Riddle goes back-to-back in Apple Cup

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YAKIMA — As complicated and chaotic as matters tend to get when men and machines are racing on the same half-mile oval, Owen Riddle simply went out Sunday afternoon and made it look easy.

Pace behind the leader for 100 laps, pass underneath cleanly and dash off to victory.

That was the straightforward and unhindered formula that helped the Naches driver defeat a 20-car field and capture his second straight 125-lap Super Late Model victory at the Yakima Speedway’s 47th annual Apple Cup.

Not only was Riddle’s sprint to the trophy and $4,000 winner’s prize an apparent breeze so was the entire featured race, which experienced only one yellow flag and required just 44 minutes to run.

Wenatchee’s Shane Mitchell, a consistent contender and past winner of the Apple Cup, dominated Saturday’s qualifying session, started on the inside pole and led Sunday’s first 100 laps comfortably. It was all part of a little teamwork.

Riddle, also impressive in qualifying, started on the outside pole and his team agreed with Mitchell’s crew to keep the pace aggressive enough to gap the field but not be adversarial toward each other. Pace each other for 100 laps, then go racing — that was the plan.

But nobody expected 44 minutes.

“By lap 90, with how fast the race was going and how well Shane was running, I had to get up there and start challenging. Laps were just flying by and there weren’t any yellows,” Riddle said. “It was time to go.”

Riddle probed the potential lines behind Mitchell and settled on an inside move, which he executed flawlessly on the homestretch of lap 100. Not only was Riddle pass decisive, but at the same time Mitchell began losing his bite on the track.

“We lost the overall grip, front and rear, over the last 25 and it’s hard to figure out why,” Mitchell said. “If there were a few cautions toward the end I could’ve cooled the tires down and had a better finish. It’s hard to say, but Owen had the car for the full distance and he deserved it. It was a good, clean, fun race.”

Motors and tires had to be stout in this one. When the single yellow flag flew, the race had covered 61 laps in 20 minutes. And the caution was for a simple spin out that was quickly cleaned up, so it was back to racing in a hurry.

That pace in a season-opening event took its toll. Three-time Apple Cup champion Pete Harding was behind the wall with a clutch problem before 10 laps had been run, and former Apple Cup winners Mike Longton and Dan Obrist were in and out of the pits several times before the halfway point.

Wenatchee’s Garrett Evans turned in his typically solid run, finishing third to join Riddle and Mitchell in the winner’s circle. Three locals cracked the top 10 — Wapato’s JC Wofford (fifth), Naches’ Tayler Riddle (seventh) and Yakima’s Erick Hargraves (eighth).

Even when pulling away from Mitchell at the end, Riddle was plenty worried about the unexpected. He managed to overcome a late-race oil leak to win last year’s Apple Cup, and he was dominating the Fall Classic at the end of the season when a lapped-traffic incident took him out.

“I couldn’t help thinking, ‘What’s going to go wrong this time?’ Fortunately we came in clean,” Riddle said. “This feels good after the way last year ended (at the Fall Classic). We managed to not burn up the tires trying to pass Shane, and we had something left at the end. It was an amazingly fast race and a lot of fun.”

Wenatchee’s Andy Stibal opened defense of his season title in the West Coast Street Stocks Series with a victory in Sunday’s 60-lap main event, and Nick Carey captured the Columbia River Legends race.

The Speedway’s reigning track champion in Pure Stocks, Chris Marang, won the season-opening 30-lap main, and Chris VanAmburg was first in the 40-lap Hobby Sportsman race.

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