BNS: 2002 season preview

Multitude of contenders line up to seek Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring title in 2002; Speed Channel telecasts to bring series national attention. LEE, N.H. (April 4, 2002)-- The Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring is set to kick off its 16th...

Multitude of contenders line up to seek Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring title in 2002; Speed Channel telecasts to bring series national attention.

LEE, N.H. (April 4, 2002)-- The Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring is set to kick off its 16th season at Lee USA Speedway on Sunday, April 21. A wide-open battle for the series championship and a national television package on SPEED Channel head the list of stories expected to make headline in 2002.

Last year saw a dozen drivers reach victory lane, and the competition is expected to be equally intense in 2002 as the Busch North Series teams compete in 19 events at 14 tracks in eight states from Maine to Delaware. At stake are over $2,000,000 in posted awards, not including the post-season awards and point fund.

Mjke Olsen of North Haverhill, N.H. captured his first Busch North Series championship in 2001 by a 212 point margin over second-year driver Mike Johnson of Salisbury, Mass. Olsen won his title in the classic manner, matching race-winning speed with rock-solid consistency. He won the first two Busch North Series races of his career on consecutive weekends in June to take the point lead, then refused to hit a slump later in the season that would have allowed his rivals to close the gap.

Along the way, Olsen won five Bud Poles to capture the seasonal Bud Pole Award. He also topped the Gatorade Front Runner Award standings and was voted the prestigious Most Popular Driver Award by the NASCAR membership. For 2002, the Little Trees Chevrolet team returns intact, with crew chiefs Harry Norcross and Dave Allbee, plus the invaluable assistance of car owner Stub Fadden, Olsen's grandfather and a legend in New England stock car racing.

Challengers to Olsen's crown abound, none more determined than Brad Leighton of Center Harbor, N.H., the Busch North Series champion in 1999 and 2000. Leighton led the series with three victories in 2001, but lacked the vital element of consistency, which made the Grizco Racing team champions in the preceding two years. Leighton finished ninth in points, his lowest in his six-year Busch North Series career. Leighton and the Burnham Boilers Chevrolet will return in 2002 with a rededicated driver and crew, seeking to become only the second three-time Busch North Series champion.

An added dimension was added to the 2002 Busch North Series championship picture in March with the announcement that Andy Santerre was returning to the series full-time after four years concentrating on the Busch Series, Grand National Division. Santerre, a native of Cherryfield, Me., will operate from his shop in North Carolina while carrying the LesCare Kitchens colors on his Chevrolet. Santerre ranked in the top four of the Busch North Series standings each year from 1994 to 1997, and he owns Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year awards in both the Busch North Series (1993) and the Busch Series (1998). In a part-time role, he won two Busch North Series races during the 2000 season.

The drivers who chased Olsen to the wire in the 2001 point race must be considered premier contenders for the title. Mike Johnson and his family-based Johnson Lumber Ford team stepped up their game in 2001, going from Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year to season-long championship contenders in just one year, and Land O Lakes Chevrolet driver Dale Quarterley of Westfield, Mass., also enjoyed a breakout season. Quarterley won his first Busch North Series race in September, then won from the tail of the field at Lime Rock Park in the season finale to nail down fifth in points.

Former Busch North Series champions Dale Shaw and Kelly Moore, the two leading winners in series history, are perennial contenders. Shaw, who has 18 wins, finished third last season and Moore, the all-time leader with 21 wins and 42 Bud Poles, was sixth. Also in the picture is Bryan Wall, who achieved a career-high fourth in points without a feature win. Looking for the elusive consistency in performance to make a solid title run are Tracy Gordon, second in points in 1999 and the winner of the 2001season opener, Martin Truex Jr., the hottest driver during the mid-summer stretch, and Matt Kobyluck, who scored his first career victory at Nazareth Speedway last August and was voted Most Improved Driver. Not to be forgotten, should they choose to chase the title full-time, are former champions Jamie Aube and Dave Dion.

The wide-open battle for the 2002 Busch North Series championship will be played out on a larger stage than ever before, as seven events will be telecast nationally on Monday nights as part of SPEED Channel's NASCAR Touring series coverage. The first race schedule for broadcast is the May 11 event at New Hampshire International Speedway, which will be seen on Monday, May 20. Two more events from NHIS, plus single races from Nazareth Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Watkins Glen International, and Stafford Motor Speedway complete the national television package.

One new racing facility joins the Busch North Series in 2002, as the series makes its debut at Adirondack International Speedway in Beaver Falls, N.Y. on Saturday, August 17. As usual, Busch North Series teams will enjoy exposure to some of racing's largest crowds as four events will be held in conjunction with the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and two more with the Busch Series, Grand National Division.

The Busch North Series is one of eight NASCAR Touring Series which blanket the USA, bringing major events to many of the short tracks of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge, as well as superspeedways and road courses. The NASCAR Touring program is recognized as the premier training ground for NASCAR's national series, the Winston Cup Series, Busch Series, Grand National Division, and Craftsman Truck Series, while also providing career opportunities for professional racers at the regional level. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., through its Busch Beer brand, has been the title sponsor of the Busch North Series throughout its 16-year history. Other corporations who support the NASCAR Touring program through series sponsorships include Featherlite Trailers, Goody's Headache Powders, Hills Brothers Coffee, RE/MAX International, Raybestos Brakes, and R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand.

-nascar/bns-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Martin Truex Jr. , Matt Kobyluck , Mike Johnson