Andy Santerre has opportunity to extend Busch North Series lead; end Leighton's streak in New Hampshire 125 at NHIS this Saturday, Sept. 14. LOUDON, N.H. (September 8, 2002)-- In May, the race to the checkered flag was almost too close to call...
Andy Santerre has opportunity to extend Busch North Series lead; end Leighton's streak in New Hampshire 125 at NHIS this Saturday, Sept. 14.
LOUDON, N.H. (September 8, 2002)-- In May, the race to the checkered flag was almost too close to call in the Busch 125 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Brad Leighton edged Andy Santerre by the closest margin in series history: maybe one foot, maybe less. As the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring returns to NHIS for the third and final time in 2002 for this Saturday's New Hampshire 125, the race for the season title is nearly that close between the same two drivers, with a third contender, Matt Kobyluck, symbolically making it three wide.
Never in 38 visits to the "Magic Mile" has so much been riding on one race. In addition to the red-hot point battle, Leighton brings an unprecedented three-race NHIS winning streak to the event which will be run in front of one of the season's largest crowds, the SPEED Channel TV cameras, and the NASCAR Winston Cup Series talent scouts in the garage area.
The first of two consecutive Busch North Series races on Winston Cup weekends, and on superspeedways, is set for a 1:30 p.m. green flag as the opener of a Saturday doubleheader with the Featherlite Modified Series. The Busch North Series teams will practice on Thursday, September 12, with Bud Pole Qualifying at 10:15 a.m. on Friday, September 13. Saturday's race will be show on SPEED Channel Monday night October 14, from 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Andy Santerre carries a 27-point lead over Brad Leighton and 34 points over Matt Kobyluck to the New Hampshire 125. It's a different feeling for the driver who seemed always to be chasing the leaders during his previous Busch North Series career from 1993 to 1997. He finished second to Dave Dion in 1996, and was third in the standings twice before heading south to the Busch Series, Grand National Division where he won Raybestos Rookie honors in 1998. "I've never really been in this situation this late in the year," Santerre observed, adding "In the past, I just went out worried about winning, not about points."
Reflecting on the hard lessons learned while away from the Busch North circuit, the LesCare Kitchens Chevrolet driver continued, "The points championship is what it's about. It brings money and it brings recognition, which the sponsors really like. It's in the back of your mind, but you've just got to go out and race hard. Our focus is on finishing and being up there toward the front at the end."
Much of the recipe for a championship is mixed before the car leaves the shop, which for Andy Santerre is still in North Carolina. "You've got to make sure your equipment is well prepared," he declared. The long supply line, which shortens his crew's working week compared to the Busch North teams based in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts is a drawback he must overcome.
At NHIS, the situation is also affected by the presence of drivers who don't run the full schedule, like Ted Christopher and this July's runner-up, Brian Hoar. "Guys come to Loudon who don't run every week and they have their guns loaded. They're working on their cars while the rest of us are out racing," Santerre noted with a smile.
No matter how well prepared a team may be, it still must make the right calls under race conditions. One of those calls- to take left side tires instead of right- was instrumental in Brad Leighton's July NHIS victory. "Brad decided in advance, I'm sure, but with my team, we make the calls as we go," Santerre said in his analysis of the July race where he finished 12th. "It seems every time we go up there we have different circumstances- the surface or a different tire," he added. "We don't know what to expect, but everybody's on the same playing field, facing the same adversities."
As the leader of a close point race near the end of the year, Andy Santerre feels the pressure. But he's not the man defending the three-race winning streak, and he sees that as a possible advantage. "Just making sure the car is prepared, that's the main thing," he concluded. "Maybe we can knock Brad off. I'm going to do my best."