SWS: Stockton: Round five preview

NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series Drivers Look Back While Looking Ahead to Stockton 99 Speedway DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 30, 2004) -- For 59 years Stockton 99 Speedway has been a fixture in the motorsports scene on the West...

NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series Drivers Look Back While Looking Ahead to Stockton 99 Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 30, 2004) -- For 59 years Stockton 99 Speedway has been a fixture in the motorsports scene on the West coast and Saturday, May 8, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series returns for the 21st time since 1986 in the running of the Budweiser "125" presented by Havoline.

Stockton 99 Speedway was a mainstay in the series' early years running two events per season from 1986 to 1993. The series made single visits to the quarter-mile oval from 1994 to 1996 but then was absent from the track's schedule until 2002 when local hero Ron Strmiska Jr. stole the show as the AutoZone Southwest Series returned to one of the West's oldest continually operated racing facilities.

Stockton 99 Speedway is a track the favors experience and series point's leader, Jim Pettit II of Prunedale, Calif. has logged more laps than any series regular on the tight and tricky quarter-mile paved oval. More than thirty drivers from the Southwest Series will attempt to qualify for one of 22 starting positions in Saturday's 125-lap race and vie for their share of $44,894 in posted awards in race five of the 14-race championship series.

The tight confines of Stockton 99 Speedway's quarter-mile means there is action around every corner almost from the drop of the green flag. Pettit claimed his first career victory in last year's event and looks forward to another perfect homecoming.

"Stockton is a special place for me," said Pettit. "The track creates a lot of passing opportunities. You have to know the characteristics of the track and how to use them to your own advantage. When the sun goes down and the crowd gets into it, this place is electric."

Ron Strmiska, the 2002 winner from Manteca, Calif. knows that qualifying will be tough, especially for the local guys. "I have been going to Stockton for 30 years," Strmiska said. "I started out as a crew chief for my dad, then later started driving, and all the experience in the world will not mean a thing if you don't qualify. The local guys will race well, but it is qualifying that is going to make the difference."

Last year Dan Holtz from Pacific Palisades, Calif. survived an action-packed 125-lap shootout to finish ninth and has gained confidence over the past year when it comes to the "bullrings".

"When I started in the series I thought I had it all figured out," Holtz said. "I quickly realized I knew nothing. Guys like Craig Raudman, M.K. Kanke, and Bob Lyon have been running this series for a long time and they had a ton of notes on tracks like Stockton. I figured I needed help and looked no further then Jim Pettit. Jim has helped me with the set up and understanding the track. I tested really well and I owe a lot to Jim for all his advice and information."

Raudman, of Bakersfield, Calif., finished last in last season's event and would like nothing more then to make that nightmare go away. Raudman last won at Stockton back in 1996 and likes racing on the tight and tricky ovals. "Stockton is a blast to drive," Raudman said. "There is a line around that place and if you're on it, then you are going to be fast. The entry into turn three is the most important. If you get a good run on a guy into three, then you'll make the pass out of turn four."

"The local guys are always hard to beat at a place like Stockton," Raudman said. "They have a lot of laps around that place, especially Jim Pettit, and that will make it tough for the rest of us."

Former (2002) Southwest Series champion Eddy McKean from Jerome, Idaho likes his chances at Stockton. "We are getting considerably better on tracks like Stockton," McKean said. "Qualifying is going to be important, because starting in the back there is no picnic."

Other notable drivers that have experience at Stockton include Doug McCoun of Prunedale, Calif. Escalon, California's Eric Holmes who sits seventh in the series standings has had success on the historic oval, and series Ironman Bob Lyon from Aqua Dulce, Calif. who has returned to form in 2004 and is poised for a return to the winner's circle.

The Budweiser "125" presented by Havoline is set to take the green flag at 9:00 pm PST Saturday, May 8 where the action is never far away.

THE INSIDE LINE

The race within the race -- Rip Michels (2004 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Sunbelt Regional champion) tops the Auto Meter Rookie-of-the-Year leader board after four events. Nick Lynch, Todd Burns (2004 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series ShorTrack Division national champion), and Stan Silva Jr. complete the standings.

How many cars? More than 30 cars have pre-entered the Budweiser "125" with several hometown heroes from the Stockton area. Drivers include Phil Perry, Tracy Bolin, and Jason Fensler. Series regulars Doug McCoun, Eric Holmes, and Jim Pettit II are also familiar names at Stockton. ... Auggie Vidovich Jr., the 2003 AutoZone Southwest Series champion will not defend his title in 2004, running only a partial schedule.

Drivers to keep your eye on: Joe Herold from Poway, Calif. Herold had a career best finish of second at Cajon Speedway on April 3 and has vaulted into 5th place in the point standings. Herold is in his fourth year on the Southwest Series. -- Raudman is tied with Kanke, with 27 career Bud Pole Awards. Raudman already has two poles this season and looks to break the record at Stockton. -- In 2004, drivers will once again be competing for an invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown November 11-13 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. This invitational only event is for drivers who finish the season in the top ten in the final point standings in each of the four series which comprise the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division.

Hoosier Racing Tire is the official tire of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division in 2004 and will award 32 tires to eligible car owners at each series event. Hoosier will also award two tires to the highest eligible Rookie-of-the-Year candidate's car owner.

AutoZone Southwest Series contingency sponsors include: Anheuser-Busch, Auto Meter Products, Competition Cams, CV Products, Edelbrock Intake Manifolds, Featherlite Trailers, Five Star, G-Force, Holley Carburetors, Hoosier Tires, JR Pistons, Mac Tools, Mechanix Wear, Mobil 1 Oil, Moroso, Powerade, Quarter Master, Raybestos Brakes, and Timken.

MOVING UP
Danny Burson of Albuquerque, NM moved closer to the NASCAR Top-10 with a fifth place performance at Cajon Speedway April 3. Burson sits 13th in the overall point standings, 194 points behind Pettit. .

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Just when you get comfortable, Stockton can bite you." -- Dan Holtz (No. 23 Rialto Concrete Products Ford).

PAGE FROM THE PAST
Return to 1990 at Stockton 99 Speedway. It was May 12, 1990 when Troy Beebe picked up the win in race number four of 18 that season. Beebe edged Loren Kelley, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Boyd, and Ross Trent en route to .36 seconds margin of victory. Bryan Germone was the top finishing rookie with a 16th place effort. Steve Johnson set the qualifying record for the series with a record that still holds to this day. Johnson toured the ¼-mile in 13.232 seconds at 68.017 mph. The race took 32 minutes and 27 seconds to complete, and Hornaday left with 77 point advantage in the point standings.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Ron Hornaday Jr. , Eric Holmes , Stan Silva Jr. , Danny Burson , Bryan Germone , Joe Herold , Dan Holtz , Doug McCoun , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Auggie Vidovich , Steve Johnson , Rip Michels