BNS: Lee USA: Season opener race notes

Santerre scores season-opening victory at Lee USA Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, the defending 2002 NASCAR Busch North Series Champion, made a huge statement about his intentions to defend his title in 2003 by winning both the Bud...

Santerre scores season-opening victory at Lee USA

Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, the defending 2002 NASCAR Busch North Series Champion, made a huge statement about his intentions to defend his title in 2003 by winning both the Bud Pole and the season-opening Freedom 150 at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, New Hampshire on Sunday, April 27, 2003.

The 34-year old Santerre joined forces with Bessey Motorsports and owners, Joe and Nancy Bessey, during the off season. Some questioned his dramatic change, but Santerre knew all along it was the best possible scenario to improve his program.

"I am in the best situation I have ever been in since I started racing in NASCAR," the Cherryfield, Maine native confirmed. I have the majority of my team back from last year and the addition of two full-time employees helping in the shop and driving the truck. I am free to focus on my race car and do whatever I need to be competitive without having to worry about the daily operations of running a race team."

Last year left Santerre frustrated when it came to his qualifying efforts. Since there was only so much time per week to prepare the car, Santerre opted to focus more on his race package than on his qualifying set-up. Inadequacies in his qualifying package were evident throughout the season as he struggled to gain consistency. He knew this was the first aspect of his program he wanted to change this season.

"I struggled in qualifying last year," Santerre admitted. "I didn't worry about making the field, I just wasn't as consistent as I knew I should and could be. I made a conscious decision to focus more on the qualifying aspect of my race program."

The additional focus has already paid dividends as Santerre turned a lap of 15.673 (86.124 MPH) to score his 15th career Bud Pole and the first Bud Pole of the Busch North season for the Freedom 150 at Lee USA Speedway.

Off season rule changes, aligning the NASCAR Busch North Series with the Winston West Series to form the NASCAR Grand National Division, changed Bud Pole procedures and allowed Santerre to start at the front of the field rather than redraw his starting position.

The #6 Aubuchon Hardware/Brickmill Marketing Services Chevrolet started on the point and led for the first nine circuits battling side by side with Busch North veteran, Kelly Moore. Moore was anxious to lead early so Santerre let him go, opting to save his car for the later stages of the 150-lap event.

Pit strategy played into the equation at a lap 65 caution when Santerre's crew called him to pit road for two Goodyear Racing Eagles. Race leader, Kelly Moore also pitted. When the green flag flew again at lap 70, Santerre was 7th and the race was on to get back to the front of the field to battle for the lead.

Santerre followed Moore through the pack measuring his strengths and weaknesses.

"We (Moore) pitted one, two and came out in the middle of the field," Santerre said of his pit stop.. "We had a solid stop, my guys did a great job!" Santerre continues, "Not everyone had the same pit strategy that we did and several cars stayed out which mired us in the middle of the pack."

By lap 123, Santerre was 3rd behind Moore and race leader, Joey McCarthy. With time running out, he knew he had to make his move. The #47 of Moore was having trouble getting by McCarthy and Santerre was getting impatient. On a lap 129 restart, Santerre committed to go with Moore to the outside of McCarthy, but it was soon evident Moore couldn't complete the pass so Santerre went under both drivers for the lead.

Santerre took the point for the final time on lap 133 and pulled away from the field. A lap 143 restart continued to see Santerre pace the field and race unchallenged to the checkered flag.

"I couldn't be happier!" Santerre smiled in victory lane. "I wanted to prove we were as good as we were last year, if not better, and I think we did that today." Santerre adds, "I never used to like Lee, I had a hard time getting hooked up here, but I am started to like the track better every year."

Santerre's win marked the 14th of his career, tying him for 4th on the Busch North Series all-time win list with Bobby Dragon.

The #6 Aubuchon Hardware/Brickmill Marketing Services racing team will enjoy a week off before heading to Stafford Motor Speedway on May 9, 2003 for the New England Dodge Dealers 150.

-asa-

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