Mike Johnson keeps strategic options open as Busch North Series makes second 2002 stop at Beech Ridge in Irving Oil 150, Saturday, August 24. SCARBOROUGH, Me.-- "To pit or not to pit, that is the question." William Shakespeare never saw a...
Mike Johnson keeps strategic options open as Busch North Series makes second 2002 stop at Beech Ridge in Irving Oil 150, Saturday, August 24.
SCARBOROUGH, Me.-- "To pit or not to pit, that is the question."
William Shakespeare never saw a Busch North Series race, but that version of Macbeth's dilemma sums up the issue facing drivers and crew chiefs approaching this Saturday's Irving Oil 150 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. In the Irving Oil 150 one year ago, Mike Johnson pitted with the rest of the contenders, took fresh tires, and ran down the leaders to win. This spring, the same Mike Johnson took the lead early, never ventured to pit road, and won again. As with Macbeth, the choice isn't easy, and the stakes are high.
The Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring makes its second and final visit of 2002 to the Cusack family's popular one-third mile oval on August 24 for a one-day program that begins with registration and inspection at 10 a.m. Practice follows from 12 noon to 2 p.m., with Bud Pole Qualifying at 5:15 p.m, and the Irving Oil 150 at approximately 9 p.m. A full program of NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge action is also on the evening's agenda.
Mike Johnson, who has driven the Johnson Lumber Ford to victory lane in two of the last three Busch North races at Beech Ridge, says there are no trade secrets to the historic oval in the pine woods near Portland. "I wish I was holding a bunch of secrets," he responded. "We've had good luck there. My crew chief, Jason Janvrin, seems to find a pretty good setup. The couple of times we've won it's been due to strategy, like not pitting the last time. I don't know that it will work every time," he continued.
In fact, the last four Busch North Series races at Beech Ridge have found the pit or no-pit strategies each enjoying a 50% success rate. The series made three appearances at the track in 2001, with Mike Olsen taking the first round in a "spin and win" performance, while Dale Quarterley led virtually all the way in the finale. Clearly, there's no way to know in advance which choice will prevail.
According to Mike Johnson, pit strategy doesn't get locked in after practice or even in a last-minute, pre-race huddle. "It usually comes after 20 or 30 or 40 laps," he noted, explaining "If the car stays really consistent, you can think about going the whole way. Most of the tracks this year, we've had to pit, but there are some tracks that aren't as hard on the tires."
Some of the tire behavior comes from the track surface- new or old, smooth or abrasive- and some from factors like temperature and the other classes that are racing on the same program. Track shape also plays a role, and not in the way you might expect. In fact, bowl-shaped Beech Ridge comes up easier on tires in Mike Johnson's book. "The tracks that have big straights and tight corners are a lot harder on tires with a lot of hard braking and a lot of cornering that wears down the tires," he explained. "Tracks that are kind of round, where here's not much straightaway, you're not even at full throttle. Instead, you're feathering the gas and turning all the time, and that's actually easier on the tires."
Of course, it will take more than pit strategy to win Saturday's Irving Oil 150. The ability to turn fast laps from green to checkered flag is always a driver's most important advantage, and racing luck plays a part as well, especially on a crowded short track. When all the strategic cards have been played, Mike Johnson likes his chances of making it three out of four. "It was a close race last time," he declared. "I just hope we can go up there and do the same thing."
SCHEDULE: Saturday, August 24
12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. Practice
5:15 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying (pos. 1-25)
9:00 p.m. (approx.) Irving Oil 150
NOTES OF INTEREST:
* You can take your pick of who is the defending champion of this race. Last fall's Busch North Series race at Beech Ridge, held in September, was won by Dale Quarterley. He led all but two laps on double-file restarts when the outside car nosed ahead at the line. Mike Olsen, Martin Truex Jr., Mike Johnson, and Tracy Gordon completed the top five.
* The event titled the Irving Oil 150 in 2001 was held in July, with Mike Johnson outrunning Dave Dion, Quarterley, Truex, and Olsen. Johnson pitted at lap 96 and was back in the lead by lap 119. It was Irving's first sponsored event, and drew one of the largest crowds in Beech Ridge history. Irving is also the sponsor of Busch North Series competitor Travis Benjamin.
*This season's first Busch North race at Beech Ridge, the PTM Racing 150 in June, was dominated by Mike Johnson, who led the last 132 laps in winning his second BRMS race in three starts. He held off Matt Kobyluck, Andy Santerre, and Kelly Moore for the win. Eddie MacDonald held second for much of the latter stages before sliding to fifth. Nevertheless, it was MacDonald's first career top five finish.
* Brian Hoar won his first career Bud Pole at this June's PTM Racing 150 with a track record of 15.402 seconds, 77.912 miles per hour. Track records have been set at all but one Busch North Series track in 2002, the first year the series has competed on Goodyear Eagle bias-ply tires.
* Tracy Gordon and Dale Shaw have each won three Busch North Series races at Beech Ridge. Mike Johnson has won twice, and single victories have been scored by Kelly Moore, Andy Santerre, Dave Dion, and Brad Leighton, Mike Olsen, and Dale Quarterley.
* Beech Ridge Motor Speedway opened in 1949 and operated until 1986 with an oiled dirt surface. The track was paved with asphalt in 1987 and became a member of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge in 1995. Notable driving alumni of "The Ridge" include journalist and broadcaster Dick Berggren, the track record holder on dirt, and two-time Busch North Series champion Brad Leighton, who was the track sportsman champion in 1990. Leighton won the late model feature preceding the Busch North race last September.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Each of the last four Busch North Series races at Beech Ridge has produced either a first-time race winner or a first-time Bud Pole winner. Mike Olsen has one of each-- race win in June 2001 and Bud Pole in July 2001, while Dale Quarterley won his first race here in September 2001 and Brian Hoar his first Bud Pole in June 2002.