Chicagoland: Lewis/Blaney preview

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#77 Jasper Motorsports transporter driver Bill "Stump" Lewis to defend his 2002 Nascar Championship this weekend in Chicago

BILL "STUMP" LEWIS, who won the International Truck Challenge competition for NASCAR Winston Cup Series transporter drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway last October, was the only driver among 28 who competed in the four 2002 events who regularly drove an International tractor in his regular job, as driver of the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford Team.

LEWIS entered the AMS finale for the 2002 season with a slim 10-point lead over several title contenders, including Rodney Pickler (#2), Kelly Stewart (#28), Tim Beaver (#45) and Tracy Lumpkin (#9). LEWIS not only clinched the season championship but also won the Atlanta event, with a score of 175 points (of a maximum 200) and a two-lap-time of 116.909 secs., third quickest of the day's 22 drivers.

By matching his Round-Three event win at Chicagoland Speedway with an impressive win at Atlanta, LEWIS stretched his final seasonal margin to 30 points over runner-up Beaver, 45 points over third-place Lumpkin and 50 points over fourth-place Stewart, who had the quickest elapsed time at AMS (105.848 secs.). Pickler, the runner-up entering the final round, fell to sixth overall in the 2002 standings after hitting a barrier during his run.

He'll get the chance to defend his title this weekend in the only 2003 competition for WC transporter drivers, scheduled (first-round) for Friday evening on the dragstrip adjacent to the Chicagoland Speedway and on the track (final round) on Sunday morning (9:30 a.m.)

As part of the company's exclusive four-year sponsorship program with NASCAR, International TEC developed the International Truck Challenge as a way to give NASCAR Winston Cup Series transporter drivers--one of the most important and often-overlooked cogs in the NASCAR machinery--a chance to demonstrate their skills on the race-track directing a top-of-the-line International 940I tractor-trailer through a series of driving and logistical challenges similar to what each encounters during their regular weekly responsibilities with WC teams.

LEWIS ON THE REVISION OF THIS YEAR'S COMPETITION TO ONE WEEKEND

"In last year's competition, International spread the event over four weekends, where you could come to understand what the challenges were, and think about how you wanted to approach it. Having the whole championship competition in one weekend, you just don't know what to expect. You''ll just have to react to how they have the course set up, and do what you can do. It certainly won't leave any room for mistakes. And if you draw early, you won't even be able to watch some of the early runs to see where you might gain an advantage. With this format, it will only take one little slip-up and you're done."

LEWIS ON THE ROLE OF THE OFTEN-UNDERAPPRECIATED NASCAR WINSTON CUP SERIES TRANSPORTER DRIVERS

"We log about 65,000 miles a year (with his wife, Cindy), and the driving part of what we do is essential to the show going on every week. Unless something really bad happened with one of our trucks in transit to a race, NASCAR will go on with the event schedule whether you get you rig and cars here or not, and it's been a long time since we had even one of our core group of 40-plus trucks not show up to park when they're supposed to in the garage. People that aren't in the sport probably don't think about that very much. And there's so many other things that we're responsible for--restocking the trailer after a race weekend, keeping an accurate inventory of what's been used at the track and also having a wide range of knowledge on how to fix what's on these trucks that the crew uses weekly, like computers and the scoring system, for instance. The International competition gives all the drivers a chance to shwocase what they do every week with not much fanfare."

LEWIS ON HIS BACKGROUND AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMPETE IN INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION:

"I started driving tractor-trailers when I was 14-15 years old. Me and my father worked for a construction company in Cambridge, Maryland and had dump trucks and all kinds of stuff. My father was a foreman there and I got to mess around with the trucks all the time. There was this big field along side where we worked and he said, 'If you want to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer, just go out there and practice. When you can learn how to back it up, you can drive a truck.' And I've been driving them ever since. I came to NASCAR in early 1996 (with the now-defunct Active Motorsports team) and have been with Jasper Motorsports since late in that year. It's just unbelievable that it all added up to something like winning the championship last fall. We're going after it again."

DAVE BLANEY -- #77 JASPER ENGINES & TRANSMISSIONS FORD

TROPICANA 400--CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY (July 13, 2003)

DAVE BLANEY and the #77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford team enter the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway ranked 26th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series team standings, 128 points behind 20th-place Greg Biffle--the most recent WC winner--after his 35th-place finish at Daytona last weekend; BLANEY started 39th at Daytona, and had moved into the top-20 by Lap 60 when he was turned around exiting Turn 2 by a trailing car in the lead-draft, sending him into a long slide down the backstretch; BLANEY limped to the pits with a flat left-front tire and subsequent shredded fender, out of contention.

BLANEY's best career WC start in Chicago (two races) is seventh (2002-29.741 secs.) and his career finishes are 12th (2001) and 17th (2002); in the inaugural race at Chicagoland (20010, the #77 Jasper Ford--then driven by Robert Pressley--started 13th (29.830 secs.) and finished a close second to race-winner Kevin Harvick.

In the 2002 race at Chicagoland, BLANEY qualified seventh (29.741 secs.) and joined the other two Penske-Jasper Engine-powered entries among the top-ten starting spots (including pole-winner Ryan Newman) for the first time in 2002; early-race optimism for BLANEY was neutered when the #77 Jasper Taurus initially failed to fire prior to the start of the race and was forced to drop to the rear of the field for the start; through the race's early stages, BLANEY scrambled to regain ground, moving into the top-20 at the 100-mile mark. But only three laps after the team's second green-flag pit stop (Lap 134), the race's third caution flag fell, leaving the #77 Jasper Ford one lap down for the remainder of the race; over the race's final third,

BLANEY registered lap times comparable to the top-five contenders, but couldn't regain his lead-lap status; BLANEY finished 17th, the second car one-lap down while Newman shared in the PJE bad luck, blowing a tire while leading with 40 miles to go, sending him to the back of the lead-lap cars (15th) before rallying in the final 25 laps to finish fifth.

The Busch Series race at Chicagoland will be BLANEY's fourth start this season in the #31 Whelen Ford, powered by a Penske-Jasper Engine; BLANEY and the #31 Whelen Ford are also entered in next weekend's Busch Series race at New Hampshire; BLANEY has never run a Busch Series race at Chicagoland (in 65 career Busch starts), but has registered four of his six career Busch poles at similarly-sized tracks (Charlotte-2, Texas-1, Atlanta-1).

In March, BLANEY posted a career-best third-place finish at Darlington, his third top-ten finish over a four-week stretch (10th at NCS after his first career pole position, eighth at Atlanta) following the season-opening Daytona 500.

Entries powered by PENSKE-JASPER ENGINES have registered two wins and six pole positions in 17 races thus far in 2003, including Jeremy Mayfield's pole at Talladega (4/6); RUSTY WALLACE leads the trio of PJE-powered entries in the WC points, ranking ninth (2,019 points-1 top-5, 6 top-10s), while Penske teammate NEWMAN is 16th (1,833 points-four pole positions, wins at Texas and Dover, 5 top-5s, 7 top-10s); BLANEY is 26th (1,592 points-one pole position, 1 top-5, 3 top-10s).

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Robert Pressley