BUSCH: Atlanta Pre-Race notes

Stihl Power Tools 300 Notebook Dave Rodman - NASCAR Online HAMPTON, Ga. (March 6, 1998) The first major change of the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division season saw driver Dale Shaw, team owner Ed Porter and sponsor UniFirst ...

Stihl Power Tools 300 Notebook Dave Rodman - NASCAR Online

HAMPTON, Ga. (March 6, 1998) The first major change of the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division season saw driver Dale Shaw, team owner Ed Porter and sponsor UniFirst Uniforms mutually agree to dissolve their program in the week before Saturday's Stihl Power Tools 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

A release from Sammy Kershaw Motorsports stated that "after two DNQs ... the team ... saw that a change was needed."

"I don't fault Dale," said Porter, who accepted Shaw's resignation at 6 p.m. on Thursday. "He's a good driver with fine abilities and a real desire to win, but for whatever reason, things just weren't clicking and we all agreed we needed to take a different direction."

The No. 48 UniFirst car was not entered for the race at Atlanta, after it failed to qualify for the first two events of the season, then needed to use a provisional starting spot to make the Sam's Town Las Vegas 300 last weekend. Shaw started 43rd and finished 39th after the car's rear end broke after 129 laps.

Shaw's best moment in the NASCAR Busch Series came in his second start a season ago for team owner James Finch. Shaw battled two-time defending NBS champion Randy LaJoie in the waning laps at South Boston, Va., and finished second by less than a fender length.

The release said a replacement driver has not been determined.

Pilot Travel Centers, in the midst of celebrating qualifying for its first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race of the season, also announced an associate sponsorship with driver Jimmy Spencer's NASCAR Busch Series Zippo Chevrolet team. "We are extremely excited about expanding our motorsports involvement to include Jimmy's Busch Series team," said Scott Wombold, director of racing for Pilot. "Jimmy is a proven winner as he proved last week at Las Vegas."

Spencer said he "couldn't be happier to welcome Pilot to our racing family on a full-time basis. When Gary (Bradberry) didn't make the Daytona 500 I told the Pilot people I would put their decals on our Busch car at Daytona. This is Pilot's first year of NASCAR sponsorship and I know how important Daytona is to a new sponsor."

Buckshot Jones, from Monticello, Ga., will line up seventh in a new Bayer/Alka Seltzer Pontiac for the Stihl 300, his 'hometown' race. "I really enjoy coming home and racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway," Jones said. "We finished fourth here last spring and qualified for our first NASCAR Winston Cup race here last November. It's exciting to come back and put on a good show for the hometown fans." Jones spent the day Wednesday fishing on his farm in Monticello with NASCAR Busch Series driver Elliott Sadler. The two will be featured in a story for "Inside NASCAR Magazine."

Despite the new configuration of the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Elliott Sadler says he believes the No. 66 Phillips 66 Performance Team will be able to utilize knowledge from similar tracks on the circuit.

"I think we'll be able to use a little of our knowledge from both Charlotte and Texas for our first time out on the new configuration," Sadler said. "I even think we'll even be able to use some of what we know about the old Atlanta track. It's a different configuration but they didn't change things like the banking at Atlanta. One thing that will change at Atlanta is that the times will be faster. There's new pavement on the track and the new configuration has made the turns longer. It's going to be a lot faster."

Matt Hutter, rookie driver for the No. 36 Stanley Pontiac, has one top-five and two top-10s at Atlanta Motor Speedway -- in ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series races. He finished fifth during the season finale ARCA race in 1996 and 10th in the ARCA race last spring.

"We should have won the race in 1996," said Hutter, who currently leads the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings with 282 points. "The race restarted with 10 laps to go after a caution. I was in third. When the race went green another car squeezed me against the wall causing me to lose positions. We still got a top-five though."

Hutter has experience with lousy weather at Atlanta.

"The newly renovated Atlanta track is fast," expressed Hutter. "I was supposed to race on the new track last fall, but bad weather conditions forced qualifying to be canceled. Since I was not running a full ARCA schedule I did not have enough points to make the show. I did get to practice on it however."

The No. 36 Stanley Pontiac that Hutter will drive at the Atlanta Motor Speedway is the same car that he qualified third in Rockingham two weeks ago. The car also won the inaugural race at California Speedway and finished third at Las Vegas during the 1997 season.

After a superb effort by Ed Berrier and great work by the Jimmy Means led pit crew, which led to a 10th place finish in the Sam's Town Las Vegas 300 last weekend, the No. 77 Team Lear/UAW Ford Taurus will have to start 31st after qualifying for the Stihl 300 was rained out. Berrier's strong performance, Team Lear's best finish to date, moved the driver into 32nd place in the 1998 Busch Series driver points standings. The starting lineup for Saturday's race, however, was based on 1997 points.

Coming into the Stihl 300, Mark Green, Hermie Sadler, Buckshot Jones and Mark Martin are the only four drivers to have completed every lap in the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series season. Green and several other NASCAR Busch Series drivers will sign autographs on March 13 at the NASCAR Cafe in Nashville, Tenn., from 7-9 p.m. The purpose of the autograph session is to raise awareness about the critical need for organ and tissue donors.

Circle K, a convenience store chain with 300 locations nationwide, is an associate sponsor on driver Mark Green's No. 37 Timber Wolf Chevrolet for the Stihl 300 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With his win in the 1997 Stihl 300, Mark Martin became only the fourth driver in NASCAR Busch Series history to post three wins in a row. Martin joined Harry Gant, Larry Pearson and Sam Ard as the only drivers to win three in a row. Martin was followed across the line a year ago by Elton Sawyer, Bobby Labonte, Buckshot Jones and Joe Nemechek.

With his 18th-place finish in last week's Sam's Town Las Vegas 300, defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie became the first driver in series history to top the $2 million dollar mark in career winnings. LaJoie has now won $2,014,994.

Only once in the history of the Stihl 300 has a driver won the race from the pole. In 1992, Jeff Gordon was able to win the Atlanta 300 from his front row starting spot. The farthest back a driver has ever started and won the Stihl 300 from is the 23rd starting position. Harry Gant was able to accomplish this feat in 1994.

Hermie Sadler's streak of 143 consecutive starts is still intact after Las Vegas. He has not missed a race since Oct. 24, 1992.

In the six-year history of the Stihl 300, there have been six different winners: Jeff Gordon, Ward Burton, Harry Gant, Johnny Benson, Terry Labonte and Mark Martin.

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Drivers Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Joe Nemechek , Buckshot Jones , Johnny Benson , Mark Green , Hermie Sadler , Ed Berrier , Harry Gant , Mark Martin