BUSCH: Stefanik is Ready to Rock

Stefanik is ready to Rock ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 17, 1998) Mike Stefanik has conquered several NASCAR divisions in his native Northeast -- including a modern-era record two NASCAR touring series championships in one season -- and now he's set...

Stefanik is ready to Rock

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 17, 1998)

Mike Stefanik has conquered several NASCAR divisions in his native Northeast -- including a modern-era record two NASCAR touring series championships in one season -- and now he's set to try to "Rock the World" of the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division this weekend in the GM Goodwrench Service Plus 200 at North Carolina Motor Speedway.

Stefanik, 39, of Coventry, R.I., joined NASCAR legend Lee Petty as the only drivers who have won two NASCAR touring division championships in the same year last season when he won both the NASCAR Busch North Series Grand National Division and NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour championships. He also was voted Most Popular Driver in both series.

Stefanik hopes to make his inaugural run for the No. 96 Big A Auto Parts Pontiac team Saturday. He tested two weeks ago at the 1.017-mile, high-banked North Carolina sandhills facility and pronounced himself ready to begin his NASCAR Busch Series career.

Stefanik will drive for Andretti-Laird Racing, which is owned by NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver John Andretti and well-known motorsports administrator Don Laird. Andretti is one of just four drivers with major race victories in the three major American racing series: NASCAR (1997 Pepsi 400 at Daytona Beach, Fla.); CART (1991 Gold Coast Grand Prix in Australia); and IMSA (1989 Rolex 24 At Daytona).

Andretti drove the Big A Auto Parts entry in the season's opening race, the NAPA Auto Parts 300 at Daytona International Speedway, coming home 13th.

"I think a driver has an advantage driving for another driver," Stefanik said. "John understands what's going on with the car and what's going on with the track. He's been at Rockingham before, and all of these other tracks, so he knows the deal. That helps a lot. It not only helps from an 'understanding car owner' situation but helps from an experience standpoint. To have somebody who knows the ins and outs of these tracks is going to be nothing but beneficial for me and for the Big A Auto Parts team."

Andretti said the feeling is mutual. "We're really excited to have Mike driving for us," the Nazareth, Pa., native said. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather have representing our race team and representing Big A Auto Parts. He is a class guy and a class driver.

"One of the things I really like about him is the he can get in just about anything and be successful. There's a good bit of difference between Modifieds and Busch Grand National cars, but Mike was able to jump back and forth the past several years with no trouble at all. He's not going to have any problem acclimating to the Busch Grand National Series. He's going to fit in right away. The guys in that series are like the ones in any other. They recognize good talent and they appreciate it. That's what they are going to see from Mike."

"He just likes to race and he likes to win. That's the kind of guy I am, and I like seeing that in other drivers. I had a ball whether I was racing go-karts or Indy cars or stock cars or dragsters or anything else. Mike loves running Modifieds and Busch cars and anything else he can get behind the wheel of. I'm figuring the two of us will be racing snowmobiles against each other sometime, and I'm not planning on cutting him any slack either. Of course, neither will he.

"The other thing I really like is the kind of guy he is. That's quite a compliment from his fellow competitors to win Most Popular Driver in not one but two different divisions in the same year. And remember, he won the championship, too. Usually one of the least popular drivers is the guy who wins what everybody else wanted to win. But that shows you what kind of guy he is.

"Mike is already fitting right in with me, Don, (crew chief) John Birosh and everybody on this Big A Auto Parts Pontiac team. We're pretty excited about the future."

And so is Stefanik, who won two NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour titles before his big score in 1997. "This is a real opportunity and I'm really excited about it," said Stefanik, whose wife, Julie, is the daughter of speed shop owner Sonny Koszela. "I've had a great time racing around New England, and I know I'm going to have a great time in this series. I know a lot of the guys and everybody tells me it's super. It's not like a guy from the North can't fit in. Randy LaJoie is out of Connecticut, but has won two straight championships. Mike McLaughlin started in Modifieds too, went to the Busch Series, and they voted him Most Popular Driver. The Bodines, Jimmy Spencer, Ron Bouchard, a lot of guys came out of the North and did pretty well. I'm hoping I can add to their success.

"This is a good race team. John (Andretti) and Don (Laird) have put together a good group. (Crew chief) John Birosh was a big name up here in racing for a long time before he headed to the Busch Series. He's got some great people working with him, and they have some pretty good cars.

"It was hard not running Daytona, but I was glad John did so well there. They qualified well (11th) and finished well (13th) and, with a little luck, who knows how good they could have done? That makes me feel good. I'm glad to see the team do well and I'm glad they are showing people how well they can do.

"I'm excited about getting started with this Big A Auto Parts Pontiac team."

Courtesy of NASCAR Online

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Drivers John Andretti , Jimmy Spencer , Mike McLaughlin , Lee Petty