Championship Series begins at Winchester Myrtle Beach, SC-- The Championship Series is upon us. After 25 races, the USAR Hooters ProCup regular season is history. Fifty-seven drivers qualified for the final 5-race shootout that will determine...
Championship Series begins at Winchester
Myrtle Beach, SC-- The Championship Series is upon us. After 25 races, the USAR Hooters ProCup regular season is history. Fifty-seven drivers qualified for the final 5-race shootout that will determine the 2003 USAR Hooters ProCup champion. Paul Warner of the USAR Media Relations Department has compiled a list of the key players in the first race of the Championship Series.
Below is a listing of the top-10 seeds in each division, regular-season stats and a championship outlook. Also included in this rundown is a list of possible "Sleepers" who could enter into the championship picture during the next five races.
Northern Division vs. Southern Division
TOP SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Jeff Agnew vs Shane Huffman
Outlook -- Agnew and Huffman have been the class of their divisions this season, but Huffman has been the class of the entire series. Without any misfortune, the competition may have trouble making up the point advantage held by the top seeds.
SECOND SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Brian Ross vs Jason Sarvis
Outlook -- Ross and Sarvis have had up-and-down seasons. Ross led the point standings for four races before suffering two DNFs, dropping him to fourth in points. Ross' second-place finish in the Northern Division finale pushed him back to second in points.
After missing the first race of the season, Sarvis began the 2003 campaign in a hole and has been climbing out the entire season. The 2002 USAR Hooters ProCup Champion completed the climb in the Southern Division finale, picking up his second win of 2003 and the second seed heading into the Championship Series. If these two get hot, the head table is not out of the question for either one.
THIRD SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Kertus Davis vs Steven Christian
Outlook -- Both ended up with the same seed, but their paths were completely different getting there.
At the moment, Davis may be the hottest driver in the Series, moving from sixth in points to third in the last four races of the season. On the other hand, Christian limped to the finish of the regular season, losing the second seed to Sarvis in the final two races. Christian can't be overlooked in the title chase, but he'll need to break his winless streak. Davis just needs keep doing what he's doing to challenge for the title.
FOURTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Jay Fogleman vs Michael Ritch
Outlook -- Both drivers can make some noise under the right circumstances. If Fogleman can eliminate the DNFs, he's a legitimate contender. In the eight races that Fogleman completed every lap, the Durham driver averaged a 4th-place finish.
Ritch led laps in two of the last three Southern Division events, and the High Point, NC driver is coming off a 3rd-place finish at Hickory Motor Speedway. Ritch will need to carry the late-season momentum into the Championship Series to be a title threat.
FIFTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Eric Corbett vs Mardy Lindley
Outlook -- Both drivers have shown flashes of brilliance during the 2003 season, but they've also shown moments of mortality.
Corbett needs to return to the early-season form that produced four consecutive top-5 finishes to contend for the title. Corbett averaged a 2.5 finish in the first four Northern Division events and moved atop of the Northern Division standings. Since then, Corbett has finished 10th or worse in five of the last eight events.
Despite missing a race, Lindley moved all the way to third in points. During the climb, Lindley racked up seven top-5 finishes in as many races. Back-to-back DNFs at Hickory Motor Speedway and Peach State Speedway quelled Lindley's charge, however. Both drivers have proven they can contend, but it's just a matter of when.
SIXTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Joel Kauffman vs Mart Nesbitt
Outlook -- Kauffman has shown he's not afraid to mix it up with the big boys in 2003, while Mart Nesbitt has quietly become one.
Kauffman may not be quite at contender status yet, but he's not in the pretender class either. The 17-year-old rookie matched his career-best finish of third at Motordrome Speedway and has stayed in the top-7 in points all season. Bad News: He's a step away from being contender. Good News: He has fives race to get there.
Nesbitt has gone from 'also ran' to frontrunner in 2003. In the last four races, Nesbitt has a win, three top-5 finishes and four top-10 finishes. He's heating up at the right time, but the Fletcher, NC driver will need to get hotter before writing a victory speech.
SEVENTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Hal Goodson vs Danny O'Quinn, Jr.
Outlook -- Hal Goodson could drive a big-wheel and still be considered a contender for the title. The only problem is he'll need to keep the pedals on it to get there. When Goodson finishes, he does so near the top of the field. The Darlington, SC driver is averaging a 4.5 finish in the seven events he took the checkered flag. However, his 5 DNFs are the most of any multi-race winner.
O'Quinn falls into the same category as Kauffman: unlimited talent and limited experience. O'Quinn has led laps in each of the last two Southern Division events, but the rookie will need to do more than lead laps to add his name to the Championship Trophy.
EIGHTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Jason McLellan vs Joe Gaita
Outlook -- After the first race of the season in each division, Gaita was first in points in and McLellan was fifth. Things progressively got worse for both drivers the remainder of the season, however.
McLellan has six finishes outside the top-10 during 2003 and five outside the top-15. On the bright side, McLellan is averaging a 5th-place finish in the last three events. Gaita hasn't had much of a bright side to his season.
He did win the first Southern Division event of the season at USA International Speedway, but his racing luck stayed in Florida as he went from first to eighth in points the remainder of 2003. The good news for Gaita is that the series makes one more stop in Florida.
Both drivers will be looking to salvage their seasons with strong runs in the Championship Series.
NINTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Scott Baker vs Bobby Gill
Outlook -- Neither driver has ever been a ninth seed going into the Championship Series. That's understandable for Baker, but not for Gill.
Gill has suffered through his worst season ever in the ProCup Series, falling out of three events and finishing outside the top-20 in four events. This might be enough to scratch most drivers off the contender list, but not Gill.
As a rookie, Baker will be making his first trip to the 5-race shootout, and he is another driver peaking at the right time. Four of Baker's six top-10 finishes and two of his three top-5 finishes have come in the last four races, but he may be a season away from challenging for the title. The same can't be said of Gill. Despite his lackluster season, Gill is always a threat to win the championship.
TENTH SEEDS -- 2003 Regular Season Stats
Danny Sammons vs Mike Laughlin, Jr.
Outlook -- In 2003, Sammons has shown he can blister a track, while Laughlin has shown he can last. If they can put the two together in the final races, you have a champion.
Sammons continually climbed the point ladder as the season progressed, moving from 26th in points to 10th at season's end. If you throw away Sammons' five DNFs, he may have threatened for the top seed.
Laughlin, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency during the 2003 season, failing to finish just one Southern Division event and staying within the top-10 in points all year. However, his lone top-5 finish is the lowest total for any driver in the top-10. If Danny Laughlin shows up at Winchester, watch out.
Clay Rogers -- (#11 seed in Southern Division)
Outlook -- Rogers hasn't been asleep in 2003, just absent. Rogers competed in just 10 events in the Southern Division this season. However, he averaged 140.4 points per race. Based on those numbers, Rogers would have amassed 1,825 points had he competed in 13 events, putting him second in Southern Division points. Rogers has six finishes inside the top-3 this season. If he can string together five more, he could be the 2003 champion.
Charlie Ford -- (#13 seed in Northern Division)
Outlook -- The Championship Series is Ford's swan song in USAR, and he doesn't want to go quietly. Ford has picked up his game in the last few events, but he'll need to pick up his first ProCup win if he's going to contend. He has nothing to lose so that makes him dangerous.
Derrick Kelly -- (#22 seed in the Northern Division)
Outlook -- Will the real Derrick Kelly please stand up. Kelly has been one of the fasted cars on the track at times and one of the last cars on the track at times. He can wheel a racecar, but he'll need to keep all four on to be threat.
Mario Gosselin (#19 seed in the Southern Division)
Outlook -- Gosselin has split his season between the ProCup Series and ARCA. He revamped his whole organization after 26th-place finish at Myrtle Beach in June and it paid immediate dividends. Gosselin won his first time out after the three-race layoff and finished sixth in the following event. He's retooled and looking for his second USAR Hooters ProCup title.