SWS: Phoenix III: Season finale race notes

McKean Masters Phoenix Mile DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (November 1, 2003) Eddy McKean of Jerome, Idaho finally claimed the prize that has eluded him on several trips to Phoenix Int'l Raceway. McKean scored his second win of the season and...

McKean Masters Phoenix Mile

DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (November 1, 2003) Eddy McKean of Jerome, Idaho finally claimed the prize that has eluded him on several trips to Phoenix Int'l Raceway. McKean scored his second win of the season and first triumph at PIR as the NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series closed out their 18th season last Thursday with the running of the Cruise America "125". McKean topped newly crowned champions Jeff Jefferson (Northwest Series) and Steve Carlson (Midwest Series) as twilight set on the desert. Auggie Vidovich of Lakeside, Calif. was crowned the 2003 Featherlite Southwest Series champion after a 13th place finish.

Joey Miller of Lakeville, Minn. scored his first career Bud Pole Award after touring the one-mile paved oval in 27.796 seconds/129.515 mph. Ben Walker started alongside Miller after recording his best qualifying effort of the season. Jeff Jefferson clocked in third quick, with Craig Raudman and Ed Hoffman rounding out the top five qualifiers. Brandon Bonnett, Eddie Bryans, Darren Crocker, and randy Nelson failed to qualify for the race.

Miller led the field of 42 NASCAR Elite Division stock cars to green, but the action slowed almost immediately as the train entered turn three. Ray Skillman lost a motor on the start and Russell Butler and Ed Belec tangled in turn three. It took the safety crew several laps to clean up the debris, and the race was not restarted until lap 29.

After sorting things out, Walker served notice that the race was his. Walker set a torrid pace once the field was back under green and built his lead to more than 2 seconds. At the lap 40 mark, Walker led Miller, Craig Raudman, Jim Pettit II, Jeff Jefferson, Ed Hoffman, John Dillon, Steve Carlson, Burney Lamar, and Erik Darnell.

The third caution flew on lap 50 for oil after the car of Greg Voigt spun in turn three. All the leaders pitted except for Miller, Pettit, and Raudman as they hoped to use track position to their advantage. On the lap 55 restart, championship contender Eric Holmes joined the top ten along with Nate Thiesse, Kevin Clark, and series point leader Auggie Vidovich.

Vidovich needing to finish 27th or better kept Holmes in his sights and raced a conservative race not wrestling anybody too hard for position. McKean was making his was to the front after stopping on lap 50 for fuel and right side tires. Knowing he had enough fuel to run the distance, McKean patiently worked his way through the field and into the top ten by lap 70. Meanwhile, Pettit and Raudman would roll the dice and try to go the 125 lap distance without stopping.

Miller's time at the front came to an end when he lost a right front tire on lap 75. Miller kept the Country Joe's Chevrolet off the wall and made it to the pits losing three laps to the leaders. Pettit took the lead and extended his advantage over Raudman through lapped traffic. McKean moved into fourth place by lap 80 and clearly had the fastest car on the track.

Pettit maintained his lead on Raudman at the lap 100 point of the race, with McKean moving into third. Eddy Mercer followed in fourth, with Steve Carlson and Jeff Jefferson rounding out the top five. The front five held a half lap advantage on sixth place Zach Niessner, with Kevin Clark, Thiesse, and Brian Hoppe rounding out the top ten. McKean moved around Raudman on lap 101 and set his sights on Pettit.

Raudman lost his bid for a podium finish on lap 110 as he had to pit for fuel just as the caution came out for Mike Ledbetter who spun his Chevrolet in turn four. Eddy Mercer joined Raudman in the pits. The race restarted on lap 114 with Pettit at the point followed by McKean, Jefferson, Carlson, and Niessner.

Niessner's stellar run ended on lap 115 as he lost fire under the hood and had to switch ignition boxes. The loss of momentum dropped Niessner back the 14th position. When Niessner slowed several cars bunched up and tangled in the dog leg sending Thiesse and Dillon to the garage. As the field lined up for the lap 124 restart, Pettit ducked into the pits for fuel as his gamble was not going to pay off. That gave the lead to McKean who held off a determined Jeff Jefferson to claim his first victory at Phoenix after scoring three runner-up finishes in the past five races.

After starting from the 36th position on the grid, McKean was thrilled with the outcome. "The car for the race was fantastic," McKean said. "I was able to move up through the pack pretty easily, but if Jim Pettit hadn't run out of gas I don't know if I would have had enough to get by him. I was picking up a few tenths every lap, but it was getting close to the end. When Jim ran out of gas I got to thinking about it a little bit as well. After all, Dan (Holtz) had the same problem here earlier this month. But it's a good win for us. We certainly worked pretty hard for it today."

Recording his best Featherlite Southwest Series effort, 2003 Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson was overjoyed by the effort of his crew. "We kind of missed the setup at the beginning, the car was really tight and we kind of went back a little ways," Jefferson said. "I don't know. I was sixth or eight, somewhere in there. About the same time Steve (Carlson) came in, we came in and made a chassis adjustment, and it made it great. I needed to do it right on the second to last restart, I made a little mistake down there, and I had such a good run on him and then on the last restart he knew what to do there to protect it and he did a good job. I was trying."

Steve Carlson is no stranger to the podium and used this race to size up some of the competition he will face in Irwindale November 6-8. "This is a tough series and there are a bunch of great competitors out here," Carlson said. "I was kind of hoping the sun would stay out. We set the car up for the sun because we figured the track would be slippery. Of course the clouds came, and my car got tight, so I had to kind of fight that all day. I found myself running in sixth their towards the end and I don't know, there was a little bit of stuff there going on at the end, a guy ran out of gas, and I found myself in third. I thought that was pretty cool."

Needing to finish 27th or better, Auggie Vidovich claimed his first series title after finishing in the 13th position. "This was a good consistent season for us," Vidovich said. "We didn't have any wins, but we stayed consistent. Racing today was very hard because all I was trying to do was stay out of trouble. It seems harder to do that than it does to race for the win. I didn't have too many close calls, but if somebody tried to get under me, if I felt I could get past them again I just let them go. This is a big day for me and my team. I can't wait for the Showdown!"

Rounding out the top ten in the final Featherlite Southwest Series point standings and earning an invite to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown are Auggie Vidovich, Eric Holmes, Jim Pettit II, Eddy McKean, Dan Holtz, David Gilliland, Steve Belletto, Burney Lamar, JR Patton, and Craig Raudman.

The Cruise America "125" took one hour, 39 minutes, and 19 seconds to complete at an average speed of 80.953 mph. The action was slowed six times for 51 laps of caution. There were four lead changes among fur drivers with Jim Pettit Ii leading the most laps (45). Joey Miller won the $325 Bud Pole Award with Eddy McKean claiming the $750 Powerade Power Move-of-the-Race Award for improving the most positions in the event (36th to 1st). JR Patton was the Victory Circle Chassis Rookie-of-the-Race with a 26th place finish.

This was the final event of the season for the Featherlite Southwest Series. The NASCAR will honor Vidovich and the rest of the competitors at the annual Awards Banquet December 13, 2003 at the Eldorado Showroom in Reno, NV.

Race Stats:

TIME OF RACE: 1 hour, 39 minutes, 19 seconds
AVERAGE SPEED: 80.953 mph
MARGIN OF VICTORY: .158 seconds

BUD POLE AWARD: Joey Miller, Country Joes Racing Chevrolet 27.796 seconds/129.515 mph
POWERADE POWER MOVE OF THE RACE AWARD: Eddy McKean, Wide World Of Maps Pontiac

CAUTION FLAGS: Six cautions for 51 laps (2-21, 22-28, 50-54, 11-113, 116-123, 125-133)

LAP LEADERS: Four lead change among four drivers. Ben Walker 1-41, Joey Miller 42-75, Jim Pettit II 76-121, Eddy McKean 122-134


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Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Eric Holmes , David Gilliland , Dan Holtz , Burney Lamar , Mike Ledbetter , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Auggie Vidovich , Ben Walker , Joey Miller , Erik Darnell , Kevin Clark , Steve Carlson