This is a glance at the current top 10 drivers in the championship standings in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series. The top 10 drivers in each of the four series (Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest) in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division will be invited to compete in the fourth annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, October 20-21 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. This special post-season invitational event will be broadcast on SPEED and awards competitors nearly $500,000 in prize money.
No. 1 – Gary Lewis, Bothell, Wash. (No. 73 Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis Chevrolet), Team: Moore-Lewis Racing. Points: 1322 Previous ranking: 1. Consistency is everything in winning a points championship and no one has been more consistent this season in the Northwest Series than Lewis. His average finish this year is 3.5. He has notched a podium finish in all but two races this season in his quest for a second series championship. Yakima (Wash.) Speedway has been good to Lewis this season. He has collected the victory in both visits there this season.
No. 2 – Brandon Riehl, Boring, Ore. (No. 69 Aero Exhaust/Darrell’s Economy Muffler Chevrolet), Team: Hanson Racing. Points: 1228 (-94). Previous ranking: 3. Except for a brief two-race sabbatical, Riehl, like Lewis, has finished on the podium in every other race this season. He picked up his third win of the season the last time out at Magic Valley Speedway which equals Lewis’ win total this year. Riehl won the 200-lap race in Yakima last season and will need a similar effort this year to still have a chance at catching Lewis for the title. After recording five top-10 finishes in his first 14 series starts, Riehl has posted 22 finishes inside the top 10 in his last 28 races.
No. 3 – Travis Bennett, Ellensburg, Wash. (No. 33 Bowman’s Electro Painting/Knudson Lumber/Farmer’s Insurance Chevrolet), Team: DS Racing. Points: 1169 (-153). Previous ranking: 2. Gremlins got loose in the electrical system of Bennett’s car at Magic Valley Speedway. He and his crew chased them all day long, but they were never able to isolate the problem. The result was a season-worst finish of 21st and a drop from second to third in the point standings. He has a pair of second-place finishes at Yakima Speedway this season. He now has 13 top-five efforts over the last three seasons, but is still looking for the elusive first Northwest Series victory.
No. 4 – Jeff Barkshire, Auburn, Wash. (No. 46 Centennial Batteries/SPE Racing Engines Dodge), Team: Barkshire Racing. Points: 1104 (-218). Previous ranking: 4. It has been a feast or famine type of season for last season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year. He is right there amongst the leaders in top fives this year with five, but the other three finishes have been 17th or worse. He has held the lead in four races this season, but has not been able to seal the deal. Like Bennett, he desperately wants to win a race before season’s end. “I thought I had one a couple of times this season, but it just didn’t work out,” he said. “Points wise we’re in pretty good shape, but I’d really like to win one of these last two races.” He finished second in last season’s Aero Exhaust 200 at Yakima Speedway.
No. 5 – Jay Sauls, Puyallup, Wash. (No. 20 Tri-State Restaurant Supply/Canyon Auto Paint Supply Chevrolet), Team: Sauls Racing. Points: 1073 (-249). Previous ranking: 6. After winning in Wenatchee in just his fourth series start, Sauls finished the next two races outside of the top 20. However, he seems to be back on track with a pair of top-10 efforts in his last two starts. Even though he is currently tied with Shane Mitchell at 1073 points, Sauls gets the fifth spot in the rankings thanks to that win earlier in the season. He does, however, still trail Mitchell by five points in the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year standings.
No. 6 – Shane Mitchell, Orondo, Wash. (No. 99 Mitchell Trucking & Paving/Coca-Cola Chevrolet), Team: Mitchell Motorsports. Points: 1073 (-249). Previous ranking: 5. No driver in the series may be happier than Mitchell to be done with Magic Valley Speedway. Two of his worst three performances this season have come there. Even with the 13th-place finish there earlier this month and being just the fifth-highest finishing rookie, he still controls his own destiny in the pursuit of the Northwest Series’ Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award. He holds a five-point edge on Sauls heading into Yakima where he has a pair of top-10 finishes this season.
No. 7 – Garrett Evans, East Wenatchee, Wash. (No. 64 Leonard Evans Hyundai/Signature Financing Chevrolet), Team: Evans Racing. Points: 1049 (-273). Previous ranking: 7. Despite tangling with a lapped car in the last race in Twin Falls, Idaho that resulted in a disappointing finish in 12th after leading 46 laps in the event, Evans held his ground in the championship point standings. He holds the all-time series record with six wins at Yakima Speedway, but the last came nearly six years ago. He finished 11th then fifth in the two prior visits there this season.
No. 8 – Steven Howard, Roy, Wash. (No. 38 Great Northwest Homes Chevrolet), Team: Howard Motorsports. Points: 1010 (-312). Previous ranking: 9. Howard followed up his eighth-place effort on July 29 at Evergreen Speedway with a 10th-place showing at Magic Valley Speedway to further ensconce himself in the top 10 in points. He has finishes of ninth and 27th this season in Yakima. The Howard Motorsports gang will be seeking more consistency in order to make the field for the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, an event they missed for the first time last season.
No. 9 – Pete Harding, Surrey. B.C. Canada (No. 39 L.P. Body Shop/Yale Forklift Chevrolet), Team: Harding Motorsports. Points: 1000 (-322). Previous ranking: 15. Harding has been the man on the move in the Northwest Series as of late. Following an 18th-place finish on July 15 at Evergreen Speedway, he has strung together finishes of sixth, first and second to move from 21st in the championship point standings to ninth. While he is not entirely out of the woods in terms of a top-10 finish in points as just two points separate him from 11th place, Yakima Speedway has been good to the veteran over the years. He has five career series wins there and three top-10 performances there in his last five visits.
No. 10 – Mike Longton, Moxee, Wash. (No. 37 Key Financial/Owens Enterprises Chevrolet), Team: Longton Motorsports. Points: 999 (-323). Previous ranking: 11. Longton halted a three-race slump with a solid seventh-place effort at Magic Valley Speedway to get back into the top 10 in the point standings albeit by only four tallies. He has to take some solace in the fact that the next race is at his home track where he holds a Late Model championship. He finished sixth in the Northwest Series’ May visit, but 26th in the July stop.
On the bubble:
No. 11 – Wilbur Bruce, Lakewood, Wash. (No. 8 Quality Rentals/Rent ‘N Roll/Six Robblees Chevrolet), Team: Neil Weiner Racing. Points: 995 (-327). Previous ranking: 8. Bruce went to Magic Valley Speedway on August 5 with the hope of treading water. He went there with an under-powered motor after suffering damage to his top two engines in two of the previous three events. He did struggle a bit and finished 19th in Twin Falls that precipitated a fall from eighth to 11th in points, but he is only four points behind the 10th-place Longton. He is currently tied with B.J. Tidrick at 995 points, but Bruce holds the 11th spot due to his fourth-place finish in Yakima earlier this season.
New to the top 10: Pete Harding and Mike Longton
Dropped out of the top 10: Wilbur Bruce and Brent Harris