NWS:SES: Drivers earn invitations to Showdown

Countdown to the Showdown: Nascar Autozone Elite Division Drivers Earn Invitatons to Irwindale Northwest Series and Southeast Series Rosters Set for Showdown Toyota All-Star Showdown Gets Added Exposure in NASCAR Craftsman Truck...

Countdown to the Showdown: Nascar Autozone Elite Division Drivers Earn Invitatons to Irwindale

Northwest Series and Southeast Series Rosters Set for Showdown

Toyota All-Star Showdown Gets Added Exposure in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 1, 2004) -- For 70 of NASCAR's top regional racing competitors, the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown -- Nov. 11-13 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway -- represents a prime time opportunity to showcase their driving skills. To get there, each racer must finish near the top of their series' point standings to receive an invitation. For 20 drivers, that time is now.

The event includes the top 10 drivers from each of the four series that comprise the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, which includes NASCAR's Midwest Series, Northwest Series, Southeast Series and Southwest Series. In addition, the top 15 drivers from each of the two series of the NASCAR Grand National Division -- the Busch North Series and West Series -- compete in a separate feature event.

Northwest Series and Southeast Series teams wrapped up their regular season schedules Sept. 25, crowning two champions and solidifying the top 10 in the process.

Now that the points racing is complete, here's a look at the drivers who are slated to represent the Northwest Series and Southeast Series at this year's Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale.

Northwest Series

1. Jeff Jefferson, Naches, Wash. -- Jefferson earned his second consecutive series title by one point, thanks to a hard-fought second-place finish in the season finale Sept. 25.

2. Travis Bennett, Ellensburg, Wash. -- The Northwest Series' Auto Meter rookie of the year has been racing Super Late Models at Irwindale as a tune-up for the Toyota All-Star Showdown.

3. Jason Jefferson, Yakima, Wash. -- The brother of champion Jeff, Jason comes off a three-win season in Northwest Series competition.

4. Garrett Evans, East Wenatchee, Wash. -- Evans, a 20-year veteran of the Northwest Series and its all-time win leader, did not finish in the top 10 last season and missed the inaugural Toyota All-Star Showdown.

5. Gary Lewis, Bothell, Wash. -- The 1998 Northwest Series champion scored two wins in 2004, extending a streak of at least two victories in each of the past nine seasons.

6. Pete Harding, Surrey, B.C., Canada -- Harding, the 1999 Northwest Series champion, becomes the first Canadian driver to qualify for the Toyota All-Star Showdown.

7. Brandon Riehl, Boring, Ore. -- Riehl finished 11th in the Northwest Series standings in 2003 and missed the cut for the Toyota All-Star Showdown. His sophomore season included three top-five finishes and an invitation to Irwindale.

8. Joe Benedetti, Auburn, Wash. -- Has not won a race since 1999, but has been a solid top-10 competitor for six years running.

9. Steven Howard, Roy, Wash. -- The Northwest Series' youngest driver at age 22, Howard was the 10th and final driver to make the cut for the 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown and he returns for second year.

10. John Bender, Snohomish, Wash. -- Bender finished 11th in the point standings but gets a lucky break; eighth-place finisher Wes Rhodes declined to attend the event and the invitation was extended to Bender.

Southeast Series

1. Jeff Fultz, Cincinnati, Ohio -- Fultz earned his second Southeast Series title after a dominant season and five victories. A disappointing 37th-place finish at the 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown has Fultz focused on redemption.

2. J.R. Norris, Mulga, Ala. -- Norris claimed the Southeast Series' Auto Meter rookie of the year award while making a serious run at the championship. His freshman season included a prestigious victory at the 1.33-mile Nashville Superspeedway.

3. Erik Darnell, Beach Park, Ill. -- Darnell pulled double duty in 2004, competing in both the Southeast Series and the Midwest Series. His performance in the Southeast earned him an invitation to the Toyota All-Star Showdown and he is currently 12th in Midwest Series points.

4. Kevin Prince, Wilmington, N.C. -- Prince had a career season in Southeast Series competition, including a Bud Pole award at Houston (Tex.) Motorsports Park and runner-up finishes at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C. and Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C.

5. Jason Hogan, Cleveland, Ga. -- The 2002 Southeast Series rookie of the year led the point standings early in the season and recorded back-to-back victories at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway and Houston (Tex.) Motorsports Park, before settling in for a fifth-place finish in the final standings.

6. Chris Davidson, Pearland, Tex. -- Davidson challenged Norris for the Auto Meter rookie title and recorded two top-five finishes.

7. Robert Richardson II, McKinney, Tex. -- Like Davidson, Richardson raced for the Auto Meter rookie award out of Texas. Richardson's best finishes came at Kentucky Speedway, in Sparta, Ky., and Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway.

8. Justin Wakefield, Woodstock, Ga. -- Wakefield continues to race under the tutelage of crew chief Jody Ridley, a three-time Southeast Series champion. In 2004, Wakefield logged three top-five finishes including a third place finish in the season finale at Music City Motorplex in Nashville.

9. Greg Pope, Monroe, N.C. -- In his fifth season on the Southeast Series, Pope recorded two top-five finishes and finished ninth in points, both career-best results.

10. Allen Karnes, Sharpsburg, Ga. -- Karnes finished 10th in Southeast Series points to qualify for the Toyota All-Star Showdown. A trip to Irwindale represents a return to the West Coast for Karnes, who grew up near Seattle.

TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN NOTES

* To further promote the Toyota All-Star Showdown, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Travis Kvapil is running a special Toyota All-Star Showdown paint scheme on his No. 24 Toyota Tundra race truck. The special design made its debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sept. 25 and Kvapil's team will also carry the paint scheme at Texas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 23) and Darlington Raceway (Nov. 12). Kvapil is a graduate of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division; he competed in the Midwest Series before advancing to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2001.

* The next participating series to finish its season and finalize its Toyota All-Star Showdown roster will be the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series, which concludes Oct. 2 at Wall Township (N.J.) Speedway. On Oct. 10, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series will wrap up its 2004 schedule at LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway.

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown
Where: Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway
When: Nov. 11-13, 2004

Who: Top 10 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers from four series -- Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. ... Top 15 NASCAR Grand National Division drivers from two series -- Busch North Series and West Series

TV: SPEED Channel

Posted awards: $500,000

Track layout: Half-mile oval

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Jeff Fultz , Jeff Jefferson , Jason Jefferson , John Bender , Robert Richardson Jr. , Erik Darnell , J.R. Norris , Gary Lewis , Travis Kvapil