THREE TO GO TO THE TITLE; THREE TO GO UNTIL THE NASCAR TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN FOR NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, BUSCH EAST SERIES DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 6, 2006) -- While it does not include a formal "Chase", the NASCAR Grand...
THREE TO GO TO THE TITLE; THREE TO GO UNTIL THE NASCAR TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN FOR NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, BUSCH EAST SERIES
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 6, 2006) -- While it does not include a formal "Chase", the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series schedule imitates its big brother, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, in packing its championship decision into a rapid-fire series of races in the fall.
Starting at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H. on Saturday, Sept. 16, the Busch East Series title will be settled over an intense stretch run of three races in 15 days. At the same time, the Busch East Series drivers are battling for 15 spots in the fourth annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, October 20-21. This special event matches the Busch East Series drivers against their counterparts from the AutoZone West Series in a $500,000 contest televised nationally by SPEED.. That makes the battle to finish in the top 15 of the final point standings nearly as pressure-packed as the contest for the championship.
Here is an overview of the current top 15 and those challenging for the coveted invitations to the Toyota All-Star Showdown on the eve of the final three events: the New Hampshire 125 at NHIS on Sept. 16, the Sunoco 150 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sept. 22, and the Mohegan Sun 200 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., on Sept. 30.
1. Mike Olsen, North Haverhill, N.H., No. 61 Little Trees Chevrolet. Points: 1355. Previous ranking: 1 -- Since his breakthrough victory at NHIS in July, Olsen has made no mistakes that might compromise his title chances, finishing third at Adirondack International Speedway in Beaver Falls, N.Y., and fourth at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl. Sean Caisse has chipped 10 points off his lead, leaving Olsen no margin for error with a 44-point advantage. Olsen does bring the psychological advantage to NHIS of having passed Caisse for the win there on the last lap in July, but his Dover record is spotty, with only one top-10 finish in five starts. On the other hand, Olsen is solid at Lime Rock with six top-10's in the last seven years, including third in 2004 and second in 2005. And of course Olsen and his team have been in close point races before, winning the championship in 2001 and finishing second in 2004.
2. Sean Caisse, Pelham, N.H., No. 44 Casella Waste Systems Chevrolet. Points: 1311. Previous ranking: 2 -- Caisse came close to turning the tables on Olsen at Waterford, as he won his fourth Busch Pole Award of the season in the debut of the NASCAR Grand National Division "spec" engine. But he spun out while battling Matt Kobyluck for the lead and finished sixth. Bonus points, awarded in five-point increments for each driver who leads a lap and five points for the driver who leads the most laps, could be the decisive factor for Caisse. He's led every race in 2006, led the most laps four times, and scored 60 bonus points to 20 for Olsen. Bonus points alone can't wipe out Olsen's 44-point lead, but they can make a substantial difference. As for Caisse's lack of experience in the pressure of a title race, fear not- his crew chief and car owner, Andy Santerre, has won the last four he's been in.
3. Bryon Chew, Mattituck, N.Y., No. 99 Buzz Chew Chevrolet. Points: 1179. Previous ranking: 4 -- If Olsen and Caisse remain on track, there will be no championship for Chew in 2006, but there is plenty to play for in the final three races. He has finally won a Busch East Series race after six years of trying, at Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway in June, and joined the ranks of the contenders at every race. Next on the agenda is a superspeedway win and he has two chances coming in as many weeks at NHIS and Dover. The end of the season should be positive, if history is any guide, since Chew took second at Lime Rock in 2002, his best career finish until 2006, and he brought home a top-five from the inaugural Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2003.
4. Brian Hoar, Williston, Vt., No. 45 Goss Dodge Intrepid. Points: 1170. Previous ranking: 3 -- A statistical oddity from the Waterford event symbolizes Hoar's 2006 season to date. He finished third, but lost a place in the standings to Bryon Chew. Everything has been an uphill climb for the Goss Dodge team, but they could achieve several milestones at NHIS. Although he is the track record holder there and won the Busch Pole Award in July, he has never won at the "Magic Mile" or any other superspeedway. Moreover, the distinction of bringing Dodge its first Busch East Series victory would be enhanced if it came in a companion event on a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series weekend. The Toyota All-Star Showdown also looms larger in Hoar's sights, since he was obliged to decline the invitation last year due to a series of late-season misfortunes that left him without a competitive car for the trip to California.
5. Matt Kobyluck, Uncasville, Conn., No. 40 Mohegan Sun Chevrolet. Points: 1168. Previous ranking: 5 -- For Kobyluck, New Hampshire International Speedway is an object lesson in Murphy's Law: if anything can go wrong, it will. Bulletproof everywhere else, his cars develop race-ending gremlins every time at NHIS, or so it seems. This July it was a broken valve lifter that relegated him to 35th place and again drove a stake through the heart of his championship hopes. He will approach NHIS with the momentum of a victory in the most recent Busch East Series race at Waterford, his home track, but also feeling the loss of his superspeedway car, totaled while competing with the AutoZone West Series at California Speedway on Labor Day weekend. Looking over the horizon, the prospects are much brighter. He won at Dover in 2002 and he's the defending winner of his sponsor's race at Lime Rock. Among Grand National Division drivers who have competed in the first three Toyota All-Star Showdowns, he holds the best average finish.
6. Mike Johnson, Salisbury, Mass., No. 96 Johnson Lumber Ford. Points:1116. Previous ranking: 6 -- It's hard to imagine that Johnson has not taken a checkered flag since the 2004 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, where he became the only Busch East Series driver to claim that honor. At NHIS in July he damaged the car in morning practice, but an all-day effort by his crew gave him a chance to salvage a 13th place finish. At Adirondack, however, the accident came in the final laps and relegated him to 23rd. Johnson has never won at the remaining tracks on the regular season schedule, but he has at least one top five finish at all except Dover.
7. Joey McCarthy, Randolph, N.J., No. 3 STI Motorsports Chevrolet. Points: 1078. Previous ranking: 7 -- If there were a "stealth" award for the 2006 Busch East Series season, McCarthy would win it in a runaway. His car is usually without major sponsorship and he usually qualifies in the middle third of the field, but he's always on the move forward and has registered six top-10's in the last seven races, each time finishing higher than he started. Neither NHIS nor Dover has been kind to McCarthy, with a seventh in 2004 his best at the former and a trio of 14th's his least disastrous appearances at the latter. He starred at Lime Rock in 2005 by driving a car rebuilt after a practice crash to third and his performances at Irwindale have always been stellar.
8. Charles Lewandoski, Stafford Springs, Conn., No. 01 Lewandoski Construction Chevrolet. Points: 1041. Previous ranking: 8 -- How you rate the 2006 campaign for Lewandoski depends entirely on your frame of reference. Compared to 2005, when he started as a favorite for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award but never was in the running, it's been a great turnaround. But considering only this year, after rising to fifth in points following a career-best third place at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway in June, he's hit a bump in the road. Fortunately, his eighth place at Waterford broke a string of four straight runs of 18th or worse, so hopefully the tide is turning again for "Chalew". He's closer to McCarthy in front (37 points) than he is to Anton behind (65 points), and he's solidly in the field for the Toyota All-Star Showdown.
9. Jeff Anton, Russell, Mass., No. 30 Engineered Floors Chevrolet. Points: 978. Previous ranking: 9 -- The Jeff Anton of 2006 has come a long way from his debut late in the 2004 season. Of course, Dale Quarterley's influence has been enormous as both mentor and crew chief, but Anton has gotten the job done on the track. His last hurdle may be consistency- he has three top-10's in 2006, but also four finishes or 16th or below. Nevertheless, an invitation to California is within his grasp as well as a possible top-10 finish in the final standings.
10. Ruben Pardo, Mexico City, Mexico, No. 12 SuperCuts/Family Dollar Dodge Charger. Points: 972. Previous ranking:10 - Pardo was the picture of consistency until an early exit at Adirondack left him last in the race and cost him the lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He responded to adversity by beating his rookie rival, Dion Ciccarelli, by one place at Waterford to reclaim the Sunoco Rookie lead, notching his fourth top-10 finish along the way. While the rookie honor is his top priority, he has at least an even chance to join Brad Leighton, Mike Johnson, and Sean Caisse by ranking in the top-10 in points at the end of his rookie season.
11. Kip Stockwell, Braintree, Vt., No. 16 Sabil & Sons/Randolph National Bank Chevrolet. Points: 964. Previous ranking: 11 -- Stockwell's seventh place at Waterford was his best finish since he ran fifth at the same track in 2001. His only two finishes lower than 11th have come from electrical failure at Lake Erie and damage from an accident not of his making in the first visit to NHIS. After scrambling to achieve their first Toyota All-Star Showdown invitation in 2005, the three-generation family team can prepare with confidence for a return to Irwindale Speedway in 2006.
12. Dion Ciccarelli, Severn, Md., No. 84 Star Sales Ford. Points: 927. Previous ranking: 12 -- While Ciccarelli needs help to get into the top 10 in the final standings, he can achieve two other goals on his own. The first is a Toyota All-Star Showdown invitation, and he's currently 88 points to the good in that quest. The other is the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, where he trails Ruben Pardo by one point. He can win the Sunoco Rookie title, however, by beating Pardo twice in the final three races, since rookie points are awarded on a 10-9-8-7-6 scale and the rest of the field is too far behind Pardo and Ciccarelli to catch up, barring a complete collapse by both of them.
13. John Salemi, Nashua, N.H., No. 15 Waste Management/BG Environmental/ Daddy's Hot Sauce Chevrolet. Points: 882. Previous ranking: 14 -- Salemi was the only driver other than Bryon Chew to gain a place among the top 15 at Waterford. The Mark Willoughby team is finally starting to show consistency after a terrible streak of four races out of five outside the top 20, ending at NHIS in July. If they can get to the Toyota All-Star Showdown, and the odds are in their favor, watch out. The team's best performance ever was Bobby Dragon's top-five run at Irwindale in 2004.
14. Scott Bouley, Thomaston, Conn., No. 26 Aurell Excavating/Gravel's Auto Body Chevrolet. Points: 869. Previous ranking: 13 -- The little family team with one purple car has run race-to-race in 2006, always staying in the top 15. With three races to go, their margin over 16th place is not comfortable at 30 points. Bouley can afford to concede a position to John Freeman, who is just five points behind and ran in the top ten at NHIS in July. But he must stay ahead of both Joe Masessa and Pierre Bourque if he is to earn the prize that has kept the team motivated, the invitation to the Toyota All-Star Showdown. Fortunately, the season's final race is at Lime Rock, where he initially scored his best career finish, and just as important, he's just a few miles from home.
15. John Freeman, Huntersville, N.C., No. 5 MTX/Kenwood Audio Chevrolet. Points: 864. Previous ranking: 15 - The former champion of the weekly Legends car races at Lowe's Motor Speedway can salvage some success out of a season that saw the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honor slip out of reach by mid-season if he can duplicate his earlier top-10 finish at NHIS and carry through to a Toyota All-Star Showdown invitation. Credit for the rebound goes to both Freeman, who learned some hard lessons early in the season, and to car owner Barney McRae, who showed patience with the driver who may still show talent comparable to McRae's 2005 rookie sensation, Sean Caisse.
ON THE BUBBLE: Ironically, the two drivers closest to earning invitations to the Toyota All-Star Showdown are the two drivers among the Busch East Series driving fraternity with the off-track occupations that seem least likely for a professional race driver- dermatologist Dr. Joe Masessa (No. 14 Skin Cancer Foundation Chevrolet) with 839 points and business website entrepreneur Pierre Bourque (No. 10 Driving.ca/Canada.com Chevrolet) with 836. There are other similarities too- both are supported by experienced teams, Moore Racing for Masessa and Andy Hillenburg Motorsports for Bourque, and both mix other racing series with their Busch East schedules. Masessa is active in the Grand-Am Cup road racing series, and Bourque has raced in the ARCA REMAX Series and with CASCAR in his native Canada during 2006. Both will need to show a strong closing performance to receive a guaranteed invitation to the Showdown, but each has considerable road racing experience; Bourque, in fact, raced against several future Grand Prix drivers in Europe during the1980's. That means Lime Rock could be a chance for either or both to make up the needed ground.
As always, there are good reasons to contest the positions below 15th, as if any of the top 15 cannot attend the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, invitations can be accepted by the next drivers in the standings to complete the 15-car Busch East Series roster. In addition, Busch East Series point fund money is paid through the 20th position. Currently holding the 18th to 20th positions in the standings are Patrick Dupree (No. 24 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet), Jeremy Clark (No. 25 Drake Oil Co. Chevrolet), and Rich Gould (No. 8 Nassau Painting Chevrolet.)