HEADING FOR THE SHOWDOWN DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 4, 2006) - The battle for the 2006 NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series title has become a classic confrontation between two contrasting drivers and teams, both at the top of...
HEADING FOR THE SHOWDOWN
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (August 4, 2006) - The battle for the 2006 NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series title has become a classic confrontation between two contrasting drivers and teams, both at the top of their form for the stretch run to the championship. And there's plenty more at stake over the final four races of the season, including the 15 coveted berths on the Busch East Series team for the fourth annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in southern California, October 20-21. The Busch East Series squad will again match up against their counterparts from the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series which will also send its top 15 drivers to Irwindale.
Here is a look at the title contenders and the remainder of the top 15 as the Busch East Series teams prepare for the home stretch, which begins with the Big Y World Class Markets 150 at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl on Saturday, August 19.
1. MIKE OLSEN, North Haverhill, N.H., No. 61 Little Trees Chevrolet. Points: 1190. Previous ranking: 1 - Olsen's small shop on the banks of the Connecticut River isn't fancy, but the tight-knit crew members who work there produce winning race cars in the tradition handed down from Mike's grandfather, the legendary northeastern racer Stub Fadden. Always a consistent finisher, the 2001 champion had not unlocked the gates of victory lane since 2003 until he won at Lake Erie Speedway in North East, Pa., in early July. Then he backed up that short track win with his first superspeedway victory at New Hampshire International Speedway. His NHIS victory was accomplished in the most dramatic fashion possible, taking the lead for the first and only time in turn three of the last lap. A hard-fought third on old tires in The Edge Hotel 150 at Adirondack International Speedway allowed him to preserve 34 points of his previous 54-point lead. He also has a pair of Busch Pole Awards at Greenville-Pickens and Lake Erie on his 2006 resume.
2. SEAN CAISSE, Pelham, N.H., No. 44 Casella Waste Systems Chevrolet. Points: 1156. Previous ranking: 2 - Running side-by-side with Olsen in the standings and often on the track, sophomore sensation Caisse might well have five wins instead of three had Olsen not passed him at Lake Erie and NHIS. Caisse, 20, teamed with four-time defending champion Andy Santerre as his car owner and crew chief in 2006 and opened the season with his first career victory at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C. He backed it up with another win at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn.the following week. After a month away from victory lane he came roaring back to win at Adirondack. Three statistics stand out in Caisse's season- two good, one bad. He's won three Busch Poles and he never qualified worse than third in the first seven races. Partly as a result of his qualifying prowess, he led every one of those races, and he led the most laps in four of them. The only blot on his record came at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway in June, where he broke the driveshaft while leading after only 13 laps, leaving him 28th and last in the race. Without the Thompson retirement, Caisse would be the point leader and Olsen the chaser.
3. BRIAN HOAR, Williston Vt., No. 45 Goss Dodge Intrepid. Points: 1005. Previous ranking: 5 - Hoar has done just about everything but win this year, including a Busch Pole at NHIS where he holds the track record. At Adirondack he charged through the pack to take fourth after stopping for tires with less than 30 laps left, picking up two spots in the standings as he went. Hoar has a flair for the dramatic: his only career victory came in 2003 at his home track in Barre, Vt., when he was still driving his infamous "Montrepid"- a Chevy Monte Carlo painted to look like a Dodge Intrepid in Evernham Motorsports colors. When the first win comes in the real Dodge he now drives, it will be a memorable moment.
4. BRYON CHEW, Mattituck, N.Y., No. 99 Buzz Chew Chevrolet. Points: 1004. Previous ranking: 6 - Hoar and Chew both race the brand their family dealerships sell, and both gained two places in the standings at Adirondack thanks to strong finishes after pit stops. Chew pitted earlier than Hoar and made it back to second, telling SPEED's Jim Tretow that he needed only one more lap to set up Sean Caisse. It's already been a great year for Chew Crew, as six years of effort and frustration were forgotten at Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway when Bryon scored his first victory with a dramatic late-race pass of Mike Johnson. The 2006 campaign has special significance to the Long Islander, as he has dedicated the season to his stepmother who was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident last winter.
5. MATT KOBYLUCK, Uncasville, Conn., No. 40 Mohegan Sun Chevrolet. Points: 978. Previous ranking: 3 - For the first five races of 2006, the sun indeed shone on the Mohegan Sun team. The series biggest driver (6-5, 240) left Thompson on June 29 standing tall with his first win of the season and the point lead, and backed it up with a solid sixth at Lake Erie. Then his nemesis, New Hampshire International Speedway, again took its toll. Kobyluck, who has not finished better than 19th at NHIS in four years, broke a valve lifter and settled for 35th. Two weeks later at Adirondack, he won the Busch Pole, led 99 laps, and was running second with four laps to go when an accident left him 24th. In three races, he plummeted from first to fifth in points, over 200 behind Olsen. To make up roughly 50 points per race on two tough customers like Olsen and Caisse is highly unlikely, so Matt becomes the highest ranking driver who is really focused on other challenges. All the last four races are significant, since Waterford is his hometown track, he desperately wants another chance to get even with NHIS, and he's a former winner at both Dover and Lime Rock. Then there's the Toyota All-Star Showdown, where Kobyluck has the highest average finish (5.3) of all drivers who have raced in all three previous editions and are expected back this year.
6. MIKE JOHNSON, Salisbury, Mass., No. 96 Johnson Lumber Ford. Points: 961. Previous ranking: 4 - Kobyluck and Johnson have shared the same mid-season roller-coaster ride; in fact, they were both eliminated at Adirondack in the same incident and fell two spots in the standings together. Johnson, still seeking his first victory since the 2004 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, had regained consistent top-five form after a terrible second half of the 2005 season and made a statement by driving a car wrecked in morning practice to 13th at NHIS. The Johnson team is by far the leading carrier of Ford's blue oval on the series in 2006 and a threat to break into victory lane at any short track. There's only one short track left on the regular season Busch East schedule, so Waterford, where they won in 2001 and 2004, assumes a large place in their pre-Showdown priorities.
7. JOEY McCARTHY, Randolph, N.J., No. 3 STI Motorsports Chevrolet. Points: 948. Previous ranking: 8 - McCarthy has moved south to the Charlotte, N.C., area to live, but the Garden State native has spent the first two-thirds of the Busch East Series moving north in the standings, that is, closer to the top. Since he crashed in the opener at Greenville-Pickens, he's only been out of the top 10 once, and that was a 13th. He is also one of the most consistent drivers in improving his starting position. Although he has yet to win a POWERade Power Move of the Race Award, he's finished higher than he started six races in a row. In October he will return to the site of his golden moment on national television, when he won his Friday night qualifying race and led the first 100 laps of the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown feature in 2003.
8. CHARLES LEWANDOSKI, Stafford Springs, Conn., No. 01 Lewandoski Construction Chevrolet. Points: 899. Previous ranking: 7 - 'Chalew', as he calls himself, turned heads by reeling off four straight top 10 finishes to start the season and has stayed in the top 10 on the points chart all year. Former Busch East Series driver Paul Wolfe worked with Lewandoski in preparation for the season and at the opening races before taking the full-time crew chief job for Ruben Pardo. Lewandoski's challenge is to keep the momentum going for the rest of the season.
9. JEFF ANTON, Russell, Mass., No. 30 Engineered Floors Chevrolet. Points: 876. Previous ranking: 10 - Closing in Lewandoski is his 2005 Sunoco Rookie classmate, Jeff Anton. The former motocross racer has benefited from the coaching and crew chief skills of another former two-wheel star, Dale Quarterley, to become a regular top 10 contender. He set a personal mark by finishing seventh at Greenville-Pickens, then broke it at Adirondack with a sixth place finish one place behind his mentor, Quarterley.
10. RUBEN PARDO, Mecico City, Mexico, No. 12 SuperCuts/Family Dollar Dodge Charger. Points: 834. Previous ranking: 9 - Pardo was on a roll leading to Adirondack, with three top 10 finishes in a row, headed by an impressive sixth at NHIS. It had to end sometime and it did with a last-place finish despite his crew's valiant efforts to keep him on the track. Although he remains the highest rookie in the overall point standings, he dropped into a tie with Dion Ciccarelli for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year point lead which counts only finishes compared to the other rookies, not to the rest of the field. Nevertheless, he remains the favorite for the Sunoco title with his proven superspeedway strength and his road racing experience which should be a plus at Lime Rock.
11. KIP STOCKWELL, Braintree, Vt., No. 16 Sabil & Sons/ Randolph Bank Chevrolet. Points: 818. Previous ranking: 11 - With chassis updates in the off-season by former series driver Jeff Taylor and new rig to pull their classic trailer, the Stockwell family stepped up for 2006 and it shows on the track. Stockwell has already equaled his career best three top 10 finishes set last year and has ranked as high as seventh in points. His NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown debut in 2005 produced a top-20 finish in his backup car, a Pontiac which started life as Chuck Bown's Skoal Bandit in the 1980's. With modern equipment, he should go to California in style in 2006.
12. DION CICCARELLI, Severn, Md., No. 84 Star Sales Ford. Points: 793. Previous ranking: 12 - Ciccarelli and the Jamerson Motorsports team made a commitment to run for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 and they have never wavered. Dion scored maximum rookie points in his first two races, hit a dry spell while Ruben Pardo pulled ahead, but got back on track at Adirondack to tie for the Sunoco award lead. He's also in a strong but not safe position for a Toyota All-Star Showdown invitation, with a 60-point margin over 16th place. While you would never notice it from as close as a foot away, Dion's short track car is also a piece of Busch East Series history. At Greenville-Pickens he drove the first car in the series equipped with a composite body, introduced as a cost-saving option this year.
13. SCOTT BOULEY, Thomaston, Conn., No. 26 Towne & Aurell Excavating Chevrolet. Points: 766. Previous ranking: 13 - Bouley and his 'plum crazy' purple car are leading a tight draft for the last three invitations to the Toyota All-Star Showdown. The Bouley family team gets a lot out of a little, and last year Bouley barely missed making the trip to California. To receive an invitation to to NASCAR regional racing's version of the Big Dance would be one of the high points of a racing career that has spanned three generations of Bouleys.
14. JOHN SALEMI, Nashua, N.H., No. 15 Waste Management/Daddy's Hot Sauce Chevrolet. Points: 758. Previous ranking: 16 - Last year as a rookie, Salemi enjoyed success with a family operation. The 2006 season, with Mark Willoughby's team, has been an up-and-down experience, mixing top 10 runs at Greenville-Pickens and Thompson with too many crashes not of his making. The good news is that they have broken into the top 15, with no margin for error to be sure, but they can start cautiously thinking about the Toyota All-Star Showdown, where the Willoughby team enjoyed its biggest weekend with Bobby Dragon's fifth place in 2004.
15. JOHN FREEMAN, Huntersville, N.C., No. 5 MTX/Kenwood Audio Chevrolet. Points: 752. Previous ranking: 15 - Aiming to duplicate the success of Sean Caisse as Barney McRae's driver in 2005, Freeman quickly established himself as the top qualifier among the Sunoco Rookies almost every week, but once the green flag dropped it became one disaster after another. In five races, he had only one finish better than 19th. Then it all came together at NHIS with a solid seventh place run and suddenly he was a solid contender for a NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown invitation and revived his hopes for a stretch drive toward the Sunoco Rookie honors.
ON THE BUBBLE: The closest driver to cracking the top 15 is Joe Masessa, the Franklin Lakes, N.J., dermatologist who scored a career best 11th place finish at Adirondack. Masessa has the resources of 2005 series champion Kelly Moore and Moore Racing to lead his stretch drive, which starts 19 points out of the coveted 15th spot. Completing in the top 20, and completing the drivers who have competed in every Busch East Series race so far, are Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Pierre Bourque, Jeremy Clark, and Patrick Dupree, plus Rich Gould. It's a tight group as Gould, in 20th, is only 70 points out of 15th. The 16th to 20th spots are worth contesting for two reasons. First, 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. Second, NASCAR championship point fund money is paid through 20th place. The second $50,000 installment of the point fund will be paid based on the standings following the Big Y World Class Markets 150 at Waterford Speedbowl on August 19, with the biggest point fund checks and all contingency awards handed out at the Busch East Series awards ceremony, scheduled for December 15 at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Conn.