Auburn’s Barkshire hopes he’s soon banging bumpers with NASCAR’s big stars

Jeff Barkshire is stepping on the accelerator, weaving his way through heavy traffic and putting himself closer to the front of stock car’s fast lane.

Jeff Barkshire is stepping on the accelerator, weaving his way through heavy traffic and putting himself closer to the front of stock car’s fast lane.

No longer just another fresh face tackling NASCAR’s largest touring series on the West Coast, Barkshire is making considerable noise these days.

The 25-year-old driver from Sumner continues to keep the pieces of his small-budget Dodge team together while delivering a steady string of top-five finishes. Such a routine could parlay into something more lucrative down the road.

Like a call-up to stock car’s major leagues.

What young gun from the Northwest wouldn’t mind a ticket to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series? Washington natives Derrike Cope, Chad Little, Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne found their way to the Cup circuit.

Could Barkshire be next?

“Jeff has the desire and he works hard,” said Steve Dykman, the team’s crew chief. “He will stay up all night trying to figure something out if he has to. He’s not afraid to put in the work.”

Barkshire, a racer since he first buckled the harnesses inside a quarter-midget at age 9, feels he has what it takes to compete against the best.

“I believe I do,” said Barkshire, who grew up in Auburn and works as a truck driver for FedEx Freight when he isn’t competing on banked ovals. “Hopefully, somebody else will believe that, too.”Barkshire returns to home asphalt today for the NASCAR Camping World Series West 150 at Monroe’s Evergreen Speedway. Barkshire, who drives the Centennial Batteries Charger, will look to atone for last year’s collapse at Monroe when he ran out of gas in the late going after leading the 150-lap race for 90 laps.

“Confusion,” Barkshire said of a pit stop mistake that led to the disappointing finish. The crew thought it had topped off the fuel tank when it actually had not.

No matter, Barkshire will get another chance this weekend. He comes to Monroe on a bit of a roll this month – a third-place finish at Roseburg, Ore., on July 11, and a fourth at Irwindale, Calif., on July 4.

He stands fourth in the point standings on the strength of seven top-10 finishes, including four top-five efforts, in eight starts this season. He leads the race for Rookie of the Year honors.

Snaring an elusive win would be nice.

“We’re kind of taking it as it comes,” Barkshire said. “The goal is to take it all the way in racing, to be picked up by someone. And if you can’t do that, you try to run for the championship in the series and try to chase down more money.”

At a series race at Iowa earlier this year, Barkshire got a chance to shine against some Cup regulars. A day after capturing the $1 million Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte, N.C., Kahne joined Barkshire’s field for a Sunday drive in the Midwest.

Barkshire, who qualified up in the front row, led early on and waged a duel with Kahne before a lapped car sent the Dodge into the fence. The dismal ending ruined an “awesome” experience for the driver.

Barkshire is by no means a rookie in the saddle. He won his share of championships and big races regionally in open wheel and stock car touring series.

He was Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Elite Division Northwest Series, and even captured the prestigious Fall Classic on Yakima’s half-mile track.

Barkshire made an immediate and successful jump to the West series with the support of sponsorship and his dad, Bob, who owns the car.

He continues to learn and build his resumé as others watch.

At Iowa, one of those watching was NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. They shared a good talk, and Barkshire left encouraged about his prospects.

“Some of my assets lie with the fact that compared with other drivers, I do everything on the car,” Barkshire said. “It’s important for a driver to understand the mechanics, the body, the rear end gears.

“I’ve worked on everything but the engine,” he said. “It’s important to feel and drive what you know.”

NASCAR Camping World Series West 150

• Race: Part of the Washington 500, a four-division race program).

• Track: Evergreen Speedway (.646-mile semi-banked oval), Monroe

• Green flag: First race 5 p.m. Saturday. Gates open 1:30 p.m.

• Information, tickets: Call the speedway office at 360-805-6100 or visit Tickets vary, from $10 for children ages 6-11 to $45 reserved seating.