Close Votes Decide 2004 Auto Racing All-America Team
BURBANK, Calif. - In some of the closest voting ever for the annual Auto Racing All-America Team, 15 have been chosen in seven categories by members of the motorsports press.
With two drivers selected First Team in each category, it was not the winner but the driver in second place who made it by the thinnest of margins -- one vote -- in two categories and by just three in a third. The driver on the short end of that vote, plus the person in fourth place, make up the Second Team with all drivers receiving at least five percent of the vote receiving Honorable Mention. So intent were the voting members of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association on the top candidates that in two categories no Honorable Mention was named, which has not happened in more than 30 years.
Vote totals are not released until after the AARWBA banquet Jan. 15 in Pomona, Calif., on Jan. 15. At that time the driver receiving the most votes, regardless of category, will be announced as the 35th winner of the Jerry Titus Award -- on an All-America team it is racing's Heisman Trophy.
In the Open Wheel category, IRL IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan was never threatened as the category leader. Behind him in the tally, ChampCar champion Sébastien Bourdais from France and Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice ran neck-and-neck in the balloting until a late spurt gave Bourdais a three-vote bump at the end. Rice shares Second Team with ChampCar's Paul Tracy. Kanaan and Bourdais are two of 13 drivers named an All-American for the first time, seven of them earning First Team honors.
In a record-shattering year the Drag Racing category produced an even tighter duel. John Force, on the strength of his record 13th NHRA Powerade Funny Car championship, managed to maintain about a 10-vote margin over the champions of the other two NHRA pro categories, each of whom had record years of their own. It is also Force's 13th time as an All-America, his 12th on the First Team.
When the dust had settled, Tony Schumacher was one vote up on Greg Anderson. Schumacher, in his second time on the team (both First Team) had set a new Top Fuel victory mark with his 10th win at the season finale, but Pro Stock racer Anderson had rewritten the NHRA standard for all pro categories with his 15 victories, 16 poles, 19 final-round appearances, 76 round wins and a 742-point championship margin. Sharing Second Team with Anderson is another champion, IHRA Top Fuel king Clay Millican.
The third category with the cliffhanger finish was At Large, which includes a number of miscellaneous series. Two-time champion Bill Auberlen finished almost 20 votes ahead of everyone else, having won both the GT class of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the Touring Car class of the SCCA Speed World Challenge. It is his third All-America, but his first time on the First Team. Behind him a three-way dustup was taking place. It would be Brazilian Thiago Medeiros, winner of the IRL's Infiniti Pro Series, becoming a first-time All-America joining Auberlen on the First Team, one vote ahead of Scott Speed, who had won two different Formula Renault championships in Europe. Off-Road racer Rob MacCachren was ahead of both of them for a while as the ballots came in, eventually finishing five votes behind Speed.
The Stock Car category was no surprise this year, with NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch and runner-up Jimmie Johnson miles ahead of everyone else after they finished the year just eight points apart in the championship. That also ended up the margin separating them in the All- America vote, Busch ahead as they virtually lapped the field. It is Busch's second selection as an All-America, and the third for Johnson, but the first time either had been chosen First Team. With less than half their vote total, Jeff Gordon and rookie of the year Kasey Kahne made the Second Team.
The Short Track category is led by The King and The Kid. Steve Kinser, who won his 19th World of Outlaws title, extended his all-time All- America records to 22 total appearances, 17 on the First Team. He is joined by a first-timer, 19-year-old USAC National Midget Champion Bobby East, who won races in six different USAC series during the year including all three national series. Eight votes separated the two, who more than doubled the tally of Second Teamers Danny Lasoski, the WoO runner-up, and Jay Drake, the USAC Sprint Car champ.
Canadian Ron Fellows was the easy winner of the Road Racing category after becoming the first three-time champion in the American Le Mans Series. The GTS class co-champ (with Johnny O'Connell) also won races in World Challenge and had notable second-place finishes at the 24 Hour of Le Mans and a Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen. He is on the All-America team for a seventh time, his third on the First Team.
Joining him are Scott Pruett and Max Papis, teammate champions of the Daytona Prototype class of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. This year AARWBA instituted a change that endurance racing co-drivers such as Pruett and Papis who share virtually the same record and thus share their championship (not tied for it), also would share the vote for All-America honors. It is Pruett's eighth time on the team, his sixth on the First Team, but for Papis winning his first-ever championship of any kind it is also the Italian's first All-American selection. Virtually tied for Second Team are the two drivers who also tied for the SCCA Trans-Am Championship -- Paul Gentilozzi and Tommy Kendall. The series' tiebreaker rule favored Gentilozzi and the AARWBA vote had him one count ahead of Kendall.
The Touring Series category is led by two NASCAR drivers who both won their first championships and their first All-America votes. Martin Truex Jr. won the Busch Series title while veteran Bobby Hamilton took the Craftsman Truck Series crown. Behind them, yet another tie -- ARCA champ Frank Kimmel and Busch series runner-up Kyle Busch -- received identical votes for Second Team.
Earning Honorable Mention were Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin from Nextel Cup, the pairing of JJ Lehto/Marco Werner from American LeMans, USAC Silver Crown king Dave Steele, Busch North champ Andy Santerre, Toyota Atlantic champion Jon Fogarty, and SCCA ProRally champ Patrick Richard. No honorable mentions were awarded in Open Wheel or Drag Racing.
<pre> FIRST TEAM
OPEN WHEEL: Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais STOCK CAR: Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson ROAD RACING: Ron Fellows, Max Papis/Scott Pruett DRAG RACING: John Force, Tony Schumacher SHORT TRACK: Steve Kinser, Bobby East TOURING SERIES: Martin Truex Jr., Bobby Hamilton AT LARGE: Bill Auberlen, Thiago Medeiros
SECOND TEAM OPEN WHEEL: Buddy Rice, Paul Tracy STOCK CAR: Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne ROAD RACING: Paul Gentilozzi, Tommy Kendall DRAG RACING: Greg Anderson, Clay Millican SHORT TRACK: Danny Lasoski, Jay Drake TOURING SERIES: Kyle Busch, Frank Kimmel AT LARGE: Scott Speed, Rob MacCachren
HONORABLE MENTION (At least 5% of the vote) OPEN WHEEL: none STOCK CAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Mark Martin ROAD RACING: JJ Lehto/Marco Werner DRAG RACING: none SHORT TRACK: Dave Steele TOURING SERIES: Andy Santerre AT LARGE: Jon Fogarty, Patrick Richard