Benedetti Basks in Desert Sun Tucson, Ariz. (November 3, 2001) Joe Benedetti of Auburn, Wash. has waited all year to win, he just did not think it would come at Tucson Raceway Park in Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring ...
Benedetti Basks in Desert Sun
Tucson, Ariz. (November 3, 2001) Joe Benedetti of Auburn, Wash. has waited all year to win, he just did not think it would come at Tucson Raceway Park in Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring competition. Benedetti dominated the Ray Judy "150" Saturday afternoon by leading the final 101 laps in route to his first victory of the season. Following Benedetti to the line was fellow Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series, NASCAR Touring regular Ken Kaltschmidt of Marion, Mont., with FSWS Rookie Eddy McKean in third, occasional FSWS competitor Keith Spangler in fourth, and Jim Pettit II scoring his third top 5 of the season finishing in fifth.
Zach Neissner of Royal City, Wash., driving the Leep Energy/Wide World of Maps Chevrolet, set the pace in qualifying by edging out 8-time Bud Pole winner Craig Raudman for the top spot with a quick lap of 15.342/87.994 mph. This was Neissner's first ever Bud Pole Award and would position the youngster on the front row for the 150-lap event. Raudman in the familiar Yerf-Dog Chevrolet was second, followed by Rookie Burney Lamar, Darrell LaMoure, and Rookie Eddy McKean rounding out the top five qualifiers. Lamar paced the fastest four qualifiers in the four-lap Trophy Dash.
Sean Monroe and Jason Allen made up the final two starting positions in the 24-car grid for the Ray Judy "150" by finishing 1/2 in the 15-lap non-qualifiers race. Allen, of Las Vegas, Nev., almost did not make the race, as ignition problems troubled the new team all day. Just as the cars were completing their final pace laps, Allen joined the field and came from the rear to finish second on the final lap.
The oasis in the desert provided the perfect backdrop for the season finale for the FSWS as a day of firsts would unfold. Neissner's time at the front of the field was short lived as motor problems would make him the first car out of the race. Raudman would lead the first 49-laps before giving way to Benedetti, who would go on to win his first race of the season. Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. had something to prove after clinching his first series championship last week at PIR, a disappointing 30th place finish did not sit well with the Gatorade Front Runner. A win was the only thing on Raudman's mind as he took control of the race on lap one. The Yerf-Dog Chevrolet appeared to be the class of the field over the first 49-laps as he was able to move high or low on the racetrack and extend his lead up to twenty-car lengths at times.
The first of three cautions came out when the cars of Rookie-of-the-Year contender Scott Brandt tangled with Auggie Vidovich Jr. and Mike Ledbetter. Brandt and Ledbetter were able to continue, but Vidovich needed to be pushed to the garage for repairs dashing any hopes of defending his win from last season where he lead all 125-laps scoring one of his four victories. On the lap-24 restart, Raudman again paced the field and was followed closely by Ron Eaton who had moved up to challenge for the lead from his 8th starting position. Burney Lamar was in third knowing that he needed to finish ahead of local standout, Scott Brandt in order to claim the ROTY title. Marc Groskreutz led Darrell LaMoure, Eddy McKean, Joe Benedetti, Nick Joanides, and Jon Nelson.
By lap 40, Benedetti was starting to flex his muscle and had moved into the top five by using the low groove on the multi-grooved track. As Benedetti was moving forward, Raudman began to move backwards due to an ill-handling racecar. Benedetti and Raudman raced side-by-side for two laps with Benedetti taking the point on lap 49. Raudman continued to fall through the field until he pitted for tires on lap 62. Veteran Ron Eaton looked to capitalize on his previous victory at TRP, but found Benedetti had everyone covered. While Benedetti extended his lead to as much as 2.5 seconds, Eddy McKean moved by Eaton for second on lap 80 and began to close the gap on Benedetti. Following McKean were Keith Spangler and Ken Kaltschmidt who used lapped traffic to distance themselves from Groskreutz, Pettit, and Lamar.
At the lap 100 mark, Benedetti again lengthened his lead on McKean as McKean began to loose the handle the Magic Valley Pipe & Steel Pontiac and looked for a place on the track where he could run comfortably. Kaltschmidt found the Goodyear tires to his liking and as the race went on began to make up distance on McKean and overtook the Rookie on lap 103. By lap 125 the leaders were all in heavy traffic, but all had little difficulty negotiating as the progressive banking provided for excellent three-wide racing at every corner. It look as if the drama was going to be for naught with Benedetti clearly the class of the field, but an unprecedented spin by Greg Pursley on lap 146, set up a green, white, checker finish.
Benedetti laid down a patented "Greg Biffle" restart on lap 151 and got a small jump on Kaltschmidt. As Benedetti made his Chevrolet as wide as possible, Kaltschmidt went high and McKean went low looking for a way around the RBNWS runner-up. Kaltschmidt and Benedetti touched several times on the final lap and as the duo crossed the line for the checkered flag, Benedetti was sideways with Kaltschmidt glued to his bumper, and McKean in tow. The margin of victory was .150 seconds.
"I have never run here before," stated Benedetti. " I talked with Groskreutz, Eaton, and watched a lot of tapes of the Winter Heat races and I knew in order to win I had to run the bottom. I started the race on the bottom, but then moved up high and started passing guys, then went back to the bottom and the car just flat worked. I can't wait to come back to run with these guys at Phoenix to start the year, and to win here today makes the Winter seem a lot shorter.
Finishing second to record his second straight top five finish in FSWS competition was Ken Kaltschmidt. "This finish is exactly what the team needed to catapult us into next year," said Kaltschmidt. "I plan on running for the championship next year up North and I am thrilled to run so well down here never before seeing the track. We plan on running several Southwest Series races next season, so it is great to have a couple of top five finishes to close out the year."
The top finishing Rookie-of-the-Race for the fourth time this season was Eddy McKean who finished third to record his fifth top five of the season. "Tire manage was key today," said McKean. "I couldn't stay with Joe, but Ken and I were real close. As the race wore on my car started to get real loose so I just tried to save it as much as I could. My crew and the folks at Victory Circle Chassis have given me a lot of help this season, with a good crew and a good car, I just go out and drive the wheels off it."
The race was bitter sweet for Craig Raudman as he clinched the championship, but had problems that relegated the champ to a 21st place finish. "I am disappointed not to run good here," Raudman said. " I wanted to finish out the season with a win and put an exclamation point on the year, but it just wasn't to be. Winning the championship is a great accomplishment for the whole Yerf-Dog/Dave Reed racing team. I could not be happier."
By virtue of his 8th place finish, Burney Lamar wrapped up the Rookie-of-the-Year honors over Scott Brandt who suffered through another difficult race. "I just want to thank Scott and the rest of the Rookies," said Lamar. "Scott just had some bad luck toward the end of the season and I am just fortunate to here. Eddy McKean ran strong all year and really was the class of the field the later part of the year. I just want to thank the whole Bonicelli Racing Team for giving me the opportunity. They stuck behind all year and I hope we can go out next year and win some races and contend for a championship."
The race took 47 minutes, 56 seconds to complete at an average speed of 71.818 mph. Zach Neissner won the Bud Pole Award with a time of 15.342/87.994 mph, with Joe Benedetti picking up the Gatorade Front Runner Award for leading the most laps (101). Eddy McKean was the FSWS Rookie-of-the-Race. There were three caution periods for 15-laps, with three lead changes among three drivers.
This event concluded the 2001 FSWS season as the teams, drivers, officials will take a couple of months off before opening up the 2002 season in February in Phoenix. The FSWS will celebrate all of the 2001 racing season with their annual awards banquet Saturday, December 8, 2001 at the Eldorado Hotel/Casino in Reno, Nev.
The Featherlite Southwest Series is one of nine NASCAR Touring Series that blanket the United States. NASCAR Touring brings special events to many NASCAR Weekly Racing Series tracks and some NASCAR superspeedways and road courses.
NASCAR Touring Series can provide a competitor with an entire career, or they can provide valuable experience to competitors moving through the NASCAR ranks.
Corporate sponsors make significant contributions to NASCAR Touring Series point funds. The sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Featherlite Trailers, Gatorade, Goody's Headache Powders, O'Reilly Auto Parts, Raybestos Brakes, RE/MAX International, Inc., and R.J. Reynolds brand Winston.