RUBEN PARDO CLIMBS LEARNING CURVE TO TAKE COMMAND IN NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, BUSCH EAST SERIES SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTEST *Dion Ciccarelli Runner-Up At Halfway Point ...
RUBEN PARDO CLIMBS LEARNING CURVE TO TAKE COMMAND IN NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, BUSCH EAST SERIES SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CONTEST
*Dion Ciccarelli Runner-Up At Halfway Point
*John Freeman Also Breaks Into Top 10 At NHIS
*Class of 2006 Proves Talented and Committed
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 20, 2006) -- The annual Sunoco Rookie of the Year competition in the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series takes many forms. Sometimes a super-rookie arrives ready to race with the veterans on even terms from the season opener, like Brad Leighton in 1996, Ryan Moore in 2003, and Sean Caisse in 2005. Once there were even two rookies strong enough to win races in their freshman season, when Mike Johnson edged current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rookie Martin Truex Jr for the honors in 2000.
More likely, however, the entire rookie class starts on steep learning curve and the Sunoco Rookie title is determined by the driver, and the team, who prove the most dedicated students. For 2006, seven drivers signed up for the Sunoco Rookie program, and at mid-season, all remain firmly committed to the quest. In fact, of 42 possible starts (7 drivers in 6 races), the Class of 2006 has taken the green flag 41 times. Not since 2001, the class which produced Brain Hoar, Joey McCarthy, and Eddie MacDonald, have so many rookies been season-long regulars.
With three straight top 10 finishes, leading the Sunoco Rookies each time, Ruben Pardo has established a small but useful lead with his No. 12 SuperCuts/Family Dollar Dodge from the FitzContreras team, which is affiliated with the FitzBradshaw Racing team on the NASCAR Busch Series. Under the point system which awards the top rookie 10 points at each race and the second rookie nine points, dropping one point for each place, Pardo reached the halfway mark of the season with 54 points to 48 points for Dion Ciccarelli, the driver of the No. 84 Star Sales Ford for Jamerson Racing. Jeremy Clark ranks third with 45 points, followed by Pierre Bourque (41), John Freeman (39), Patrick Dupree (39), and Brent Cross (26). Ciccarelli was the top rookie finisher in the first two races of the season, and Freeman led the freshmen home at Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway. Freeman joined Pardo in the top ten in the New England 125 at New Hampshire International Speedway, marking the first time since 2001 that two Sunoco Rookie contenders have scored overall top 10's during their rookie campaign.
Pardo has led the rookies at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway, Lake Erie Speedway in North East, Pa., and most recently at NHIS, where he was sixth overall. Ruben has extensive experience in full-bodied stock cars in his native Mexico, but he explained that those cars are much lighter (2200 pounds vs. 3300 for the Grand National Division) and less powerful (350 horsepower vs. 580 to 600). In addition, oval track racing technique, both on short tracks and the NHIS and Dover superspeedways, is a new challenge.
"Every week I learn more about the car, about the tracks, and about the team. I'm happy with the team because they work so hard," Pardo commented at NHIS. He gave major credit for his front-running performances to the team's acquisition of former Busch East Series driver Paul Wolfe as full-time crew chief. Under Wolfe's guiding hand, Pardo has been the top rookie on Thompson's intermediate oval, Lake Erie's short track, and the NHIS superspeedway within a span of 16 days.
When asked which of the tracks he has raced on in the Busch East Series is his current favorite, he replied with a grin, "So far, I like this one the best by far!"
Pardo's road to the Sunoco Rookie title will not be an easy one, however. Dion Ciccarelli, the Maryland driver for New Jersey-based Jamerson Racing, made headlines when his team became the first in the Busch East Series to adopt the new composite body, which is being phased into the series as a cost-saving measure over the next few years. Drawing on the experience of selected NASCAR Busch Series races in past years, Ciccarelli has been a steady finisher with a 12th place performance at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn. as his best run to date.
Jeremy Clark and his Douglas Motorsports team entered the Sunoco Rookie sweepstakes with just a handful of races on paved tracks under their belts, despite an extensive dirt track resume in his native central New York. He came out of the box strong, second to Ciccarelli among rookies and 15th overall in the season opener at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, winning the POWERade Power Move of the Race Award along the way. He matched that finish at Thompson.
John Freeman stepped into the seat of the Barney McRae entry which carried Sean Caisse to the 2005 Sunoco Rookie title, and immediately showed himself to be the quickest rookie in qualifying at the first four races. Accidents in the first two events put him behind in points and gave McRae's crew an uphill battle, but his impressive seventh at NHIS could be the sign of a strong second half.
Pierre Bourque returned to racing after a break of nearly 15 years through an unusual path. The Ottawa, Ontario businessman was named a director of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, which rekindled the competitive instinct which had led him to a road racing career in North America and Europe in the 1980's. That in turn led to an alliance with former Daytona ARCA winner and driving school owner Andy Hillenburg to run the full Busch East Series. His best performances in the first half of the season were a pair of 17th places at Stafford and Thompson.
For Patrick Dupree, the Busch East Series is an experience on the road not unlike the travels of his stepfather, Wes Moody, who raced modifieds up and down the east coast from the 1950's to the early 1980's. Dupree, a modified winner himself at the Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y., charts a 16th place at Holland as his best Busch East Series finish.
The only Sunoco Rookie contender to miss a race so far in 2006 is Brent Cross, a former champion at the historic Chemung (N.Y.) Speedrome. Cross, who sat out the Stafford event, had his best run at Lake Erie where he finished 16th.
Past Busch East Series Sunoco Rookies of the Year have included Ricky Craven and Andy Santerre, proving that the hard road the Class of 2006 has chosen to take can lead to a highly prized destination.
The 2006 NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series resumes on Saturday night, July 29, with the Edge Hotel 150 at Adirondack International Speedway in Beaver Falls, N.Y.