EPIC FINISH GIVES DEFENDING ROOKIE OF THE YEAR A LEG UP FOR CHAMPIONSHIP CONCORD, NC (June 12, 2006) -- There were a lot of noticeable changes around Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC) Saturday night. The NASCAR Busch North Series had a new name,...
EPIC FINISH GIVES DEFENDING ROOKIE OF THE YEAR A LEG UP FOR CHAMPIONSHIP
CONCORD, NC (June 12, 2006) -- There were a lot of noticeable changes around Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC) Saturday night. The NASCAR Busch North Series had a new name, the Busch East Series, and the stars of the new BES were making their first-ever start at the historic half-mile. Another drastic change was that Andy Santerre wasn't behind the wheel of a car at Greenville, but instead atop the pit box for the new driver of the #44 Casella Waste Services Chevrolet for the new Andy Santerre Motorsports team, Sean Caisse.
Caisse wouldn't let anyone forget that Santerre had won three-straight season-opening events from 2002-2004 in the series by continuing the tradition for ASM. The 20-year-old won his first career Busch East race Saturday at Greenville, bringing him and his car owner into a new Victory Lane.
"You can't describe the feeling," said Caisse. "I have won races before, but haven't won in a long time. This win means a lot. Having Andy in my corner this year, he has taught me a real good lesson and is a good teacher. He taught me how to run that race. He told me to save my stuff and let those guys go and make their picks and because of that we won.
"I had tears in my eyes and was seeing spots because I had held my breath the last five laps. I could barely see. It's just an amazing feeling. I got chills all over my body. I am just so happy for everyone on this team because we have worked so hard to get these cars prepared. I don't know if we had the best car today, but we drove the wheels off of it and had a great pit stop. This is probably one of the best feelings of my career."
The win wasn't easy for the sophomore sensation, however. Even though he had a stellar second-place qualifying effort, Caisse jockeyed for the top spot with several drivers throughout the 150-lap event. Caisse battled Ryan Moore for the win in the closing stages, but on lap 142 the defending series Rookie of the Year took the lead for the final time after an epic battle that will go down as one of the most memorable finishes in Busch East history.
"On the second-to-last restart, I was on the outside and Ryan jumped it by about six cars and I was left hanging. Bryon Chew was right on me then for second. When you are side by side with people here you almost have to touch each other to get by. It's one of those racetracks where you can't be clean when other drivers aren't being clean. If you let the other people push you around, they are going to keep doing it.
"On the last restart I had the preferred groove on the bottom. He let off early and tried to cut down on the bottom. At this place you drive it in so hard with the brakes that it's easy to lock up the tires. I was walking it, walking it, walking it. We made contact and he went spinning up the racetrack. He must have gotten hit by someone else, too, because he wasn't going to spin from how I hit him. That kept us in the lead, but we weren't able to celebrate just yet."
There was still work to do. On the ensuing restart, Caisse was locked into a battle with Bryon Chew for the top spot. As the two headed for the checkers, Brian Hoar stuck a nose into the fray, but Caisse withstood the pressure, looking more like a crafty veteran than a youngster chasing his first win.
"Coming out of four Bryon (Chew) tried to hold me down in the loose stuff. We were touching coming to the green and I was all the way on the bottom. When the right front gets pinned up against his door, you can't steer off of it. I was stuck into him. I finally got off of him and then I noticed that Brian Hoar was right there on me, too.
"He raced me like another veteran. Brian may have hit me, and I would have probably done the same thing. It's hard not to overdrive the thing like that when you are going for it. He apologized and told me he didn't mean to do it, and I trust him. He was one of the first drivers to come to me when I was a rookie and give me advice. He taught me how to run a road course. Brian and I go back, and he wouldn't do me wrong."
Caisse crossed beneath the checkers to the delight of his car owner and four-time series champion, Andy Santerre.
"I sat on the box for the first hundred laps," said Santerre. "But if you notice, I was standing for the final 50 laps. I was on my feet and pretty excited there at the end.
I get just as excited to see someone like Sean win for the first time as I ever have being in Victory Lane myself."