labor Day weekend show at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway for the Aero Turbine Mufflers 200.

The questions drivers and crew chiefs will ponder include: when to get tires and how many tires to get. Or, is there a need for tires at all, which is another school of thought. These questions won't be answered until the race is underway and situations begin to unfold.

This 200-lap race will be a two-day affair for the Northwest Series. Saturday will have its normal practice sessions followed by Bud Pole qualifying consisting of time trials and two 25-lap qualifying races. Time trials will set the field for the twin 25's, which, in turn, will set the field for the Sunday's main event.

Teams will be provided a 30-minute practice session on Sunday afternoon to shake down the cars and tend to any last minute adjustments. A single tank of fuel will not carry these racecars the full 100 miles on the speedy 1/2-mile Yakima Speedway oval. Therefore, NASCAR officials will throw a caution flag somewhere from lap 90 to 110 and bring the cars in order down the outside of pit road. The cars then will be refueled, but no other adjustments can be made at that time. Any stops made prior to or after this fuel stop will be live pit stops in which any work can be done to the cars with the exception of refueling.

With fuel being a non-factor, the next biggest variable is tire wear. "Tires will be a huge factor in this race," says 1998 series champion Gary Lewis. "There is no doubt in my mind that tire strategy, one way or another, singularly will determine the winner of this race," says 2004 rookie-of-the-year Travis Bennett.

The Hoosier racing tires used in the Northwest Series are made of a hard compound that is designed to be durable. "It's not too much to ask of these tires to go 200 or more laps," says Lewis. "But no one can afford to be the only one out there on old tires." Bennett concurs, "These tires would have no problem at all going the entire distance, but the leaders will dictate the approach everyone takes."

Lewis feels the advantage gained by changing tires will cover around 30 laps before they plateau. Two-time and defending Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson has a similar view, "We'll qualify at around 19.10 seconds on sticker tires. After 20 laps, times will drop to 19.50 and by the time you get to 75 to 100 laps, you're running 20-second laps. They won't get much slower than that."

Is that to say that there is not a need to take the time to come down pit road and get tires? "Somebody will try that," says Bennett. "Someone will think they can pick up track position and make that gamble. They better not be the only ones to do it, though, or they're a sitting duck."

"There are dozens of theories out there, but nobody can definitively know what they're going to do," says Jefferson. "How the cautions fall, how hot the track is and whole host of other variables that no one knows will control what actually happens."

The crews at this level are very much behind the scenes, but on this night they will be front and center. "My crew is all excited about getting the chance to change tires on a live pit stop," says Lewis. "This will be their chance to shine." What the crew is capable of will be a determining factor in the final decision. "If a crew can't get it done in a timely fashion, then that driver may well opt to stay out," states Jefferson.

The kicker in developing a strategy is the two 25-lap qualifying races. Lewis feels that may be the difference for him in changing, at least, right side tires and not taking any at all. Pete Harding, 1999 champion, is also of that opinion. "If it weren't for that qualifying race, then, I think, keeping track position and not stopping at all would be the way to go."

These decisions made during the race, whatever they may be, will have a significant impact on the suddenly tightened points race. Jefferson's misfortune at Magic Valley Speedway a week ago brought Harding to within 13 points of the lead after having an 86-point lead going into the event. Jefferson is seeking his third straight series title while Harding is looking for his second and possibly pull a "John Elway" and walk away on top. However, neither should lose sight of Brandon Riehl, who is just 36 points behind the leader and having a breakout season. He has won a race and a Bud Pole in both the Northwest and Southwest Series this season.

The championship is not the only thing at stake. A spot in the top 10 is almost as important. Those drivers will receive an invitation to join the top-10 drivers from the other three NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division series at the prestigious, nationally televised NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, November 10-12, at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.

Lewis, who currently is not in the top 10, says, "We've had zero luck this season, but we need to get into the top 10 and get to Irwindale." He sits a mere five points behind Bennett, who currently holds the 10th place.

However, the final three spots in the top 10 may prove to be quite liquid since just 23 points separate Jeff Barkshire in eighth and Lewis in 11th.

The stage is set for a thrilling finish in this, the penultimate race of the 2005 season. The teams will have to work on the set-ups, the drivers will have to stay out of trouble and hit their marks, the crew chiefs will have to make the right calls on adjustment and tires and, for a little twist, the crews will have to produce at least one clean pit stop. The race team that can put together the entire package will be able to call themselves champions.


What: Aero Turbine Mufflers 200 (Race No. 8 of 9 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).

Where: Yakima Speedway, Yakima, Wash.

When: 7:30 p.m. PDT (approx.), Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005.

Track layout:  1/2-mile oval.

Race length: 200 laps/100 miles.

Posted awards: $58,165.

2004 winner:  Jeff Jefferson.

2004 polesitter: Jeff Jefferson.

Top 10 in points: 1. Jeff Jefferson 1113, 2. Pete Harding 1100, 3. Brandon Riehl 1077, 4. Garrett Evans 1050, 5. Wilbur Bruce 1029, 6. John Bender 997 7. John Dillon 978, 8. Jeff Barkshire 949, 9. Jeff Bailey 941, 10. Travis Bennett 931.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Sat. 9/4: 10:00 p.m. Registration opens, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Practice, 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying, 7:30 p.m. 2 25-lap qualifying races. Sun. 9/5: 2:00 Registration opens, 4:00-4:30 Practice, 7:30 Aero Turbine Mufflers 200


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Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jeff Bailey , John Elway , Gary Lewis , Jeff Barkshire