The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. A cliche to be sure, but an accurate description of the fates of Andy Santerre and Mike Olsen in the rain-postponed Sylvania 125 presented by Lowe's at NHIS on a crystal clear Monday...
The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. A cliche to be sure, but an accurate description of the fates of Andy Santerre and Mike Olsen in the rain-postponed Sylvania 125 presented by Lowe's at NHIS on a crystal clear Monday morning.
Santerre won at NHIS in 1999 and again in 2000 as a part-timer with the Busch North Series. Since rejoining the series full-time in 2002, he had recorded four second place finishes behind three different drivers, including a loss by inches to Brad Leighton in May 2002. This time he broke through in typical Santerre fashion. He qualified eleventh, worked his way to the front patiently while saving his car for the end, and took the point from Mike Gallo with less than 20 laps to go.
For Olsen, a long weekend which never quite came together came completely undone on a restart just before the halfway mark. A car directly in front of him missed a shift, Olsen checked up, and Dale Shaw was left with nowhere to go. Shaw knocked Olsen into the inner wall and the damage knocked him out of a realistic shot at the title.
Among the teams assisting Olsen's Little Trees crew to get Olsen back on the track was a contingent from Santerre's Aubuchon Hardware team.
As a result of Santerre's win and Olsen's 30th, the margin is now 189 points. That's more than the maximum a race winner can receive, so Santerre can clinch his third straight title by finishing ahead of Olsen at Dover this weekend. Depending on leader bonus points, he can also clinch by finishing one position behind Olsen. Anything short of a Santerre disaster at Dover should leave him able to win the title merely by starting at Wall Township Speedway in the season finale.
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Anyone who thought Mike Gallo's Busch Pole at NHIS in September 2003 was a fluke certainly had their attitude adjusted on Monday. Driving for an new, unsponsored team and in only his second race of the season, Gallo qualified outside the front row and then stayed in the lead pack despite the loss of the lower gears so important on restarts. At lap 83, remarkably, he took the lead and held it for over 20 laps before Andy Santerre was able to capitalize on Gallo's restart disadvantage. He slid back to fifth in the closing laps, but still recorded a Busch North career best, and made a huge impression for himself and Jim Burgess' JBR Racing team.
It's only fair to point out the presence of two-time Busch Series champion crew chief Steve Bird in Gallo's pit, but don't discount the talent of Mike Gallo behind the wheel. They'll be together again at Dover.
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CORRECTION: Monday's unofficial finish showed Brian Hoar as the winner of the PowerAde Power Move of the Race Award. While Hoar gained 22 places, he was ineligible for the award since his 33rd starting position was a result of his qualifying time being disallowed. The PowerAde award and $1,000 correctly goes to Troy Williams for advancing 16 places from 36th to 20th. The final race report reflects that change. We regret the error and offer apologies to both the Williams and Hoar teams.
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Other notable performances abounded in the Sylvanias 125. Paul Wolfe was a solid contender all day, swapping the lead with Kelly Moore and regaining second in the closing laps. Bobby Dragon's seventh place was his best superspeedway finish since returning to full-time action and the best ever for Mark Willoughby's team. Further down the order, Don Wagner made his NHIS debut with a lead-lap, top-20 run for Jim Pritchard's team, using a car purchased from Greg Schaefer. John Salemi made his Busch North Series debut coming home 23rd without a scratch on the car.
Then there were the noble efforts which came to naught. Kelly Moore led the most laps but cut a tire in the closing stages. Brad Leighton dropped out of the top five when he was forced up into the marbles on the final restart. Eddie MacDonald was flying on the outside, moving up to third, when he scraped the wall off turn four and fell to a final 19th, the last car on he lead lap. Sean Caisse looked solid in his first Busch North start until the youngster was swept up in the big turn four melee with Jamie Aube and Matt Kobyluck.
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Looking at the point standings with two races to go, Dale Quarterley displaced Kelly Moore from third and is within striking distance of Olsen, 67 points behind. Ryan Moore and Matt Kobyluck swapped spots, with Moore passing both Kobyluck and Mike Stefanik for fifth while Kobyluck dropped to seventh. Sixth st NHIS for Mike Johnson edged him ahead of Brian Hoar for ninth in the standings. Dave Dion replaced Jamie Aube in 15th, the final spot for an invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, but Dion will miss Dover.
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Milestones... Santerre moved into a tie with his car owner, Joe Bessey, for fifth on the NHIS winners' list... Ryan Moore's third place was an NHIS career best, as was Gallo's fifth place, of course... Troy Williams tied his Busch North Series career best finish... Brad Leighton was out of the top ten at NHIS for the first time since he ran out of gas and finished 26th in July 1999, a string of 13 races... Unless he makes an unexpected entry at Dover or Wall, Dale Shaw's streak of recording at least one top-10 finish in every season of Busch North racing has ended. Now only Kelly Moore can claim that distinction.