SWS: Mesa Marin III: Race notes

Vernon victorious in front of hometown crowd. DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (October 20, 2003) Kevin Vernon of Bakersfield, Calif. scored his first career NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series victory in dramatic fashion Saturday night in...

Vernon victorious in front of hometown crowd.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (October 20, 2003) Kevin Vernon of Bakersfield, Calif. scored his first career NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series victory in dramatic fashion Saturday night in front of a highly supportive hometown crowd. Vernon survived the crash-filled Lucas Oil "150" at Mesa Marin Raceway and a last lap tangle that saw the Chevrolet pilot spinning across the finish line and into the inside retaining wall .250 seconds ahead of second place finishers Danny Burson. Eric Holmes crossed the line in third, with Doug McCoun scoring a season best fourth place effort. Series point leader Auggie Vidovich made contact with Vernon as the pair exited turn four on the final lap causing Vernon to spin, and resulted in Vidovich receiving a time penalty for the contact. Vidovich finished fifth, the last car on the lead lap.

Craig Raudman collected his 24th career Bud Pole Award with a quick lap of 18.442 seconds/97.709 mph to lead thirty-eight drivers in qualifying. For the second straight race, Burney Lamar had the second fast time, with Kevin Vernon, Dan Holtz, and Jim Pettit II sporting new Metallica colors rounding out the top five qualifiers. Ten cars grided for the 15-lap Non-Qualifiers race that saw Brandon Loverock and Keith Spangler finished first and second and made the transfer into the 150-lap clash. Dave Byrd, Chris Hines, Stan Silva Jr., Steve Yatsko, Don Kerr, John Luecht, Kristi Schmidt, and John Moore failed to qualify.

The fireworks display that preceded the main event was only a prelude to the fireworks that would be on display on the track. Thomas Martin started the race on the pole after Raudman drew a six-car invert post qualifying. Martin was joined on the front row by Pettit, with Holtz, Vernon, and Lamar in the top five. Pettit got a jump on Martin at the start and the duo raced side-by-side for the first two laps with Pettit taking the advantage on lap three. Lamar's Chevrolet got out of shape down the backstretch where he spun into the inside retaining wall. The first of eight caution flags flew on lap three. Lamar was able to make it back to the pits for repairs and was able to rejoin the field several laps down.

Pettit controlled the pace, but his time at the front of the field was short lived when he suffered a left rear flat tire sending the Metallica sponsored Ford to the pits. Eddy McKean took over at the front and set a torrid pace in his Wide World of Maps Pontiac. The action slowed again on lap 18 when Dan Holtz and Bob Lyon tangled in turn one bringing out the caution. Holtz was able to continue, but Lyon headed to the garage and retired for the evening.

McKean maintained his advantage at the front on the lap 25 restart and again pulled away from the field. Craig Raudman made his way into second place with Vernon, Martin, and Vidovich rounding out the top five. David Gilliland was up to sixth place, with Burson, Eric Holmes, Nick Joanides, and Jason Jefferson rounding out the top ten in the running order.

By the lap fifty point of the race, the field had strung out single file and McKean continued to lap cars and build his advantage on Raudman. On lap 57, McKean's ignition failed and he quickly switched boxes but Raudman closed and got along side of the Idaho driver. As the duo entered turn three McKean's car was back up to speed and the pair touched causing Raudman to loop his HPS Mechanical Chevrolet. The caution flew as cars scattered to avoid contact. Raudman joined at the rear of the field.

McKean's fortunes went away on lap 62 when a cut right front tire sent the 2002 series champion into the turn one wall. The contact destroyed the car and ended his run for a top three final points position and a 27th place finish. Holtz, Mike Ledbetter, M.K. Kanke, and Rick Ruzbarsky were also involved and were able to continue. Vernon led the field at the lap 70 restart.

Vernon would hold onto the lead of the race throughout the remainder of the event fending off a determined challenge from Vidovich. Vernon built his lead to as much as three seconds over Vidovich. By lap 119, there were only seven cars on the lead lap, with Vernon, Vidovich, Burson, Joanides, Doug McCoun, Holmes, and Raudman up front. Raudman's time in the lead pack came to an end on lap 120 as he went three wide down the front stretch and got pinched sending his Chevrolet into the inside wall ending his night with an 18th place finish.

The field restarted for the final time on lap 128 where Vernon led a three-car break away that included Vidovich and Burson. Vidovich looked content to ride in second and Burson was bursting at the seams with a strong run in third place. Joanides's strong run ended with a flat tire on lap 147. McCoun closed on Burson for third and Vidovich started to pressure Vernon. Vernon and Vidovich made contact several times over the last three laps, each time Vernon held the point. As the duo exited turn four for the final time, Vernon blocked the outside where Vidovich looked to make a run. The contact sent Vernon spinning across the start/finish line inches behind Vidovich. Vidovich was assessed a time penalty by NASCAR for the contact resulting in a fifth place finish.

Greg Voigt, Keith Spangler, JR Patton, Brandon Loverock, and Jim Pettit II rounded out the top ten finishers. Nick Joanides, Nick Lynch, Steve Belletto, Ben Walker, and Richard Johnson closed out the top fifteen, with Burney Lamar, M.K. Kanke, Craig Raudman, Steve Johnson, and Dan Holtz rounding out the top twenty finishers.

Vernon's victory in the October Classic Lucas Oil "150" came to the delight of his enthusiastic partisan crowd. "I knew he (Vidovich) was going to try a move at the end," Vernon said. "I was okay with the first hit, but after the second one I just closed my eyes to prepare for the hit into the wall. I'm very happy about the win but I'm furious about the crash."

Vidovich was not pleased with the outcome but looks at the bigger picture (championship) as the series head to Phoenix for the final event of the season. "It's true that I got into the back of him but he ran up my hood. It's not my fault he couldn't keep control of his car," Vidovich said. "It could have been worse I guess, at least I am leaving with the points lead."

Danny Burson finished a career best second and moved closer to the NASCAR Top 10 with one event to go in a race to see who will receive an invite to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown to be staged in November. "I had a lot of fun tonight," Burson said. "Chuck Carruthers and this whole team have worked real hard to give me the opportunity to race. I feel that I continue to learn and get better each event. Man, what a great night."

"I was dodging bullets every lap," Eric Holmes said regarding his third place finish. "Not many (drivers) used their heads tonight. It was crazy out there. I am thrilled to finish third and bring the car home in one piece."

The race took one hour, 10 minutes, and 16 seconds to complete at an average speed of 64.041 mph. The action was slowed eight times for 47 laps of caution. There were three lead changes among four drivers with Kevin Vernon leading the most laps (95). Danny Burson was the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Race with his career best finish of second. Keith Spangler won the Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race and the $750 bonus for improving the most positions in the event (30th to 7th). Craig Raudman won his 5th Bud Pole Award of the season and 24th of his career with a quick lap of 18.442 seconds/97.709 mph.

Vidovich maintains a 99-point advantage of Holmes in the championship chase. Pettit holds down the third position in the standings but dropped to 61 points behind Holmes. Dan Holtz moved back into fourth place and David Gilliland dropped to fifth in the standings. McKean, Belletto, Patton, Lamar, and Raudman hold their positions in the NASCAR Top ten with one race to go. Vidovich needs to finish 27th or better at Phoenix in order to clinch his first series crown.

The final event for the Featherlite Southwest Series is the Cruise America "125" at Phoenix Int'l Raceway on Thursday, October 30. The race will close out the 18th year of competition in the Featherlite Southwest Series and a new first time champion will be crowned.


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Drivers Richard Johns , John Moore , Eric Holmes , Stan Silva Jr. , Danny Burson , David Gilliland , Dan Holtz , Burney Lamar , Mike Ledbetter , Doug McCoun , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Thomas Martin , Auggie Vidovich , Ben Walker , Dave Byrd , Steve Johnson , Jason Jefferson , Nick Joanides