SWS: Altamont: Series event preview

Track position will be key at Altamont. TRACY, CALIF. (July 17, 2002) -- When the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division unloads at Altamont Raceway Park on Saturday morning, several local racers would like nothing more than to ...

Track position will be key at Altamont.

TRACY, CALIF. (July 17, 2002) -- When the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division unloads at Altamont Raceway Park on Saturday morning, several local racers would like nothing more than to upstage the series regulars. The local contingent lead by Ron Strmiska Jr. would like to see double by the end of the evening after the Altamont "150" staged on the tight and tricky half-mile paved oval outside Tracy, Calif.

Strmiska is confident and he should be. Strmiska, of Manteca, Calif., won in his very first Featherlite Southwest Series start back in April at Stockton 99 Speedway and has had his share of success at Altamont in the past, scoring two victories in Late Model action. "Qualifying is going to be key," Strmiska said. "In the series I run with normally, we don't need to worry to much about it (qualifying), we all make the show. Running against the Southwest guys, you have to be really good in qualifying."

Making the move out of the "local" ranks this season is Rookie-of-the-Year contender Steve Belletto from near by Modesto, Calif. Belletto started his racing career at Altamont in 1995 where he enjoyed great success in the Late Model division. Belletto has six victories on the half-mile, but is quick to discount any home field advantage. "This series is very tough," Belletto said. I have had trouble qualifying all year. If you are a tenth off, you don't make the show."

Belletto is confident, but knows patience is going to be the key. "The guys that can run the outside will move to the front," Belletto continued. Kenny Shepherd who knows a thing or two about Altamont agrees with Belletto. "Qualifying is going to be critical," Shepherd stated. "I believe someone in the first three rows will win, and I hope to be there." Shepherd has led laps, won races, and owns a Bud Pole Award (Featherlite Southwest Series) at Altamont.

Todd Souza from Aromas, Calif. echoes the others stating, "It is all about track position." Souza believes Altamont may well be the turning point in the championship chase. He hopes it turns in his direction. "I tested well this last week and I know we have a good car," Souza said. Souza sits in sixth place in the point standings and is very confident about his chances Saturday night. "We got a great time, a great car, a great motor, and I feel like I can run up front."

All the competitors agree that qualifying at Altamont may well make the difference along with a car that works well on the outside groove. There was one other common theme among most drivers. Watch out for Doug McCoun. McCoun is on a bit of a hot streak as of late, winning in the series last outing at Mesa Marin Raceway June 29, and climbing to fifth in the season standings. McCoun has also had his share of success at Altamont Raceway Park in the past, winning two of four Featherlite Southwest Series races staged at the facility.

"We just have a good set-up for Altamont," McCoun said. "I think having good restarts will be critical, it will be the best opportunity to pass. This place (Altamont) is real tough to pass on, you really have to hope the guy in front of you makes a mistake so you can take advantage of." McCoun also offered that luck would play into the winner's hand. "Luck is a very important variable. The winner will need to have some. I have a great car for Altamont and we run a set-up that is different. We'll be good."

As the series is on the downhill side of the schedule, this event may prove to be pivotal in the chase for the championship. Will the locals upstage the series regulars or will the veterans display the grit and racing guile that experience gives to tackle tough tracks like Altamont? The answer will become clear Saturday night.

The Featherlite Southwest Series is one of eight NASCAR Touring Series that blanket the United States. NASCAR Touring brings special events to many NASCAR Weekly Racing Series tracks and some NASCAR superspeedways and road courses. NASCAR Touring Series can provide a competitor with an entire career, or they can provide valuable experience to competitors moving through the NASCAR ranks. Corporate sponsors make significant contributions to NASCAR Touring Series point funds. The sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Featherlite Trailers, Gatorade, Goody's Headache Powders, Raybestos Brakes, Hills Brothers Coffee, RE/MAX International, Inc., and R.J. Reynolds brand Winston.

THE INSIDE LINE

* The race within the race -- Brandon Whitt is clearly focused on the Rookie-of-the-Year title but knows consistency on each track is key. Whitt has taken a hit on his Rookie points lead over the last three races. With eight drivers withdrawing from the Rookie program, leaving only Steve Belletto and Whit to contend. Belletto has drawn within five points and looks to capitalize and garner Rookie-of-the-Race honors at a track he is very familiar with.

* Seeing Double -- Ron Strmiska Jr. would like nothing more then to repeat his stunning Stockton 99 Speedway performance back in April. Strmiska thrilled the hometown crowd after a last to first performance in his first ever Featherlite Southwest Series start. Can he make it two for two?

* David Gilliland started the season wanting to contend for Rookie-of-the-Year honors but had to reevaluate his position after disappointing outings in the first four series events. He decided in June that he would only run selected races and build for 2003. He went to Irwindale Speedway June 8 just to have a solid run. Gilliland won the race and boosted his stock and his confidence. Over the last week Gilliland has joined forces with Rich Fountain and his #11 Centrifugal Technologies Chevrolet for the rest of the 2002 season after driver Jimmy White stepped down.

* Etc. -- Doug McCoun became the eighth different winner in eight events this season following his triumph at the last series event at Mesa Marin Raceway. McCoun ended a winless streak that lasted over four years. There have also been six different Bud Pole Award Winners in the first eight events. Both M.K. Kanke and Burney Lamar have two Bud Pole Awards this season.

* Auggie Vidovich Jr. will miss the Altamont and Madera events. Vidovich is currently 13th in the standings and with the championship out of reach has decided to run the RE/MAX Challenger Series event to gain more "big" track experience for future auditions in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Busch Series.

MOVING UP

* Frank Maronski Jr. is having his best season in his 10th year on the "Tour". Through eight events he has recorded two top-5 and four top-10 finishes with 877 laps completed out of 943 run. His point total of 1,019 has him in seventh place in the championship standings just 124 markers out of first place. He is on place to better his best final points finish of 9th in 2000.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

* "It is important I run as many laps as I can before next season." -- JR Patton (No. 97 Patrick's Carpet Chevrolet), describing his Rookie-of-the-Year plans for 2003.

PAGE FROM THE PAST
Doug McCoun has two victories at Altamont in four Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring events held at Altamont Raceway Park. Mark Reed and Craig Raudman each have one victory.

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Mark Reed , Brandon Whitt , David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Doug McCoun , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Auggie Vidovich , Todd Souza