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Hargraves drives toward first INSSA title

The Inland Northwest Super Stock Association holds its final event of the season on Saturday as the Super Late Model touring division invades Stateline Speedway.

With races spread between Stateline and Spokane County Raceway, many of the region’s top drivers have competed on the INSSA show this season with defending SCR Late Model champion and current INSSA points leader, Erick Hargraves, looking to claim his first traveling series championship.

When the checkers fall for the final time in 2012, more than 40 drivers will have tried to catch Hargraves. Four-time NASCAR champion Garrett Evans is the closest challenger heading into the weekend.

The East Wenatchee driver trails Hargraves by 91 points, with Spokane native Travis Allen holding down the third position in the championship standings – only 20 points behind Evans.

Prior to the Spokane 200, held last month at SCR, Hargraves had been in a position to claim two track championships and the INSSA title – a feat not accomplished in the Northwest since 1997 when NASCAR’s Greg Biffle grabbed titles at Tri-Cities Raceway, Portland Speedway and the NASCAR All-American regional Late Model crown.

Running sixth during the 200 appeared to give Hargraves a solid chance at the SCR crown as his chief rival, Taylor Riddle, had fallen out early with accident damage.

“I was in the car thinking about the points and doing the math in my head for where we were running and where (Riddle) was going to finish. It never crossed my mind that someone else would creep into the picture until after the race was over,” Hargraves said.

That driver would be Riddle’s older brother, Owen, who started the night nine points behind Hargraves and ran second in the 200 to Jay Sauls. When coupled with a win in May and solid qualifying points during the 200, Riddle found himself the SCR champion by four points over Hargraves.

“Owen and I have raced together for a few years since back in our Yakima (Speedway) days and he earned the championship, that’s for sure,” Hargraves said. “Once we knew that the chance to equal Biffle’s record was gone we started our focus on winning the INSSA championship and beating (Stateline Speedway Late Model points leader) Blake (Williams) for that title. It would be a cool deal to win the SCR championship in 2011 then come back and win the Stateline title this season along with the INSSA deal. We’ll have to go into the weekend with a good set-up and try to keep Blake behind us.

Should Hargraves pull off the championships at Stateline and the INSSA title, he may do so without earning a main-event victory – proving that consistency is as important as race victories.

“We got a win last year at SCR that really helped seal the deal, and Owen’s win this year shows that a victory is going to help your points, no doubt. For our team, we will be happy to keep the nose clean and grab a top-five or even top-10 finish and see what that does for us,” Hargraves said. “The INSSA title looks like something we can wrap up just by starting the race, but with Stateline scoring points for its local division at the same time, we know Blake is in front of us by five (points) for their track title so it will make things interesting. I guess I’ll have to be sure to have all the options in my mind this time so something like the SCR deal doesn’t catch me off-guard again.”

Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday with trophy dash, heat races and main event action to follow.

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To reach Doug Pace email or follow him on Twitter @racingnewsource