LOS ANGELES (Jan. 3, 2000) (Note: The top-10 drivers in the standings will be honored during the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Awards Banquet at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on Friday. Former Featherlite Modified Series, NASCAR Touring champion Mike McLaughlin finished ninth in the standings, his fifth straight year on stage at the banquet.)
The setting was Nashville Speedway USA. Mike "Magic Shoes" McLaughlin had just parlayed a seventh-place finish in the seventh race of the season to take a 5-point lead over Elton Sawyer atop the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division standings.
Life was good for the driver of the No. 34 Goulds Pumps Chevrolet owned by Cicci-Welliver Racing.
Unfortunately, from that point on McLaughlin's season played out like a sad country music song. It was at that juncture that he parted ways with his luck, and by the end of the season he had parted ways with his team of six years.
After that weekend in Nashville, McLaughlin's average finish in the next four races was a dismal 32.2. His average in the first seven had been 11.1. That pretty much sent the team into a tailspin that it couldn't recover from in order to finish in the top-5 in points a third consecutive year.
McLaughlin's Magic Shoes kept stepping closer and closer to the top spot in the standings...10th in 1996, 4th in '97, 3rd in '98. But on the way to the head table at the banquet, McLaughlin stubbed his toes.
For the first time in three years, there were no victories for McLaughlin (he had won twice in each of the previous two years). He finished ninth in the final standings, much lower than he anticipated. Despite his disappointment, though, there were still a few highlights.
Aside from his week atop the point standings, McLaughlin finished third in both the Lysol 200 at his home track, Watkins Glen International and the All Pro Bumper to Bumper 300 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte. He put in top-10 runs at Texas Motor Speedway, Gateway International Raceway, Dover Downs International Speedway and Memphis Motorsports Park. He ended the season with six straight finishes in the top-20.
But those highlights were too few and too far between for someone who was looking to make a move on the NASCAR Busch Series championship at the onset of the season. Those expectations proved to be too heavy even for "Magic Shoes" to carry.
McLaughlin will hit the restart button with a new team and a new outlook. He will be running one of George deBidart's Innovative Motorsports cars next season, with sponsor Goulds Pumps coming over with him from his previous team.