Santerre Dominant in Early Stages; Suffers Uncharacteristic Parts Failure and Finishes 28th in 2nd Annual Toyota All Star Showdown
Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, three-time NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series Champion and driver of the Aubuchon Hardware Chevrolet, dominated his 50-lap King Taco Quad qualifying race at the 2nd Annual Toyota All Star Showdown, but experienced an uncharacteristic mechanical failure while leading the 150-lap main event, finishing 28th.
Santerre and his Bessey Motorsports crew came to Irwindale Speedway with one goal - winning the Showdown and avenging their 2nd place finish in 2003.
"We worked hard in practice," the 36-year old Santerre admitted. "We weren't blistering fast, but we kept working the car on old tires getting it to handle. We had the best practices we have had as a team all year this weekend. We made a lot of changes, tried some new things and learned a lot in those couple of hours."
As the reigning champion of the Busch North Series, Santerre started his King Taco Quad qualifying race in the 15th and final position. Santerre's game plan was simple, race hard and pass as many cars as possible at the start of the race then let the car do the rest.
At the drop of the green flag, Santerre immediately began advancing positions. His car was a rocket on the bottom of the race track and he used that line to get to the front of the field by lap 25. He spent the final 25 laps trying different lines and learning all he could about the tires and the car.
"That was fun!" Santerre stated upon exiting his car. "Man, we were handling! The car was a rocket on the bottom!" Santerre continued, "I knew we had to get through the field while they were bunched up, but even I was surprised at how well the car ran on the bottom. We tried a bunch of different lines during practice and worked hard on getting the car to race on the bottom on old tires. The bottom isn't the fastest way around this track, but it is the way to pass and it worked for us here tonight."
Santerre and crew were ready for the 150-lap Toyota All Star Showdown. They knew they had a great car and were ready to race.
"We have a good car," Santerre commented to reporters prior to the start of the race. "If we can stay out of trouble and get a good invert position at the start of the final 50, we should have a chance to win this thing."
Santerre and crew had no idea their evening of racing was going to come to a premature end.
Santerre took the green flag on the outside of row one. He raced hard into turn one on the outside of the #88 West competitor, Dave Gilliland, winner of the first Grand National Division King Taco Quad qualifying race. Gilliland took the advantage coming off turn four until Santerre was able to cut to the bottom and make the pass to take the lead at lap three.
Santerre built up a six car length lead by lap 13 when he came off turn four and felt the rear end give. He could do nothing but wait for the field to pass and dive onto pit road. There was nothing the team could do but park the car for the night.
Santerre's retirement from the race at lap 13 proved the first time in his nine-year Busch North Series career where he had a mechanical failure during an event.
"Man, we never break," Santerre confirmed. "Never! I hate this for the guys and Aubuchon Hardware and Castle Chemical. We wanted to end our 3rd championship season a winner and we had car and team enough to do it." Santerre continues, "If we had to break, at least we did it leading the race. This car was a rocket ship and we are proud of our showing, everyone knew we were here."
Santerre experienced his first DNF since 2000 when involved in a race ending accident at New Hampshire International Speedway.
"My guys wanted to put the other rear end in the car and go back out," Santerre explained. "But we weren't running for points and there was no chance to win so I decided to park it."
Santerre's decision to not go back out proved to be insightful as the last 50 laps of the event turned ugly.
A wreck on lap two of the final 50 took out the #88 who led at the end of the first 100 laps. Had Santerre been the leader after the first 100, he might have been involved in the melee.
Crash after crash diminished the field to a mere 12 cars running at the end of the All Star event.
"I am glad we didn't go back out," Santerre said after the race. "The last 50 laps was a disgrace. I actually got to watch in the grandstands and I didn't see any give and take out there. On a track like Irwindale, there is no reason 150 laps could not be run without a caution flag, there is plenty of racing room out there." Santerre continues, "No one used their head and cars got wrecked because of it. After such great qualifying races and a good 100 laps, there was no need for what happened. Too many cars were wrecked."
Santerre and his Aubuchon Hardware crew are finished racing for the season. They will accept their Championship trophies at their annual banquet December 17, 2004 at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
For more information on the team, log onto www.andysanterre.com, www.aubuchon.com or www.castlepaskpower.com.