Irwindale Showdown Thursday pit notes

Irwindale Speedway Pit Notes For The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown A DIVERSE GROUP: There are more than a few people from out of town that are making their first visits to Irwindale Speedway. In the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Grand National ...

Irwindale Speedway Pit Notes For The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown

A DIVERSE GROUP: There are more than a few people from out of town that are making their first visits to Irwindale Speedway. In the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Grand National Division, the 30-car field consists of 13 drivers from various states across the country, as well as three foreign countries. In the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Series, there are 12 states represented as well as one foreign country.

This Saturday night's racing action marks the first time that there has been international participation in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.

HEAVY HITTER: There were more than a few drivers and teams who had to take a second look at the NASCAR Grand National entry list as they scrolled down and saw the Earnhardt last name. The son of late seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Kerry Earnhardt will be doing battle in Saturday night's race at Irwindale.

"It was a long trip for us, but I'm very grateful that NASCAR and Toyota invited us to come race here at Irwindale," Earnhardt said. "We've raced here twice this year but struggled in both those races. This series has been great to me and given me a lot of seat time and experience. I've learned a lot more about patience and the set-ups on these cars. It's been a lot of fun."

STEPPING UP: NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series champion Jeff Fultz pretty much had his way throughout the course of the 2004 season, but now he's kind of been brought back down a notch as he prepares to race against 39 of the other best Late Model racers in the country.

Fultz won his 22nd Southeast Series race this year with his last victory allowing him to pass Wayne Anderson on the all-time win list. He doesn't expect for things to go as easy this weekend as he has guns for the checkered flag Saturday night.

"This race really isn't a lot different than any other deal we do all year, whether it's the Southeast Series racing against one of the other divisions or us guys going to race in another of the AutoZone divisions," Fultz says. "This is truly the best of the best in Late Model racing. Where you might have 10 cars in the Southeast Series that have a chance to win every race, but in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown there are 40 drivers and teams capable of winning.

"I do feel like the guys that get to race out here a couple of times during their seasons have a little bit of an advantage because they have track time. Hopefully the Southeast Series will be able to fare a little bit better this year than we did last season."

UP A NOTCH: David Gilliland was at Irwindale Speedway last year for the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in an AutoZone Elite Division car, but this season the California native will be doing battle in the Grand National Division race.

"I expect some really good racing and I'm really looking forward to running with the Busch North Series drivers," Gilliland said. "There's a lot of good competition out here. I'm glad they added the extra 25 laps to the race. I think that's going to make for a better race for the fans. We can't let our guard down and be ready for anything that comes our way. Last time we were here, I had the best car I've ever had so we haven't made a lot of changes to the car other than just going over everything."

MOVING ON: Grand National division driver Austin Cameron announced that he's leaving Bill McAnally Racing following Saturday night's race to look at other options in NASCAR's top three divisions. Cameron won the Grand National division's inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway. The El Cajon (Calif.) resident posted five wins this season and finished second in the NASCAR West Series driver standings.

TV TIME: There will be 10 drivers in Saturday night's NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown who will be carrying in-car cameras for the live Speed Channel broadcast. The Grand National drivers are Mike Duncan, Jamie Aube, Austin Cameron and Nick DeFazio. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers carrying cameras include Robert Richardson, Justin Diercks, Jeff Jefferson, A.J. Rhoads and Jason Jefferson.

DIFFERENT PAINT: There is one sponsor change of note in the Busch North Series garage area. Eddie McDonald will run in the colors of Lubrication Engineers and Stilian Electric. Due to a number conflict with West Series driver Jose Luis Ramirez, MacDonald has changed from No. 17 to No. 1 for the Showdown. Ramirez was tenth in West Series points, one spot higher than MacDonald finished in the Busch North standings, thus giving Ramirez priority on the number.

BUSCH NORTH CHANGES: Most Busch North Series teams are using their short track cars as raced all season, although Mike Stefanik's Burnham Boiler's Chevrolet is racing with a new front clip. Andy Santerre is driving 'Faith,' the chassis for all five of his 2004 race wins, named after singer Faith Hill. Matt Kobyluck's car is his Adirondack (N.Y.) race winner.

ENGINE WOES: Two NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers had motor problems in the opening practice session. Gary Lewis was the first victim when he blew two head gaskets. Lewis' crew was able to take the engine out and make the needed repairs. Southeast Series driver Justin Wakefield was not as lucky as he blew up only half a lap into his very first lap on the Irwindale half-mile and will be forced to go to a backup.

HOT RIDE: Northwest Series driver Pete Harding had a cockpit fire during the first practice due to a fuel line malfunction. He suffered some minor burns to his chin, but will be fine for Saturday night's NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. Midwest Series driver A.J. Rhoads suffered a similar fate after a punctured oil line sent flames up into the cockpit. The brief, but hot, fire melted the shifter bootie and steering wheel padding. After a brief visit to the ambulance, Rhoads was released and rejoined the chase for the second practice session.

CAGEY VETERAN: The Northwest Series' Garrett Evans, a four-time champion and winner of a series record 50 races, is a first-time Showdown participant. He likes the Irwindale Speedway track a lot. "It's really fast and smooth. We're almost there on the set-up," he said. "It's a great honor to race with these drivers from other series."

GO WEST YOUNG MAN: Bobby Dragon has been racing for 40 years, but this is the first time he's raced west of Indianapolis. He distinctly recalls that experience at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1985 -- a Busch Series race won by Butch Miller but better remembered for a post-race fracas between kinfolk Dale Earnhardt and Tommy Houston. Dragon is no stranger to the western mountains in his other avocation, big game hunting.

NEW TIRES: All of the Midwest Series drivers practiced Thursday on used Hoosier Tires. As Auto Meter Rookie of the Year Russ Blakeley said, "You've gotta get the car to feel good on old tires before you go racing on new ones."

ON THE SCALES: Brian Hoppe, who finished third in Midwest Series points this past year, was just 24th quick after Thursday's first practice session. He and crew chief Joe Wood were so unsure of the direction the cars set up was going that afterwards they hauled out the scales and started adjusting. "We thrown so much at it today that we don't know where we're at and what is working and what is not. So, we're just going to slow down, take one step back so we can hopefully take two forward."

HELP IN THE PITS: Midwest Series second-year driver, and Toyota All-Star Showdown rookie, A.J. Rhoads has enlisted the help of fellow Minnesota driver Dan Fredrickson. Fredrickson is crew chiefing the Rhoads effort this weekend. Fredrickson won nearly everything there was to win in Minnesota area late model competition in 2004. He has previous experience at Irwindale in an ASA car here in 2002.

FIRST ALL-STAR APPEARANCE: After running a limited schedule in 2003 and missing out on an invite to the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown a year ago, Mike David (No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford) is excited to be representing the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series in this year's event. "It's tough. There are 30 good cars," said the Modesto, Calif., competitor. "It's a fun deal, to stack yourself up against the best and see where you fall." David, who scored his first career series win earlier this season, was still looking for more speed after two practice sessions on Thursday. "We're still chasing it a little bit," David said. "We've got another hour of practice tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll be able to find it and run up there. We were seventh in practice, but we're still missing just a little bit." David was optimistic, meanwhile, that he would race even better. "We always seem to race a little better than I qualify. I think we'll do fine."

HOPING FOR BETTER RESULTS: Scott Lynch (No. 08 Yerf-Dog/Orleans Racing Dodge) is hoping for a better outcome in this year's Showdown than a year ago when contact with the wall sidelined his effort. Lynch -- who won the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series championship as a rookie in 2003 -- also hopes to improve the handling of his race car after being 12th quickest in the second practice round for the Grand National cars on Thursday. "We're struggling right now. That's part of the problem," Lynch said. "We ran good a couple of weeks ago and we didn't change out setup." Lynch stressed the need for a top-notch performance, meanwhile. "With the Busch North guys here, they're great competition," he said. "It's a great battle. It's a lot of fun out here."

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Kerry Earnhardt , Jeff Fultz , Matt Kobyluck , Scott Lynch , Mike David , David Gilliland , Wayne Anderson , Austin Cameron , Jason Jefferson , Jose Luis Ramirez , Butch Miller , Robert Richardson Jr. , Justin Diercks , Gary Lewis , Eddie M