For two seasons, Mike Stefanik was a question mark in the Busch North Series. The two-time series champion, united with one of the series' premier teams and sponsors, couldn't win in his 2003 return season, and things got worse in 2004 as he...
For two seasons, Mike Stefanik was a question mark in the Busch North Series. The two-time series champion, united with one of the series' premier teams and sponsors, couldn't win in his 2003 return season, and things got worse in 2004 as he dropped from second to ninth in points.
Then Steve and Peg Griswold totally overhauled their Grizco Racing team, bringing on Andy Santerre as team manager (and later as a full-time driver), moving operations to North Carolina, and hiring Jerry Babb as Stefanik's crew chief. Now instead of being the question, Stefanik is the answer.
He has won two of the first four races, led the most laps, and established a small but useful lead as he seeks his third Busch North Series championship. Achieving that goal would raise his total of NASCAR touring series titles to nine, including six in the Whelen Modfied Tour, equaling the mark of the legendary modified maestro Richie Evans.
"I hustled it through one and two and the car just stuck. It stuck like that all day," he said of his rocket-like start at NHIS. The only car on the track able to stay ahead of the Burnham Hydronics Chevrolet was Brian Hoar, who Stefanik trailed for 15 laps before making the decisive pass. He never pulled away, but Hoar, saving fuel most of the race, never challenged again. "The car was so fast it would have been a shame not to win it," was the winner's bottom line.
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Brian Hoar's fuel gamble paid big dividends. Looking for track position after starting 12th in the rulebook-determined lineup, he pitted on lap 7 and nursed 22 gallons for the remaining 118 circuits, or nearly 125 miles on the 1.058 mile track. Crew chief Neal Woodward and the rest of the Goss Dodge team held their breath, but the succession of mid-race cautions gave them the margin they needed.
Since the Busch North Series distance at NHIS was extended to 125 laps in 2000, no one has successfully gone the distance without a fuel stop.
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The fuel equation was viewed differently by Andy Santerre's crew, which pitted the defending champion with the bulk of the field on lap 19, then called him back for a gas-and-go on the 63rd circuit. "I didn't dare to risk running out of gas. We took the guaranteed route and it worked out for us," Santerre related of his eventual fifth place. He moved into second place in the point standings, 45 points behind Stefanik, whose car is prepared in his shop.
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Matt Kobyluck was having a dream season, right up to the start on Friday afternoon. He'd scored one win and a pair of thirds in the first three races, and with qualifying rained out at NHIS, he started on the pole. Then things went downhill in a hurry. The Mohegan Sun Chevrolet, which had been near-perfect in practice, was suddenly tight. "We made wholesale adjustments, put as many spring rubbers as we could in the right rear, raised the track bar two inches, took cross (weight) out of it- huge amounts," he explained. He salvaged 19th, one lap down, and dropped to third on the points chart.
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The duel between Mike Gallo and Mike Olsen for sixth place in the closing laps went right down to the final corner before Gallo prevailed after coming from the back of the field. His third straight top-six outing with the JBR Racing Ford, going back to 2004, was rewarded with the POWERade Power Move of the Race Award.
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Busch North Series drivers and alumni experienced varied fortunes in the national series at NHIS. Of course Martin Truex Jr. won the NASCAR Busch Series race with a powerful finish which extended his point lead in quest of a second straight series title. In the same contest, Ryan Moore made his Busch Series debut, on the heels of a third-place Busch North Series finish right in front of his dad Kelly Moore. He qualified the Chance II Motorsports Chevrolet #81 in 19th place for the New England 200 and ran between14th and 18th for much of the race with a high of sixth place before being turned around in turn four while running in heavy traffic. He finished 34th.
Dale Quarterley, 14th in the Busch North race he won last year, just scraped into the Busch Series field in last place, but ran the Randy MacDonald entry smoothly all day, taking advantage of pit stop strategy and one "lucky dog" pass to get back on the lead lap. At the checkered flag, he was 25th.
Joey McCarthy came agonizingly close to qualifying for his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race with the Mach One Motorsports car. He was 41st fastest overall, but only ninth fastest of the entries not in the top 35 of the point standings. Just eight from that category qualify, so Joey was out of luck. Part-time Busch North competitor Ted Christopher, an early retirement in the New England 125 after scraping the turn four wall, put Kirk Shelmerdine's #27 in the New England 300 field less than a tenth of a second slower than Dale Jarrett and Dave Blaney. Earlier on Friday, Christopher won his third straight Whelen Modified Tour race at NHIS by the width of a bumper over Tony Hirschman.
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MILESTONES.... Kelly Moore and Jamie Aube added their names to Dale Shaw's as a participant in all 19 years of Busch North Series racing. Moore has at least one top five finish in each of those years.... James Civali scored his first top ten finish in only his second start, and became the first driver other than Sean Caisse to score maximum Sunoco Rookie points. Although he was the last car running at NHIS, Caisse still leads the rookie standings... Also recording a best career finish was Kenny Horton in 16th.... While his17th place finish was in line with expectations, Don Wagner ran with the big boys for much of the New England 125. Declining, like Dave Dion, to pit with the rest of the field, he took the green flag third on lap 30 and stayed in the top ten for nearly 20 laps.... Rocky Moran Jr. completed his planned three-race Busch North Series introduction, but expressed the desire to come back for more later in the season... Dion Ciccarelli (23rd) and Mike Molleur (36th made their first career starts.