BRYAN REFFNER CARRIES 2004 MOMENTUM INTO ASLby Nikki Krone
Veteran Leads Top-Three Breakaway At Inaugural ASL Event At I-70
By the end of the 2004 ASA National Tour, Bryan Reffner was one of the hottest drivers in the series, ending the year with a win and three second-place finishes in the final six races of the season and moving from eighth to second in the final point standings, just a few points away from his second championship.
However, when the ASA folded at the end of the season, it left Reffner with all this momentum and no place to put it.
On the frontstretch, Reffner, grinning from ear-to-ear, was greeted with cheers from the crowd as he exited his No. 80 Swiss Colony Chevrolet.
“Anytime you win any race, it’s a great thing,” said Reffner. “To be put in the record books for this deal is a great thing. To me, to win at I-70, it means a lot. I’ve come here and run some races and been fast, but never made it to the end, so this one means a lot to me.”
Beebe stayed close behind Reffner for most of the race. While he got several looks at the lead, he was never able to get close enough to make the move and had to settle for second place.
“The first half of the race, I was really evenly matched with Bryan,” said Beebe. “The second half, I think on our first long green run, I was a little better than him. He pulled out on me when I tried to get under him on one restart, then he got a run and got out on me, but I ran him back down.”
Bryan Reffner dominated the inaugural ASL event at I-70 Speedway on Saturday night. (ADVANTAGE Motorsports Photos)
Then along came the American StockCar League. The newly-formed series that utilizes ASA cars and ASA rules allowed Reffner to ride that momentum right into ASL’s race at I-70 Speedway in Odessa (MO) on Saturday.
First, Reffner recorded the fastest time during the early-morning practice. Then, after starting fifth on the grid following an invert, Reffner wasted no time making his move to the front, taking the top spot by lap 19.
Once he got there, there was no getting around him. Rick Beebe and Jarit Johnson gave it all they could, but Reffner was the first across the finish line, winning the ASL’s inaugural event, the "Speed51.com ASL 150".
A competition caution was called on lap 75, allowing the teams 10 minutes to evaluate their cars. The teams were allowed to do anything they wanted to the cars, except change the tires, which would result in a penalty. Teams checked their tire pressures and went underneath the hoods, while the drivers cooled off and planned their strategy for the remaining 75 laps. When the race restarted, 14 cars remained on the lead lap.
“Until we had that [half-way] caution, we were a little bit faster than [Reffner] was,” said Beebe. “He was loose getting in and I thought I was going to have a shot to get around him, but he did some adjusting on his car during the break and changed his line a little bit. He’s a smart
Former ASA mainstay Rick Beebe returned to I-70 Speedway for the ASL event and was right at home, coming home second.
racer, so he just kind of out-smarted me a little bit and I got loose at the end.”
It took newcomer Johnson a little longer to get into the fight. First he made his way around the cars of Peter Cozzolino and Jay Middleton; then he quickly caught up to the two front runners. However, much like Beebe on Reffner, Johnson had some looks but was never able to get close enough to Beebe to challenge for the second spot.
“The cars were really equally matched,” said Johnson, who is the younger brother to NASCAR Nextel Cup driver Jimmie Johnson. “Beebe would try to run down Reffner; then once he started pushing he would get loose and I would catch him. I just think we were all really close to being equal cars.”
For Reffner, changes made in Saturday’s practice were key to Saturday’s victory.
“We had really good forward bite,” said Reffner. “The tire Goodyear gives us here was a good tire, and it didn’t fall off, but it was hard to get forward bite. We worked on it in the practice and were able to get it. That was probably the key to winning the race for us.”
Reffner was thrilled with his win, but the two drivers who finished behind him were just as excited about their runs.
There were 33 drivers on Saturday’s entry list, but only 20 cars showed up. Maybe it was the weather, which was cool and wet on Friday, but turned bright and sunny on Saturday, or maybe it was the fear of the unknown in a brand new racing series that left many questioning whether or not to participate.
“I think there are a lot of guys that were a little hesitant to come to the first race,” said Beebe. “I-70, Salem and Winchester have always been three of the race tracks that we’ve gone to with the old ASA touring series that never drew big fields of cars. I think they’re somewhat hazardous racetracks and I think a lot of guys didn’t want to test the waters of the first race here. But I think at Hawkeye Downs (June 8th), it will be big.”
“I’ve been in that race position, where you talk yourself out of coming to these new series,” added Reffner. “People are going to find out the race went on without them and I think we’ll find a few more cars at the next one.”
In qualifying, Cozzolino recorded the fastest lap, but a six car invert put the No. 91 of Trevor Stewart on point for the Speed51.com 150. Behind Stewart was Middleton, Beebe, Ryan Matthews, Reffner, Cozzolino, Johnson, Andrew Morrissey, Landon Cassill and Greg Stewart, to round out the top 10.
From the drop of the green flag, it was pretty obvious who the top cars were, as Reffner, Beebe and Johnson moved to the front and led the pack around the high-banked oval. Behind them, the field settled down by the second half, with Middleton leading Cozzolino and Stewart around the track for positions fourth through sixth for the remainder of the race.
Jarit Johnson, Jimmie's younger brother, had a car that was good enough for third, but nothing more.
“This is my first race in an ASA-style car,” said Johnson, “so I was just here hoping for a top 10 and we end up getting third. I’m very ecstatic about that.”
Kansas native Beebe was all smiles as he stood on the frontstretch with his family, posed for pictures and was congratulated by friends and fans on his second-place run.
“I think the race was great,” said Beebe. “In general, I think we had some good competition. At least the top 10 cars were pretty evenly matched. It was a great show for the inaugural race with very few problems.”
There were seven cautions, including the half-way break, most of them taking place at the back of the pack.
While the ASL gives drivers a fairly inexpensive way to race their ASA-style cars, the situation isn’t perfect. Reffner is happy to have a place to race, but there is something missing.
“I hope that we can get back to an old ASA-type series with TV,” said Reffner. “It’s hard to have a touring series without TV. I just hope that we in the Midwest can get some form of racing that gets us back to that, because right now we’re hurting for it. This is good because it keeps these cars going around, but we still need to get a series that draws a lot of attention.”
There weren't a lot of cars at the ASL opener, and some might think it was because of how tough I-70 can be on cars and equipment.
The next event for the drivers of the ASL is June 8th at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While a low car count was an issue at I70, Johnson believes that Saturday’s race will draw more cars to future events.
”I think after this gets out there and people see it,” said Johnson, “I think its going to get people at the next race.”