Jeff Jefferson Gets Season in Gear YAKIMA, Wash. (May 29, 2004) -- Novice fans to the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series were possibly beginning to think the 2003 championship run by Jeff Jefferson was fictional, but that was all...
Jeff Jefferson Gets Season in Gear
YAKIMA, Wash. (May 29, 2004) -- Novice fans to the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series were possibly beginning to think the 2003 championship run by Jeff Jefferson was fictional, but that was all erased Saturday night at Yakima (Wash.) in the Frank's Chevrolet 125. Jefferson took the checkered flag for the first time in 2004 after disappointing finishes of 24th and 18th in the season's first two races. The Naches, Wash. native started fifth in his No. 42 Sunfair Chevrolet/Morgan Transport Chevy and took the lead on lap 56. He remained there for the balance of the hotly contested race.
"This is a great car, one of the fastest I've ever had," said Jefferson, but he quickly added, "The only real difference in this race from the first two was luck." That luck was quite evident right after the race. As Jefferson parked the car on the front stretch for the trophy presentation the right front tire was already losing air. In fact, his crew had to bring a jack and good tire from the pit area and make the change right there in order to roll the car back to the garage.
"It feels really good to get the win here. It's good for my team," said Jefferson, "We knew we had a good car, but after the first two races it was good to prove it." And prove it he did, once he was able to complete the pass for the race lead just prior to the race's halfway point. He was door-to-door with Gary Lewis, of Bothell, Wash. in his Sign Factory USA/Sandblasters Chevrolet for two laps before getting all the way around the Lewis machine and winning by .41 of a second.
Lewis, too, was able to post a good finish for the first time in 2004 after two sub-par performances. There was, however, no doubt about the strength of his car this season. He collected the first two Bud Pole Awards of the campaign but was unable to translate that success into the race. "I really wanted to win this thing, but I'll take second-place. It's a lot better than we had done," said Lewis. It was so much better that he won the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award, given to the driver who improves his finish the most from the previous event.
All 11 lead lap cars were huddled together for the most part of the 125 laps, but good clean racing was the order of the night. Even the cars a lap down were able to keep pace with the leaders as they fought to get their lap back on restarts on the smooth two-groove surface at Yakima Speedway.
Pete Harding, of Surrey, B.C. Canada, earned his second straight third-place finish in his L.P. Body Shop/Harding Forklift Chevy. Ardenvoir, Washington's Garrett Evans rolled his Leonard Evans Hyundai Chevrolet across the line in fourth. Evans, also, won this event's Bud Pole Award with a speed of 94.034 mph. Finishing fifth was the Knight Fire Protection Chevrolet of Wes Rhodes from Lacey, Wash.
Rounding out the top 10 was Travis Bennett, John Bender, Joe Benedetti, Jeff Bailey and Brandon Riehl.
Jason Jefferson, the winner of the season's first two races and the championship point leader coming into this race, discovered a clutch problem as the green flag dropped to begin the race. His team was not able to overcome the problem despite several stops on pit road in an effort to correct it, but the damage was too extensive. The Mike Olsen Dodge/SPE Racing Engines Dodge was forced from the race after just 45 laps. Jason is the younger brother of race winner Jeff Jefferson.
Jason Jefferson's bad luck and his finish of 22nd created some upheaval in the point standings. Evans takes over the lead for the season with 480 points while Jason Jefferson slides to third just 23 points off the pace. With the victory, Jeff Jefferson moved from 23rd to 10th in the standings as just 100 points separate the top 10 drivers in the season standings.
John Bender of Snohomish, Wash. won the POWERade "Power Move of the Race" Award, given to the driver who improves his position the most over the course of the event. He started 13th in the No. 18 Oso Lumber and Hardware/Reece Asphalt Chevrolet and crossed the finish line in 7th.
The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series is next on the tack at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Ida. on June 12 for the Pepsi 125.