MONROE – Gary Lewis passed Pete Harding with 44 laps down and held on the rest of the way to win the NASCAR Northwest Series Evergreen 125 Saturday night at Evergreen Speedway.
Lewis, of Bothell, survived multiple yellow-flag delays and increased his lead on every restart. He clearly had the dominant car, as he consistently stretched his lead on lengthy green-flag conditions.
Trouble was, Harding was the lone exception, as he was the only driver able to stay with Lewis.
“He was real fast,” Lewis said. “I had to be up on the wheel, driving as hard as I could the whole time. I was trying to save my tires at the same time, and that was getting a little tough.”
Lewis, the NWS champion in 1998, captured his eighth career series victory at Evergreen and his 27th career win in the series. He and Harding staged a magnificent battle the last 50 laps. Harding stalked Lewis the entire time, as the two had as much as a straightaway lead on the field on the track’s 5/8 mile configuration.
For much of the race, it was a four-way war for the lead, but on lap 69, John Bender of Snohomish and Jeff Jefferson of Naches (who were running in second and third, respectively, at the time) got together on turn 3 and knocked each other out of contention.
That left it up to Lewis and Harding, the 1999 series champ, the rest of the way.
On restarts, Harding came the closest to giving Lewis a race, but could not overtake him. As Lewis’ tires warmed up, which took six or seven laps, he could hold Harding off and made it look almost easy.
As the night went on, Harding’s tires wore and he could no longer stay with Lewis in the corners.
“(The tires) were a handful,” Harding said. “We wore them out. It was a hot night.”
Jefferson was operating on two hours of sleep. The defending series champion, Jefferson raced in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck race Friday in Milwaukee, Wis., got to bed at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, arose at 3:30 a.m., to catch a plane to Seattle and made it to Monroe in time to race in the Evergreen 125.
It didn’t affect him much. He turned the fastest qualifying lap at 22.742 and finished third in the race.
Fourth was Travis Bennett of Ellensburg, followed by Wes Rhodes of Lacey and points leader Garrett Evans of Ardenvoir.
John Zaretzke of Maltby held off a hard-charging Shane Harding of Surrey, British Columbia, for the last 30 laps to take the checkered flag in the Speedway Chevrolet Super Stocks 75-lap midseason championships.
Zaretzke took his fifth victory in the season’s seven races and stretched his points lead over Monroe’s Tom Moriarity, who finished fourth.
Zaretzke broke a brake rotor midway through the race, which caused a vibration in the car. It also caused his car to suffer in its cornering, especially the tight corners in turns 1 and 2.
“We tried to keep it on the bottom, on the white line,” Zaretzke said. “If he was going to go around, he was going to have to go around on the outside.”
Zaretzke started on the outside of the fourth row, but passed Monroe’s Kelly Mann for the lead on a restart on the 11th lap. Until his brake rotor broke, Zaretzke threatened to run away with the race.
“He didn’t let the car push out like it was,” Harding said. “He slowed the car down getting into the corners, so I couldn’t get my run on him. It’s a good racecar driver that does that.”
Zaretzke doubled up Saturday night, also competing in the Evergreen 125. He finished seventh.
Ken Kaltschmidt of Auburn brought out a red flag on the second lap when he smacked the infield wall on the front stretch. His car broke a fuel line and caught on fire, but Kaltschmidt walked away unhurt.