TENINO, Wash. (August 11, 2001) – Tom Sweatman came home to South Sound Speedway on a mission for his fifth career Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series, NASCAR Touring victory. The lovable crowd favorite did not disappoint as he beat Kevin Hamlin and Wes Rhodes to the stripe for the win in the Pepsi 125.
Sweatman got the evening off to a blistering pace by capturing the Bud Pole Award with a lap of 13.957 seconds at a speed of 96.726 mph around the .375-mile speed plant in Tenino.
With a six-car invert, Rhodes started on the pole and led the field to the green flag. Rhodes led his first laps of the season in the Knight’s Fire Protection/Lumberman’s Chevrolet. A native of Lacey, Wash., Rhodes captured his first Gatorade Front Runner Award of his career for leading 92 laps in the event.
The race got off to a slow start with three cautions for 28 laps over the first 45 circuits around South Sound Speedway. Rhodes kept an even pace through the halfway point of the event.
From lap 85 to 91, Rhodes, Sweatman, and Hamlin weaved through traffic and waged a fierce three-car battle for the lead. On lap 92, Sweatman passed Rhodes exiting turn No. 2 for the top spot on the field. Hamlin jumped to second place, dropping Rhodes to third place in the running order.
Sweatman bolted to a five-car lead on Hamlin over the next 20 laps before a caution on lap 112 bunched the field up. On the re-start, Sweatman brought the capacity crowd to their feet as he pulled away over the last 11 laps for the victory. Rhodes caught Hamlin entering turn No. 4 but Hamlin held him off at the finish for the runner-up position. Hamlin earned his eighth top-5 finish in ten events this season.
“I feel so good for our crew. We’ve worked so hard but we just haven’t had any luck this year. Sometimes it’s like a roller coaster. We worked hard here and that was why we were so good tonight,” Sweatman said.
“This week we’re up high, next week we might fall, this is a pretty good feeling,” added the driver of the Thurston County Transmissions Chevrolet.
Hamlin continued his hot streak of top-5 performances. The Pepsi 125 runner-up position allowed Hamlin to gain points in his quest to become the youngest driver to ever win a Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series championship.
Hamlin got into the back of another race car early in the event and bowed the hood on his American Dream Motorsports Chevrolet. According to Hamlin, it made driving the remainder of the Pepsi 125 an interesting experience.
“I was really worried. I could see out the left side but not the right. I kind of drove it by braille; sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. It was too hard to pass with the hood mangled, it’s a good thing Wes Rhodes is a good racer because he drove me clean there at the end,” Hamlin said.
Rhodes equaled his best career finish on the series with his third place effort. The Lacey, Wash. native captured the third top-5 performance of his three-year career on the series. With many of his family and sponsors in attendance, Rhodes was perhaps the happiest of the podium finishers.
“We got a lucky draw on the invert to start the night, then I just didn’t mess up on the restarts. We had a good car but as soon as we got the tires all mad and hot it kind of went away. Goodyear has a tire that we don’t burn’em off every week so I think we’re going to be here for more,” Rhodes said.