The third annual Toyota All Star Showdown took place this past weekend on the 1/2-mile Irwindale Speedway oval, as the stars of NASCAR's touring divisions duked it out for a half-million dollars in prize money. There were two Saturday night contests, one of 125 laps for the Elite division stars and 150-lap race for Grand National competitors.
Ten drivers from each of the four AutoZone Elite divisions fought for the prizes over the 125-lap enduro that included a break at the 75-lap mark. Nick Lynch of Burley, Idaho won pole but didn't stay there long as he was quickly passed by San Fernando, CA local Rip Michels.
Although Michels would lead 74 laps, he didn't have the muscle to win the race, which was interrupted 13 times for 33 caution laps. It was Auggie Vidovich (Lakeside, CA) who won the contest, his first on the tough Irwindale oval. The key, for Vidovich was a chassis adjustment at the break that saw his team adding two rounds to the swaybar.
"That's just the way it played out," the 23-year-old explained. "I had a good car tonight, but this place is so tough. The track changes more than any other we go to on our tour. Quite frankly," he laughed, "I never thought this place would pay me back. We've run well here before but had nothing but trouble."
Burney Lamar started sixth and bullied his way to second place by using force on Michels. The upset Michels noted the Kernersville, NC driver was in a car owned by Kevin Harvick and the fans greeted Lamar in Victory Lane with a chorus a catcalls. MK Kanke (Frazier Park, CA) took the final podium slot, which Eddie Hoffman of Wheaton, IL started 10th and finished fourth, Gary Lewis rose all the way from 34th to fifth and Michels earned sixth.
After a short break to clear the infield of Elite pit stalls, the 31 Grand National division all-star drivers from two divisions took to the circuit for their own 150-lap contest that included a break at the 100th circuit of Irwindale's difficult oval.
Mike Olsen of North Haverhill, NH held pole position after using some muscle to win the Friday night qualifier for his division. This race, too, was a sloppy one, as 12 caution periods and a red flag marred the running.
It seemed as though all the drivers were trying to impress NASCAR's team owners and principals on-hand, including president Mike Helton, Jim Hunter from the PR side, Richard Childress, Todd Bodine and Robin Pemberton. The guests had flown in from Phoenix, AZ where the premier Nextel Cup holds its penultimate race on Sunday.
With so much money on the line there was bound to be bunting on the track and the action got so heavy that the red flag flew on the 127th tour for a full 11 minutes of clean-up.
Although Olsen didn't lead the most laps in this contest, he had the first and last (which was marred by yet another collision) and finished in front of David Gilliland of Chino Hills, CA. Matt Kobyluck came from 10th to take the final podium spot.
Although the fans were intent on seeing the individual drivers' fates, there were team titles on the line for this two-race contest. In the Elite race, the Southwest division won and in the Grand National race the title went to the Busch North Series over the Busch West drivers.
This third Toyota All-Star Showdown could be moved to another facility for the 2006 contest, which would be a loss for NASCAR as it intends to show off its wares to Southern California fans, who have the wonderful Irwindale facility in their back yards, operating from March through Thanksgiving each year.
The final race for the circuit occurs this Thanksgiving with the 65th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix, with USAC Sprint, Midget and Ford Focus Midget series taking part.