Lamar, Holmes, Gilliland, Santerre top NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown Qualifying Night at Irwindale Speedway IRWINDALE, Calif. - On an evening which featured three-wide and even four-wide racing but not a single caution flag, the four ...
Lamar, Holmes, Gilliland, Santerre top NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown Qualifying Night at Irwindale Speedway
IRWINDALE, Calif. - On an evening which featured three-wide and even four-wide racing but not a single caution flag, the four qualifying races for the second annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway saw Burney Lamar and Eric Holmes score a clean sweep for the Southwest Series in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, while the NASCAR Grand National Division qualifiers were split by David Gilliland of the West Series and Andy Santerre, champion of the Busch North Series. As a result, Lamar and Holmes will start on the front row of Saturday night's 125-lap AutoZone Elite Division feature event, while Gilliland and Santerre share the front rank for the 150-lap Grand National Division contest.
The opening AutoZone Elite Division qualifying race saw Lamar of West Sacramento, Calif., the Southwest Series winner at Irwindale in May, charge from 16th starting position to the lead in just 12 laps. From that point he checked out and won by 1.9 seconds over fellow Southwest Series driver Doug McCoun. Eddie Hoffman of the Midwest Series took third just past the halfway mark, while early leader John Bender of the Northwest Series held on for fourth. Craig Raudman (Southwest) caught Brian Hoppe (Midwest) for the fifth spot with four laps remaining.
"It seems like every single time we come to Irwindale, this track really seems to turn things around for us," Lamar related, adding "We as a team really did our homework before coming back here. When we unloaded we had a decent car and kept working and working to get it as good as it was."
"This victory is pretty sweet, but tomorrow night is what it's all about," he declared.
Holmes, from Escalon, Calif., authored a near duplicate of Lamar's performance in the second AutoZone Elite Division qualifier. He started 12th and chased down Todd Souza (Southwest) with nine laps to go, running an inside line while most of the field stayed in the preferred high groove. Souza finished second, 1.3 seconds behind, with Jason Jefferson (Northwest) advancing from 19th to third, also making successful use of the bottom line. Rip Michels made it three Southwest Series drivers in the top four, while Tim Schendel (Midwest) edged Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson for fifth.
"For some reason, my car worked better on the bottom part of the track even though I was a little scared to go there because everybody else was running the upper groove," Holmes explained. "As I was working my way through the field, it got to the point to where I had moved up as far as could on the top side so then I made the move to the bottom and it worked out great," he added.
Gilliland, the 2004 Grand National Division, West Series AutoMeter Rookie of the Year from Riverside, Calif., made his run from 13th in the lineup to the lead in just 13 laps of the first Grand National Division qualifier, passing Jamie Aube (Busch North) for the top spot. His winning margin was 3.3 seconds over 2003 West Series champion Scott Lynch. Kelly Moore, the all-time Busch North Series leader in race wins, poles, and money won, finished strong to take third ahead of a three-wide battle which raged for the second half of the race with Joey McCarthy coming out in front of fellow Busch North competitors Bobby Dragon and Brian Hoar.
"We got out to the lead and we were kind of riding after that. I've really, really got a great race car that I think we can make even better after we make a couple of small adjustments. I'm really excited about getting down to business in the big race," Gilliland commented after setting himself on a course to redeem two tough losses at Irwindale during the regular Grand National Division, West Series season.
Santerre, the Cherryfield, Maine native who won his third straight Busch North title in 2004, repeated his 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown performance by winning his qualifier from the 15th and final starting position. This time he took half the race, 25 laps, to make his way to the front, but once in the lead he pulled away to a 3.4 second margin of victory. Brett Thompson of the West Series, who led the first 24 laps from his outside front row starting spot, prevailed over Dale Quarterley (Busch North) in a side-by-side duel for second that was settled of turn four on the final lap. Defending Toyota All-Star Showdown champion Austin Cameron and fellow West Series driver Scott Gaylord completed the top five.
"My plan all along was to try and run on the bottom of the track and it ended up working out for us," Santerre said after the race. "We as a team sat down last night after practice and decided that we needed to make some changes. We came back today and worked hard on getting the car to stay good on long runs," he continued.
"It was a good decision on our part. If you would have asked me before the race if I was going to be able to start from the back of the pack and win this race I would have had to disagree with you. I thought there were two many good cars to be able to pull this off," Santerre concluded.
Saturday night's Toyota All-Star Showdown feature events will be televised live, flag-to-flag by SPEED Channel, with the AutoZone Elite Division set for a green flag at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time (5:00 p.m. Pacific), with the Grand National Diviison race to follow.