Oat Barber Motorsports Park
Lester and Lewis Take Another Daytona Prototype Top-10; Race as High as Third
Even triple digits temperatures were not able to overcome the commitment and effort of Southard Motorsports in Sunday's Barber 250 presented by Bradley Arant. The No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus- Riley broke back into the top-10 of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype (DP) class with a ninth-place finish here at Barber Motorsports Park. The finish matches the best result of the season for the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team - the No. 3 also took ninth at Homestead- Miami Speedway in March and Virginia International Raceway in April. Despite 102 (F) degree ambient temperature and draining humidity, the combination of strong race strategy, top-form pit stops and the driving efforts of Grand-Am race winner Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and former NASCAR Truck Series regular Bill Lester (Atlanta), the Powell, Ohio-based team ran consistently within the top-10 throughout the day. A keystone team in the DP class, Southard Motorsports ran as high as third well into the race's second half.
Southard Motorsports No. 3 on track. Image by Juha Lievonen As temperatures inside the cockpit of the Riley chassis climbed beyond 110 degrees and track temperatures spiked over 140, the action started early for qualifying driver Lewis. Starting from position 13, Lewis was up into the top-10 of the intensely competitive DP field by the third lap. Between the team's first and second pit stops Lewis was embroiled in one of the hardest fought battles of the race as positions fifth through seventh raced nose-to- tail. Lewis came out the victor of the trio taking fifth position in a dramatic inside move on the No. 10 as the string of cars raced into the first of 16-corners on the 2.3-mile circuit. Seeing an opening amidst his direct DP competitors and a bevy of GT cars at the end of the front-straightaway, Lewis made a late braking move that gave the team fifth position on lap 49. He held the spot until moving to fourth seven laps later when the No. 99 made a pit stop. Three laps later, Southard Motorsports would have to surrender third for a stop of its own that included fuel, tires and a driver change. Taking over the reigns of the No. 3, now in 11th position, Lester became embroiled in his own battle with the group of cars running near the top-10. Despite falling back briefly to 13th due to a penalty for jumping the start, the eight-time Rolex 24 At Daytona starter found the car's rhythm and began to regain positions. Lester would return the No. 3 to the top-10 with less than 20 minutes remaining in the two hour and 45-minute race. Five minutes late Lester overtook the ninth-place runner and had his sights set on position eight. A late-race caution with 12 minutes remaining would take nine additional minutes to clean. Once back to green flag racing, Lester came just 0.897 seconds from capturing the team's best finish of the season at the checkered flag.
With yet another strong result to show for their effort, Southard Motorsports will now have one week to rest after the punishing battle in Birmingham. On August 1 they will travel to Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve where the heat on the track will be from the competition on the picturesque, temporary street/park course. The two-day event will see the green flag wave at 4:15 local, Quebec time with television coverage on SPEED starting at 8 PM (ET). The intense schedule does not stop there. Southard will be racing a 250 mile event around the "short course" at Watkins Glen in support of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on August 8.
QuotesSteve Southard, Owner: "Under the hot and humid conditions we had here at Barber, I think this race was probably the most difficult we have dealt with this year. The crew and drivers deserve all the credit. Perfect pit stops and race strategy brought the results we wanted. We're continuing to gain with the car and we have all the other pieces in place. We are looking forward to moving on to Montreal."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "It is just awesome to be able to run up front two races in a row. I knew coming into this race I was going to have to be extremely smart in the race car. Smart being a combination of being as aggressive as you possibly can but not abusing the tires and not putting a wheel wrong. You're doing all of that at probably the hottest race with the hottest cockpit that we'll get at any track all season. It took a lot of focus and concentration. When Steve said that they would want me in there for a long stint I knew I had to take care of the car and the tires. I really paid attention to traffic. I tried to use the GT traffic as wisely as I could while trying to put as much pressure on every Daytona Prototype as I could. We've been right there all year and we were right there today. The Southard guys have been working so hard and it is great to see it coming together for the whole team."