Southard Motorsports Takes Daytona Top-12 After Leading Brumos 250
Entering Thursday night's Brumos 250 at Daytona, Southard Motorsports hoped that they had something for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype's second appearance of the season at Daytona International Speedway (DIS). The Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team used the driving talents of Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and Bill Lester (Atlanta), brilliant pit stops and the right race strategy to put the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus- Riley into the race's lead. The Powell, Ohio-based team stayed in the top-eight for most of the race before an incident with a GT car dropped them to 12th at the checkered flag.
Unlike last weekend's rain-soaked Mid-Ohio round, the rains that threatened at the 8 PM (ET) start of the Brumos 250 never materialized allowing the first 38 laps to be run caution-free. It was that long, full speed run that allowed the race strategy of the Southard effort to work so successfully. At full racing speed Lewis challenged all comers breaking into the top-10 for the first time on lap eight. He would not relinquish the top- 10 moving higher and higher with each successive lap.
Lewis took over the top spot on lap 19, just short of his first scheduled stop for fuel. Confident that he could have continued to lead for several more laps, the Southard team held true to their strategy and brought Lewis in on lap 21. The Richie Howe-led crew went to work speeding Lewis back on course in 14th; a strong stop under green flag conditions. Having tasted the top-three for 18 minutes before the pit stop, the multi-time Grand-Am sanctioned event winner began to move back through the ranks. The team's strategy again played to near-perfection. By lap 38, when he turned the wheel over to Lester, Lewis was running seventh and looking higher.
Despite being officially known as a "rookie" in the Daytona Prototype class, Bill Lester is far from a motorsports rookie or a road racing novice. Like Lewis, he drew from all of that experience, and multiple NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series starts at DIS, in his second Daytona appearance of the season. With no other pit stops scheduled, Lester began his march towards the front placing the Southard entry back in the top-10 on lap 41. He was ninth one lap later. While briefly falling back to 13th, Lester again returned to the top-10 with ten laps to go. With eight laps remaining he was eighth. The team has earned multiple top-10 finishes in 2008 but eighth would have been the high-water mark of the year thus far for the team that has enjoyed two podium finishes in its Grand-Am history.
That season-high finish, which looked all but assured when the green flag waved with only five laps remaining, disappeared when the No. 69 GT class car pushed the red, white and blue prototype into the outside wall. Despite Lester's best efforts to move higher to avoid contact at the "Bus Stop" chicane, the Southard entry first hit the wall with right-side of the car and then the GT car into the left side as it continued up into Lester. The meeting of the two cars spun the GT car in front of Lester causing the nose damage. Meanwhile, the angle at which the GT car sat on the track and with the No. 3 pushing it caused the 69 to become airborne during which it did one flip before coming to rest on its wheels. The resulting damage to the No. 3 and the necessity of the stop dropped the Southard effort to the 12th at the finish. Again the Southard crew performed a shining stop returning Lester to the track on the lead lap. No one was hurt in the incident.
On July 19, Southard Motorsports and the Rolex Series will travel to Alabama and the pristine Barber Motorsports Park for the next round of the 2008 Daytona Prototype season.
QuotesSteve Southard, Owner: "You never know what to expect when you race at Daytona and this time was no exception. There were as many strategies as there were cars running and once you made a commitment to yours you were stuck with it. The race played into our strategy. If it weren't for the accident at the end we probably would have had our best finish of the year. Shane did a great job in his stint and turned the car over to Bill who never put a wheel wrong in his stint. It's unfortunate that the driver of the GT car didn't see Bill passing him at the end of the race but at least no one was hurt. This was a very good race for us. Shane and Bill did an excellent job, the crew had three great pit stops, especially that stop to repair the nose, and our strategy worked out. We still have work to do but we are moving in the right direction."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "It's been a long time coming to lead a race again. We have had some good success in the Series with fastest race laps, podiums and led laps before and it is good to be back in that position again. The Southard guys have all been working so hard that strong runs like this are really gratifying. We know we can do it and now we just need to keep stepping up like we did this week!"