It was neither pretty nor were there optimal conditions for the Wenatchee 125, Saturday night, at Wenatchee Valley’s Super Oval, but the event was the final NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series race in its 22-year history with plenty on the line for the competitors.
A trail of fluid was put down all the way around the track in the very early portion of the race and the track’s clean-up crew was never able to get a handle on it, leaving slick racing conditions all night long. “It was pretty slippery out there,” said eventual race winner Brandon Riehl. “I don’t know what they were using, but it didn’t work too well.”
The extended clean-up time pushed the race much later into the evening than scheduled. When the yellow flag was displayed on lap 121 due to more fluid on the track and it appeared that another long clean-up period would be necessitated before a green-white-checkered finish could be accomplished. However, the local curfew was just minutes away and track officials informed NASCAR officials that the race would have to end at that point.
Riehl, who had passed Shane Mitchell just six laps prior to that caution period beginning, picked up a career and series-best fourth win this season. Mitchell, who earned the pole position to start the race after the post-qualifying six-car invert, kept his Mitchell Trucking & Paving/Coca-Cola Chevrolet in front for 114 laps before Riehl was able to make a move on the back stretch of lap 115.
“I was just trying to stay close so that I would be able to make a move if the opportunity presented itself,” said Riehl, out of Boring, Ore. “With the conditions they way there were, that was not the easiest thing to do. He slipped a little and gave me a chance and I was able to make it stick enough to get around him.”
Riehl knew his Aero Exhaust/Darrel’s Economy Muffler Chevy was good, but was not entirely sure that he had enough for Mitchell.
“His car was so good all weekend. He knows this track very well. Those two things combined with the fact that he can wheel a racecar made me wonder if I was going to have a chance at the win,” stated the race winner. “I had to stay patient and it worked out in our favor.”
Mitchell finished second which was a career and season-best for the rookie out of Orondo, Wash., but more importantly, perhaps, he was able to survive the grueling battle for the Northwest Series’ Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year at the top of the hill. The huge rookie class of 12 drivers fought all season long to win this award.
Ellensburg, Washington’s Travis Bennett finished in third for his seventh top five of the season in the Catlin Electric/Bowman’s Electro Painting Chevrolet.
Mike Longton, out of Moxee, Wash., finished a season-best fourth in his Key Financial/Owens Enterprises Chevy on a night that he needed to solidify a top-10 spot in the championship point standings and was followed across the finish line by Gary Lewis in fifth.
Wilbur Bruce, Jeff Bailey, Troy Tramell, Matt Hall and Steven Howard rounded out the top 10.
Four-time series champion Garrett Evans won his series-best third Bud Pole of the season during time trials. He motored around the 1/4-mile oval in 12.807 seconds (70.274 mph) in the Leonard Evans Hyundai & Used Car Superstore/Signature Financing Chevrolet. It was the East Wenatchee, Wash. driver’s 66th Bud Pole of his career and the 10th at his home track.
Hall, out of Spokane, Wash., experienced motor problems after the afternoon practice sessions and was not able to get the Affordable Graphics Northwest/King Soft Water Chevrolet onto the track for time trials, but they were able to make repairs before the race, but, by rule, had to start at the rear of the field. Whatever the problem was must have been diagnosed correctly because he was able to pass eleven cars once the race began. And with that performance, came the POWERade “Power Move of the Race” Award.
Riehl, who bent an axle in the previous event at Yakima (Wash.) Speedway and finished near the back of the field, collected the Featherlite “Most Improved Driver” Award. Also, his crew chief, Steve Dykman earned his fourth Lunati “Crew Chief of the Race” Award of the year.
Riehl, however, was not the only driver to wind up with a smile on his face at the end of the evening. All Lewis had to do to capture his second Northwest Series championship, the first coming in 1998, was to take the green flag at the start of the race. He did that and completed a dominating season, one in which he missed just one lap and his worst finish was 12th on July 15 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. He finished in the top three seven times and never gave anyone a chance. He began applying his pressure at the first race of the season and never let up.
“This is a big thrill. It’s what we set out to do and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone on the Nutter Racing Engines/Victory Circle Chassis/Sandblasters Chevrolet team,” said the 2006 champion hailing from Bothell, Wash.
“Both championships came in special years. The first in 1998 came in NASCAR’s 50th anniversary season, and, of course, this is the last year of this series,” said Lewis. “I’ll tell you what, though. Any championship any year any where is great because they are so hard to come by especially in a series like this one. It is so competitive.”
Beside the point championship and Sunoco Rookie of the Year being settled, unofficially, the top 10 in points for the year was finalized. The 10 top finishers in the championship point standings will receive an invitation to represent the Northwest Series in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on October 20-21 and compete with the top 10 drivers from the other three NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division series. Joining Lewis will be his runner-up, Riehl and Bennett, who finished third. Jeff Barkshire, Mitchell, Jay Sauls and Evans finished fourth through seventh. And rounding out the top 10 is Longton, Bruce and B.J. Tidrick.
Of that group of 10, four (Mitchell, Sauls, Longton and Tidrick) will be making their first appearance at the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown and they were also Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year contenders validating the strength of the rookie class in the 2006 Northwest Series. Lewis will be making his fourth appearance while Riehl and Evans, their third. Bennett, Barkshire and Bruce will all be making their second trip to Southern California for this prestigious event.
NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series Unofficial Standings as of September 16, 2006
TOP 15 IN POINTS
1. Gary Lewis – 1642
2. Brandon Riehl – 1514
3. Travis Bennett – 1489
4. Jeff Barkshire – 1376
5. Shane Mitchell* - 1367
6. Jay Sauls* – 1336
7. Garrett Evans - 1325
8. Mike Longton* – 1305
9. Wilbur Bruce – 1295
10. B.J. Tidrick* - 1284
11. Steven Howard – 1282
12. Troy Tramell* – 1236
13. Pete Harding – 1230
14. Jason Fraser* – 1226
15. Matt Hall – 1196
BUD POLE WINNERS Garrett Evans - 3
Gary Lewis – 2
Jason Fraser* - 1
Shane Mitchell* - 1
Brandon Riehl - 1
B.J. Tidrick* - 1
Troy Tramell* - 1
POWERade “Power Move of the Race” Travis Bennett – 2
Jason Fraser* -2
Matt Hall - 2
Pete Harding - 1
Steven Howard - 1
Jason Jefferson - 1
Zan Sharp* - 1
FEATHERLITE “Most Improved Driver” Brandon Riehl – 2
Jeff Barkshire - 1
John Bender - 1
Travis Bennett - 1
Shane Harding - 1
Shane Mitchell* - 1
Jay Sauls* - 1
B.J. Tidrick* - 1
Troy Tramell*- 1
* Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender
SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS
1. Shane Mitchell – 72
2. Jay Sauls - 65
3. Mike Longton – 63
4. Jason Fraser – 61
5. B.J. Tidrick – 58
6. Troy Tramell – 52
7. Brent Harris – 47
8. Zan Sharp – 40
9. Darren Rupinski – 33
10. Shane Harding - 33
11. Joey Decker, Jr. - 10
12. Bryan Warf - 6
UNOFFICIAL Race Results
NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES
East Wenatchee, Wash. September 16, 2006
Final leaders of Saturday's $52,833.00 NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES stock car race with driver's hometown, make and model of car, laps completed, winner's average speed, reason out (if any) and prize money.
1. Brandon Riehl, Boring Ore., Chevrolet, 125, 42.906 mph, $3,023
2. Shane Mitchell, Orondo Wash., Chevrolet, 125, $2,022
3. Travis Bennett, Ellensburg Wash., Chevrolet, 125, $1,723
4. Mike Longton, Moxee Wash., Chevrolet, 125, $1,522
5. Gary Lewis, Bothell Wash., Chevrolet, 125, $1,298
6. Wilbur Bruce, Lakewood Wash., Chevrolet, 125, $1,272
7. Jeff Bailey, Kennewick Wash., Chevrolet, 125, $975
8. Troy Tramell, Yakima Wash., Chevrolet, 124, $1,122
9. Matt Hall, Spokane Wash., Chevrolet, 124, $1,822
10. Steven Howard, Roy Wash., Chevrolet, 124, $1,022
11. Jason Fraser, Snohomish Wash., Chevrolet, 124, $997
12. Pete Harding, Surrey B.C. Canada, Chevrolet, 124, $947
13. Darren Rupinski, Rathdrum Idaho, Chevrolet, 124, $922
14. Jay Sauls, Puyallup Wash., Chevrolet, 123, Oil Leak, $897
15. Jim McVey, Port Orchard Wash., Chevrolet, 122, $847
16. Dave Butterton, Olympia Wash., Chevrolet, 111, $600
17. Jeff Barkshire, Auburn Wash., Dodge, 105, Accident, $798
18. B. J. Tidrick, Yakima Wash., Chevrolet, 87, $772
19. Garrett Evans, E. Wenatchee Wash., Chevrolet, 44, Accident, $1,197
20. Ron Eaton, Tacoma Wash., Chevrolet, 42, Motor, $722