MWS: Rockford: Rookies ready for season opener

Rookies ready to challenge International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series and Rockford Speedway. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 9, 2003) -- In many respects, Rockford (Ill.) Speedway is to the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck...

Rookies ready to challenge International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series and Rockford Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 9, 2003) -- In many respects, Rockford (Ill.) Speedway is to the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series what Darlington Raceway is to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Like Darlington, Rockford is old, it's narrow, passing can be tough, yet it looks tame. Finishes at Rockford can be wild and memorable.

And like Darlington, if you're not careful, the Rockford oval will reach out and get you in the blink of an eye. And for a rookie driver there may be no tougher place to start the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series campaign than Rockford.

"Having run there last year, I think Eric and I have a big advantage over the other rookies," said Jeremy Lepak (US NAVY Chevrolet). "We've got a few hundred laps in where the other rookies will be going in cold, kind of like we were last year."

Eric Fransen (Sonya's Rosa Chevrolet) and Clint Bowyer (Sonic Drive In Chevrolet) join Lepak as the trio promises to post one of the highest profile rookie classes in recent memory. Big things are also expected out of first-year drivers A.J. Rhoads (Dakota Rhoads Masonry Chevrolet), Chris Bires (4DC Angus Farms Chevrolet), Chad Barker (Barker's Reconditioning Specialists Chevrolet) and Kenny Richards (Wisconsin Dells Motor Speedway Pontiac).

"At Rockford, nothing beats seat time," said Lepak. "Just ask Eddie Hoffman (Redken Chevrolet), Brian Hoppe (Gildan Activewear Chevrolet) or Steve Carlson (Lefthander Chassis Chevrolet) and they'll tell you that."

So what makes Rockford Speedway so tough?

"I've always gotten around there pretty good," said Fransen. "Even though it's not the fastest track we'll race on, things happen so quick there, that you can be in the wall or bouncing off another car before you know it."

As an added incentive, these first-year drivers will be competing for the Victory Circle Chassis Rookie of the Year award, which includes a $20,000 year-end point fund that will be divided among the top rookie drivers in the four regional series of the NASCAR Elite Division.

The racing action begins with an optional practice session April 11. Practice for the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series drivers takes place Saturday afternoon, April 12 with qualifying scheduled for 5:00 p.m. (CT). A 40-lap last chance qualifying race is slated for 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. The green flag will fly over the Freund International 250 at 2:00 p.m., April 13.

The fastest 16 drivers from qualifying will earn automatic starting spots in the main event with six starters added as a result of the last chance qualifier. Up to four additional provisional starting spots are available based on 2002 series point standings.

Rockford Speedway is located at the intersection of Forest Hills Road and Hwy. 173 in Rockford, Ill. In addition to the Freund International 250, a full program for the Midwest Sportsman Championship Series and National Short Track Series Sportsman is also on tap.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Clint Bowyer