BIRES WINS TO NO ONE’S SURPRISE AT IOWA By Matt Kentfield
Sixth Challenge Series Win Comes In Dominating Fashion
Kelly Bires did not have much to prove Saturday night at Iowa Speedway. The 22-year-old had already clinched the 2006 ASA Late Model Challenge Series championship and Rookie of the Year titles before the green flag even dropped for Saturday’s final race of the season. He had already taken down five Challenge Series victories and six overall ASA Late Model wins on the year. He’s even been tabbed by Wood Brothers Racing to be a part of their Driver Development Program in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2007.
Even with all the accolades that have poured in for Bires and his WalTom Racing team, Bires still wanted to show that he and his #89 machine were the tandem to beat in Iowa. With all that the team has accomplished both this season and last, when driver Steven Leicht piloted the WalTom car to the ASALM title, Bires was already the favorite.
Bires built up six-second leads several times in the first half of the race, lapping cars at a blistering pace. Within a blink of an eye, only the top dozen cars were on the lead lap. The race seemed to be a carbon copy of the most recent ASALM Challenge Series big-track race at Milwaukee in August, when Bires dominated the entire event by a gigantic margin. With such a dominant car, why in the world would he and the team want to change gears at halfway? The answer was simple. Because they could and get away with it. That’s how dominant they were.
“We were picking up so much speed in the race that we were hitting the chip so hard. We just wanted to save the motor. It was a motor deal and a fuel deal. I didn’t want to run that motor at that rpm. We were close on fuel that second run, too. We were even close on the first run. We just decided to play it cool, hope for a couple cautions, and everything came out good.”
The only thing that got in Bires’ way were the influx of lapped cars. Thirteen cautions slowed the marathon event for a multitude of reasons, but mostly single-car spins. The incidents caused for cars of varying speeds racing around Iowa Speedway late in the race, causing Bires to work a little harder than expected behind the wheel.
Kelly Bires celebrates in victory lane at Iowa. (51 Photos)
“All those lapped cars were a pain in the butt. They were all over. They weren’t just high and they weren’t just low. They were racing all over the place. The top eight or nine guys all finished on the lead lap and stuff, so they did a good job as far as staying up front and staying in their lanes and running to their ability of where their cars were.
“Then there were some people that were a couple laps down that I felt like were running me like they were going for the win on the last lap. I think it’s because it’s a new, big track and some inexperience that they had.”
Bires' team working on changing the gears.
As if the ASA Late Model teams had forgotten, Bires backed up his position as the favorite Saturday night. Bires toyed with the rest of the field, even changing gears at the 10-minute halfway break of the 250-lap race to improve his car’s longevity, but still pulled out a dominating victory in Iowa. By leading the final 230 laps of the race, Bires proved that no matter when or where, if he and the WalTom team are at a track for an ASA Late Model race, there’s a pretty good chance everyone will be chasing them.
“This was one of the best cars we’ve had all year to drive, especially late,” said Bires. “It would be free the first 25 laps after the restart but then it would be good all the way through each of the 125’s. You usually get a car that’s loose like that, and if it’s good, it will tighten up at the end of the run. That’s what it did and it was perfect.
“But when we showed up here, the car was a piece of junk. We struggled, struggled, struggled. We threw everything plus the kitchen sink at it to try to get it to go right. We threw a bunch of stuff at it for qualifying and we qualified second, so I knew we may have hit on something and that we’d be good. We didn’t even have to make any real adjustments through the race, the only thing we had to do was change the gear at halfway.”
But even Bires admitted that perhaps part of the reason he was being raced so hard was because the rest of the ASA Late Model crowd are tired of chasing the #89 car every single race. From last year, the competition level has improved in the series, but there is still little competition for Bires and WalTom.
“It might have something to do with it,” said Bires of the other drivers’ jealousy causing the hard racing by the lapped cars. “I would probably think that if I was on the other end of it. I wouldn’t like getting beat either. We worked hard to do it this year, though. We started off the year with zero cars built. As the season got going, we built some cars and this Ford was the last thing we built. We’ve brought it to the last two races, and they were the first two for this car at Milwaukee and here, and we’ve pretty much pulled them both times.”
car lengths before we were and he was still faster than us. I’m not taking anything away from Kelly, he’s a phenomenal driver and that’s a phenomenal organization with great equipment. I wanted to win so bad, though. That was my one shot. I wasn’t going to wreck him. I wouldn’t do that because Kelly’s a good driver and we have had some good battles this year.”
Iowan Michael Annett, who started on the pole on Saturday, finished third behind Bires and Stump in front of his home-state crowd. Fellow Hawkeye Stater Landon Cassill was fourth in a backup car after a practice crash, while Chris Sevey rounded out the top-five. We’ll have the stories on many of the other front-runners later in the week in Leftovers.
Kris Stump's car was fast, but not fast enough.
Only one driver, Kris Stump, had a chance for Bires. Stump used the last of the many cautions to stage a last-ditch effort for victory. On the final restart of the race just a few laps short of the checkered flag, Stump got in the gas before Bires and pulled even with him going into the first turn, but was not able to complete the pass. Bires cruised to victory, while Stump finished second knowing that he tried his best to do the impossible Saturday – catch Kelly Bires.
“Those Fords are the way to go in this series now,” said Stump. “They’ve been kicking the Chevy’s butts this year and we’ve got an old, tired Chevy in this car. Heck, Kelly was off the throttle into turn one 15 to 20