A RACE OF FIRSTS: The spotlight has deservedly been on Ruben Pardo (No. 12 Movida/Family Dollar Dodge) following his victory at Lime Rock Park, the first by a Mexican driver in the Busch East Series. But there were several other significant...
A RACE OF FIRSTS: The spotlight has deservedly been on Ruben Pardo (No. 12 Movida/Family Dollar Dodge) following his victory at Lime Rock Park, the first by a Mexican driver in the Busch East Series. But there were several other significant "firsts" recorded on the historic Connecticut road course on Saturday afternoon.
It was the first race in Busch East Series history, going back to its origins as the Busch North Series in 1987, ever won by a Dodge. The only previous win by a Chrysler Corporation (now Daimler-Chrysler) product was scored by a Plymouth driven by Ralph Nason at Unity (Maine) Speedway in August 1987. It also marked the first win by the NASCAR Grand National Division "spec" engine introduced earlier this summer as an option to reduce engine costs for Grand National Division teams.
Not to be overlooked was the first trip to victory lane for crew chief Paul Wolfe. As a driver, Wolfe came close to winning in the Busch East Series, with a trio of second place finishes and two Busch Poles, but never unlocked the gates to victory lane. In fact, it was Wolfe who introduced the Dodge brand to the series in 2002 with a Tommy Baldwin-prepared car. He began the 2006 season working with Charles Lewandoski (No. 01 chalew.com Chevrolet) and helped make him a top-10 contender before joining Pardo full-time, producing stronger and stronger performances leading up to the breakthrough win at Lime Rock.
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STATS OF A CHAMPION: Mike Olsen (No. 61 Little Trees Chevrolet) compiled a record worthy of any champion in 2006. Olsen won two races, both in head-to-head competition with his championship rival Sean Caisse (No. 44 Casella Waste Systems Chevrolet), and led seven races. He finished in the top 10 in every race and in the top five all but twice (a sixth and a ninth) while completing every lap of every race, the only driver in the series to do so. He also won two Busch Poles, moving into a tie with Martin Truex Jr. for fifth in that category.
Caisse produced some impressive statistics of his own. He was the leading race winner with three and took the seasonal Busch Pole Award championship with five. Most remarkably, he led every race except the Lime Rock finale and led the most laps five times. His downfall in the title race came from two bad days, a 28th at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway in June and a 22nd at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in September. In those two races, Olsen outscored Caisse by 119 points, The final margin between them was just 124 points.
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EQUAL BUT NOT TIED: For the second half of the season, Bryon Chew (No. 99 Buzz Chew Chevrolet) and Brian Hoar (No. 45 Goss Dodge) raced each other on the track as well as in the point standings. Five times they finished within three places of each other. They swapped third in the standings during the Mohegan Sun 200, but on the last lap Hoar lost third on the track to Mike Olsen and that left both with 1656 points.
It won't go into the books as a tie, however. The NASCAR Rule Book provides that ties in the points race are broken by the highest race finish. Since Chew won at Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway in June while Hoar did not visit victory lane in 2006, the third place honors go to Bryon Chew. It's his highest career points finish, while Hoar's fourth ties his mark from 2003.
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THRILL OF VICTORY, AGONY OF DEFEAT: Aside from Ruben Pardo and Mike Olsen, the biggest winner at Lime Rock was Tracy Gordon (No. 33 The Woodworks/Archer Corp. Ford). Car owner Fred Skaff's team, which has always run a limited schedule, skipped three of the first five races but made a late run at the top 15 points position needed to earn an automatic invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, October 20-21. Counting Lime Rock, they finished with five top-10's in their last six races, a record matched only by champion Mike Olsen. .
Gordon has always downplayed his road racing skills, but he drove to a solid 10th place at Lime Rock and vaulted past Scott Bouley (No. 26 OSI Protective Services Chevrolet) and Joe Masessa (No. 14 Skin Cancer Foundation Chevrolet) to gain that vital 15th place by 25 points from Bouley and 34 from Massesa.
For Bouley in particular it was a huge disappointment, as his small family team had run one car and one engine all year and had never been out of the top 15 until the transmission failed in the early laps at Lime Rock, the track nearest his hometown of Thomaston, Conn. He returned in the faint hope that he could pick up enough spots to preserve the top 15 standing, but his eventual 27th place was nine places short of holding off Gordon in the final total.
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CORRECTION: Matt Kobyluck's money won at Lime Rock was incorrect in the unofficial finish distributed after the race. His Busch Pole winnings were omitted. The correct money won for Kobyluck at Lime Rock is $7,596.
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MILESTONES: Ruben Pardo earned the 2006 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award with his victory. He's the first driver to win in his rookie season since 2000, when both Mike Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. accomplished that feat. Dion Ciccarelli (No. 84 Star Sales Ford) and John Freeman (No. 22 Bluegreen Resorts Ddoge) were second and third in the Sunoco Rookie standings.... Pierre Bourque (no, 10 Canada.com/Driving.ca Chevrolet) scored his best career finish in 13th, but he didn't really get to enjoy it as he was involved in an accident on the last lap and never saw the checkered flag. Bourque is entered to drive in the ARCA ReMax Series event at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this Saturday... The return of Babe Branscombe (No. 11 Waste Management/BG Environmental Chevrolet) was a short one as Babe was out after 11 laps with brake trouble. While absent from the Busch East Series for several seasons, the multi-time champion at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. has kept busy racing in SCCA events with a Corvette... Branscombe's teammate John Salemi was a top-10 contender until the transmission trouble which affected many teams sent him to the sidelines and a 24th place finish. Fortunately, it did not cost Salemi his 13th place in the final standings.... Former Busch East Series driver Joe Riolo won the historic sports car race at Lime Rock driving a Datsun 240Z carrying his old Busch East number 93... The pre-race autograph session in the infield midway was attended by 14 drivers, a Lime Rock record... A total of 71 drivers participated in at least one Busch East Series event in 2006.