BAKERSFIELD, California -- You just have to love the huge smile of a first time winner in victory lane especially when that win has been a long time coming. This was the case for Brett Thompson who scored his first NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, win at Bakersfield's Mesa Marin Raceway. The October Classic 150, presented by Star Nursery.com, was the concluding portion of the raceway's 27th annual October Classic.
24 starters, led by Bud Pole winner Mike Duncan, took the initial green flag. Duncan immeadiately grabbed the lead with Scott Lynch, Thompson, Austin Cameron and Nick Jonaides right behind him.
The West Series drivers had no sooner got their race rhythm going when the first of seven yellow flags appeared on lap 6 when David Cardey blew an engine. On the restart Duncan and Lynch again took off only to slow down for caution number 2, on lap 27, when Nick DeFazio's Ford hit the turn 4 wall. DeFazio was not injured from the crash but the same could not be said for his car. The car was driven behind the wall and the team was done for the day.
Following the restart, Duncan got to lead two more green flag laps before yellow flag number three flew into the air. This time the caution was for Bakersfield's Jason Small who spun through turn four and hit the wall on lap 35.
In a case of deja vu, Duncan again led the field to the restart and, again, the yellow caution flag came out after only two green flag laps. Caution number four ocurred on lap 45 and was, by far, the worst incident of the day. Nick Jonaides, running fourth at the time, suffered a hard crash against the back stretch wall. While Jonaides thankfully was not injured, the Z Wheels Are For U.Com Chevrolet was a total loss. While emergency officials were tending to the Jonaides wreck, Kerry Earnhardt was slowly brining his Napa Belts and Hoses Chevrolet behind the wall after losing every drop of oil his engine had.
The race restarted on lap 54 with Duncan still in lead and, this time, Austin Cameron on his bumper. They made it 13 laps this time when caution number five came out due to David Gilleland's expired engine. The engine problems in the race were starting to take their toll on the track. By this point Mesa Marin's half mile oval was starting to get a little slippery.
The restart came on lap 73 with Duncan, Cameron, Thompson, Lynch and Mike David running one through five. This time the drivers were allowed to do some real racing during one of the few lenghty green flag runs. The race made it all the way to lap 112 when the yellow flag flew for the sixth time after Kristy Schmidt scraped the backstretch wall following a cut tire.
The race resumed on lap 118 and at this point a very important strategy began to come into play: tire wear. During the caution laps the team radio transmissions were blazing with dialogue regarding the need for a pit stop and fresher tires. Crew Chiefs knew that fuel would not be a problem but tires were a major concern. It was the issue of track posistion that prompted the leaders to roll the dice and stay out on the track.
It would turn out to be a huge mistake.Brett Thompson and Mike David spent serveral laps riding on the high groove and doing whatever was necessary to save their tires. By lap 132 Thompson and David passed Cameron to take over second and third. On lap 139 Thompson passed Duncan to take over the race lead and one lap later David passed Duncan to take second.
The final caution flag of the race flew on lap 140 due to debris from Steve Ruzbarsky's cut tire. The restart for the shootout came on lap 146. Thompson's RTTI.Windmill Inns of America Chevrolet ran out the laps to his first series win with David's Bennett Winery Ford right behind him. In the final moments Sean Woodside moved into third while Cameron and Duncan held on to complete the top five despite their serious tire wear problems.
In victory lane a very happy Thompson parked the nose of his car against the frontstretch wall and filled Bakersfield's evening skyline with tire smoke from the burn out. "It just doesn't get any better than this," Thompson said adding "this is a very prestigious race. I was really busy here this weekend. I ran the Southwest Series race the last night where we got hurt a little and I ran our West Coast Pro Series Truck here on Friday where I did okay."
Turning is attention to the tire wear situation Thompson said "half way through the race I told my guys the car is good and I'm going to pull up on the high side and save ourselves for the end."
Mike David was also very happy with his second place finish at Mesa Marin saying "we got a little behind early in the race but the car got really good there at the end. It was good short track racing and it was a lot of fun. Thompson was fast today and I didn't have much for him. If I had maybe another 50 laps it might have turned out different."
Despite coming up short, following a near dominant performance, Duncan managed to smile and said he was glad that he could at least drive his Lucas Oil Chevrolet to a fifth place finish. "The track was slippery and towards the end there was oil all the way around the track," Duncan said adding "we were leaning towards not stopping in the pits. When the caution came out around lap 110 there were at least 15 cars on the lead lap. We didn't want to chance having to work our way through all that traffic and running out of time so we decided not to pit. I guess it wasn't the right call."