SWS: Phoenix II: Race notes

Gilliland Scores Fifth Featherlite Southwest Series Win of the Season DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (October 6, 2003) David Gilliland of Riverside, Calif. scored his fifth win of the season in NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series ...

Gilliland Scores Fifth Featherlite Southwest Series Win of the Season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (October 6, 2003) David Gilliland of Riverside, Calif. scored his fifth win of the season in NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series competition at Phoenix Int'l Raceway Sunday afternoon. Gilliland crossed the finish line .407 seconds ahead of Burney Lamar after a late race caution forced then leader Dan Holtz to the pits for a splash of gas. Eddy McKean, Dan Holtz, and Eric Holmes rounded out the top five finishers in the Phoenixraceway.com "100".

Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. collected his series leading fourth Bud Pole Award of the season as he toured the one-mile paved oval with a time of 28.178 seconds/127.759 mph. Thirty-five drivers took part in qualifying with only Mike Price not able to start the event after a practice crash ended his day. Burney Lamar, Greg Fowler, Dan Holtz, and David Gilliland rounded out the top five qualifiers.

Shortly after 12 noon on Sunday, Raudman led the field of thirty-five Featherlite Southwest Series cars to the green flag and led lap one before giving way to a hard-charging Burney Lamar. The first of three cautions came out for Nick Lynch on lap 5 when he looped his Mr. Gas sponsored Chevrolet into the outside turn one wall. Lynch was able to continue and finished the event one lap down in the 13th position.

The race ran caution free over the next 82 laps as Lamar controlled the early portion of the race and built a lead at times of up to four seconds. At the lap 20 mark, Lamar held the point with Raudman in second, Austin Cameron in third making his first Featherlite Southwest Series start, Dan Holtz in fourth, and David Gilliland running in fifth. Ed Belec, Eric Darnell, Joey Miller, Mike Ledbetter, and Eric Holmes completed the top ten in the running order.

Jim Pettit II of Prunedale, Calif. suffered a severe blow to his championship title hopes as his ignition went south in the early portion of the race. Pettit continued to make laps at a reduced pace until he retired after 63 laps with a 28th place finish. Holtz had his sight set squarely on the lead and passed Cameron for third on lap 34. Cameron fell off the pace and pitted on lap 42 with handling problems.

Lamar continued to lead at lap 50 with Holtz moving around Raudman for second. Gilliland maintained the fourth spot, with Joey Miller, Belec, Holmes, McKean, Belletto, and Joe Herold rounding out the top ten positions. Holtz moved into the lead on lap 51 dropping Lamar to second. Gilliland passed Raudman for third on lap 59. Raudman then pitted on lap 60 to make some adjustments as his lap times started to slow. The Bud Pole Winner returned to the action a lap down and finished 14th.

Holtz continued to set a torrid pace building his led to as much as five seconds over Gilliland who moved around Lamar for second on lap 73. Joey Miller moved up to the fourth position, with McKean in fifth. Belec, Holmes, Burson, Chris Hines, and Steve Belletto rounded out the top ten. Alfredo Tame from Mexico City, Mexico making his first start in Featherlite Southwest Series competition, pitted for fuel and an air pressure adjustment on lap 86. He was running 17th.

The second caution flag came out on lap 89 for an incident involving Scott Wilson, Brandon Bonnett, and JR Patton. Patton was able to continue but Wilson and Bonnett ended their respective days on the rollback. Patton the Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Year leader finished 24th, twelve laps down after another incident two laps later.

While under caution, McKean pitted for fuel and a sway bar adjustment, a strategy he hoped would play as there were only four cars on the lead lap. The race restarted on lap 96, but the final caution flew a lap later after several cars bunched up on the restart. The Ford of Holtz did not get up to speed as quickly as the pack behind, bunching up several cars. Contact between Gilliland and Miller left the Lakeville, Minn. native (Miller) against the turn one wall ending a brilliant run. Miller finished 23rd. At the same time, Patton and Tame made contact in turn three leaving Patton broken and waiting for a wrecker.

The race would run extra laps while waiting for the cleanup to be completed setting up a green, white, checkered finish. While under the last caution lap on lap 102, Holtz ran out of gas leading the event and had to pit for fuel, handing the lead over to Gilliland. Gilliland got a huge jump on the restart over Lamar and McKean. McKean's car was to loose to mount a charge and Lamar had used up his right rear and could not catch Gilliland as he pulled away for his fifth victory of the season.

"This is such a difficult series to win on and to win five times is incredible," Gilliland said. "I was really just trying to hold on for second because Dan (Holtz) had the best car at the end. But you need a lot of luck and today I had it. We had a great car today and the setup was perfect. I am really happy for the whole team and for Rich Fountain (owner). Rich has given us what we need to win."

Lamar was disappointed finishing second after leading the first half of the race. "The way we have run this season I am happy to finish second," Lamar said. "I really wanted to win after being so strong, but my car fell off a bit at the end. Junior Joiner prepared an excellent car and this gives us a lot of momentum heading into Mesa Marin."

"I told the crew I didn't want to finish second again," McKean said. McKean has three runner-up finishes in the last four Featherlite Southwest Series races at PIR. "We were lucky to finish third today," McKean continued. "My car was really loose all race and we tried to make some changes under the final caution, but it really did not seem to help."

"I don't know what to say," Holtz said. "I thought we played the strategy right, but running the extra laps at the end hurts us. We had a fast car and we proved a lot here today, we'll just have to get them at the end of the month."

Series point Auggie Vidovich Jr. had an off day by his 2003 standards but manage to increase his point lead going into the second to last race. "I kind of just salvaged what I could," Vidovich said. "I would have liked to be more competitive, but as far as the championship goes I had a pretty good day."

The race took one hour, five minutes, and six seconds to complete at an average speed of 96.774 mph. There where only three caution periods for 16 laps. There were three lead changes among four drivers with Dan Holtz leading the most laps (50). Craig Raudman won the $325 Bud Pole Award (4th of the season), with Chris Hines picking up the $750 Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race for improving the most positions in the event (28th-7th). Thomas Martin collected Victory Circle Chassis' Rookie-of-the-Race honors with his 20th place finish. The margin of victory was .407 seconds.

Vidovich improved his point lead to 109 markers over Holmes who moves into second. Pettit drops to third 139 point behind Vidovich. David Gilliland moves back into the fourth spot with the victory, with Holtz rounding out the top five. McKean maintains the sixth position, with Steve Belletto, JR Patton, Burney Lamar, and Raudman rounding out the top ten. With two races to go, Vidovich will need to finish tenth or better at Mesa Marin and fifteenth or better at Phoenix in order to clinch the series title.

The next event for the Featherlite Southwest Series is Saturday, October 18 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. when the series returns to its charter track for the annual October Classic weekend. For ticket information log on to www.mesamarin.com .

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Eric Holmes , David Gilliland , Joe Herold , Dan Holtz , Burney Lamar , Mike Ledbetter , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Thomas Martin , Auggie Vidovich , Austin Cameron , Joey Miller