Gary Lewis arrived Saturday afternoon, made some practice runs, then put the car in the trailer to save the equipment for one golden hour of practice Sunday morning.
Gary Lewis came to Stateline Speedway for the 10th annual Napa Auto Parts Idaho 200 with a simple goal – capture a third straight Gem State victory to match his three consecutive Montana 200 victories – and despite starting 16th in the 24-car field the Snohomish, Wash., driver proved he was up to the challenge.
Lewis arrived Saturday afternoon, made some practice runs, then put the car in the trailer to save the equipment for one golden hour of practice Sunday morning. Finding a solid setup in the 95-degree heat, the driver of the No. 73 Chevrolet put his car on the pole then waited through two hours of preliminary racing to take the green flag.
Stateline’s format for the 200 this season had the fastest cars separated by a one-second margin inverted. That put Greg McKinley on the pole with Lewis 16th and what appeared to be plenty of work ahead.
McKinley and Amanda MacDonald, the 200’s first female driver to make the main event, led the 24-car field to the green flag, with McKinley’s Jennifer’s Auto Sales Chevrolet jumping into the lead on Lap 2.
Lewis moved to seventh place by Lap 20 and laid down some of the fastest lap times of the afternoon from the outside groove. By the quarter-point of the first 100-lap segment Lewis’ Impala had chased down McKinley and the Spokane Valley native gave the current Idaho title holder everything he had for the next three laps before ultimately relinquishing the top spot.
With the lead in hand Lewis tried to advance to a comfort zone ahead of the field but encountered lapped traffic at the 70th lap. The traffic allowed McKinley to track Lewis down and the two battled nose-to-tail for the lead with the first half winding down.
Friday night’s Inland Northwest Super Stock Association main event winner, Zan Sharp, moved quietly from his midpack starting position to third place behind McKinley at Lap 75. From there Sharp looked inside and outside of McKinley for a way around to get to Lewis’ rear bumper but was thwarted at each try.
At Lap 87 Sharp suddenly slowed and headed to his pits with an engine issue that forced him to the sideline for the remainder of the afternoon.
As Sharp exited, Mead’s Shelby Thompson jumped into third place and ran McKinley down. The trio of Andy Brown, Thompson and McKinley battled for second through fourth, which allowed Jeff Jefferson to close the gap from his fifth-place position and use the high side for a pass around all but Brown that netted the Naches, Wash., driver third place at the completion of the first half.
Lewis and Brown led the double-file restart for the second 100-lap segment, with Brown trying to make a high-side pass for the lead with Jefferson close behind at Lap 103. The three-car battle allowed Thompson to join the fight and clear Brown for third.
Thompson moved to the outside groove and began running the same racing line as Lewis, which paid dividends over the next 10 laps as Thompson’s Valley Bowl Chevrolet cleared Jefferson for second place.
With solid racing at the front, former Idaho 200 champion John Gamble, who had to make the race through Sunday’s last-chance main event, powered his McLintock and Turk Ford to third place and began to give chase to Thompson and Lewis over the final 20 laps.
Gamble closed the gap on Thompson but was unable to catch the 23-year-old as both watched Lewis streak to a dominant second-half performance and the checkered flag.
With Sunday’s Idaho victory Lewis, 38, has amassed more than $75,000 in main event prize money since 2007, making him the region’s money leader in that time span.
“I don’t know what to say about how we’ve been able to accomplish so much the last couple of years,” he said. “This SEFNCO Communications team worked hard all day for this and we got the goal we were looking for coming into the summer, which was to win the (ASA’s Pacific Raceway) road course race, get our third Montana 200 win and finish the job here in Idaho.
“Taking this Impala to the outside and running the high groove for most of the day helped to save the tires and with the changes we made (during the halftime break) it transferred the weight in the corners much better in the second half.”
Thompson, who completed 24 laps of the 2008 Idaho 200, was happy with a solid runner-up finish.
“This was real cool after the way things have been going for us, especially in the Idaho 200 the last few years,” he said.
Gamble worked the past several weeks just to have an opportunity to drive the McLintock and Turk Ford after being out of racing for more than two years. With Sunday’s finish he’s hoping that there is more racing in his future.
“It wasn’t a bad day for us after being out of the car for so long,” Gamble said. “I have to thank Mike Behar for his help and Kevin Richards and Don Williams for giving the chance to drive this weekend. It was a good time.”