BUSCH NORTH SERIES TEAMS CONVERGE ON IRWINDALE FOR NASCAR TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN HOPING FOR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION TEAM TITLE HAT TRICK DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- From points as far north as Colchester, Vermont and as far south as Harrisburg,...
BUSCH NORTH SERIES TEAMS CONVERGE ON IRWINDALE FOR NASCAR TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN HOPING FOR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION TEAM TITLE HAT TRICK
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- From points as far north as Colchester, Vermont and as far south as Harrisburg, N.C., the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series teams are rolling west toward southern California on the ultimate road trip for NASCAR regional racers, the third annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway.
Collectively, the 15 Busch North entries hope to bring the team championship back home for the third consecutive time in three meetings with their counterparts from the Grand National Division, West Series. Individually, they aspire to duplicate Mike Johnson's feat from 2004, winning the largest purse offered to NASCAR competitors at the regional level. In some cases, qualifying for the event and making the cross-country trip can itself be a major reward for a long season of effort.
After practice on Irwindale's compound-banked, half-mile oval on Thursday, Nov. 10, the Showdown kicks off in earnest on Friday, Nov. 11 with a pair of 50-lap qualifying races, followed by the 150-lap Grand National Division feature event on Saturday, Nov. 12. The four series of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division will compete in a similar program each night, with live coverage of both divisions on SPEED Channel beginning at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time on Friday and 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.
Two members of the Busch North team taking aim on their first Showdown victory are top five performers in the 2005 season who still have something to prove. Matt Kobyluck led the series in victories with four during the regular season, but a trio of poor finishes left him third in the final standings and produced a drive to go one better than his runner-up Showdown finish behind Mike Johnson last year. Meanwhile, Mike Olsen finished fourth in the standings, but was denied a trip to victory lane for the second straight year.
"Irwindale is one of the best short tracks in the country and it's the best track we run all year. There's a lot of grip with the compound banking and you can really get up on the wheel and drive the car," said Kobyluck. "We came pretty close last year and I think we have a good shot at winning this year. The whole crew is pumped up about it and the work they've put into this race is amazing," he added.
The qualifying races retain their format of inverted lineups by points, meaning Kobyluck will start 13th of 15 cars in the race featuring odd-numbered positions from the Busch North standings and even-numbered positions from the West Series. "Our strategy will be to get to the front as fast as we can in the qualifying race so we can earn a good starting position for Saturday night," the Mohegan Sun Chevrolet driver noted. "We're taking our best car and we've made a few more adjustments so it will be that much better when we get there, Hopefully, we'll get a fifth (2005) win with this car."
For Olsen, who rode a roller-coaster up and down the running order at last year's Showdown before placing seventh, a change to the format for the main event has made a big change to his approach. In past years, the break with 50 laps remaining saw an inversion drawn to reshuffle the field, In 2005, there will be a break at the same point, but no inversion. The team competition will also end at the break, leaving only individual honors to be settled.
"The key will be focusing on what the car needs to go the last 50 laps. The adjustments you make during that break can make it or break it for you," the Little Trees Chevrolet driver explained. "Now without the invert we will be focusing on staying out of trouble in the qualifying race and getting a good starting position," he added, echoing Kobyluck's thoughts.
While Olsen and Kobyluck are fine-tuning their strategy for victory along with Busch North champion Andy Santerre, his teammate and series runner-up Mike Stefanik, and defending race winner Mike Johnson, to name just a few, first-time Toyota All-Star Showdown entry Kip Stockwell is relishing both the thought of being there and the time spent getting there.
Stockwell is no rookie- in fact, he owns the second longest streak of consecutive races in the series after Mike Olsen- but he has spent the last two Novembers watching the Showdown from his home in Braintree, Vermont. Now his family team has combined with Willoughby Motorsports to send Kip's car on Willoughby's tractor-trailer along with Dale Shaw's machine as teammates for the week.
With family and crew members on a commercial flight, that leaves Kip and his father, car owner, and crew chief, Lennie Stockwell, to make the cross country journey in a pickup truck. "I've never been any further west than Indiana. We're going to drive out and enjoy the country. I'm looking forward to driving out and spending some quality time with him. We do everything together, including the racing thing and the family business, but we're always keeping our nose to the grindstone, so we're going to spend a week driving out there, race hard, and then spend another week coming back," Kip explained.
Meanwhile, the members of the Stockwell family who won't be making the trip will be back in Braintree, watching on SPEED Channel. So will Busch North Series fans across the northeast, as well as thousands who will be introduced to the NASCAR Grand National and AutoZone Elite Divisions in their version of the "big dance" for 2005.
NEWS OF NOTE
* The final Busch North Series roster for the Toyota All-Star Showdown includes nine drivers making their third straight appearance. In order of final point standings, they are Andy Santerre, Mike Stefanik, Matt Kobyluck, Mike Olsen, Ryan Moore, Bryon Chew, Eddie MacDonald, Mike Johnson, and Joey McCarthy.
* The other six members of the team are making their Showdown debuts. Dale Shaw and Kip Stockwell are among the most experienced drivers on the circuit, while Sean Caisse, John Salemi, Jeff Anton, and Joe Masessa were the top four finishers in the 2005 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
* Two drivers who received automatic invitations to the Toyota All-Star Showdown were unable to accept. Ryan Seaman is being married during Showdown weekend, while Brian Hoar declined due to the multiple mechanical problems his team encountered in the regular season finale at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway. Anton and Masessa accepted the 14th and 15th invitations in their places.
* At least two past participants in the Showdown will watch this one from the other side of pit wall. Kelly Moore will be managing son Ryan Moore's effort, while Barney McRae is crew chief and spotter for Sean Caisse.
* The SPEED Channel broadcast booth will have a New England flavor as Connecticut native Mike Joy handles play-by-play with Massachusetts' Dr., Dick Berggren as the color commentator. Ralph Sheheen (North Carolina) and Jim Tretow (Wisconsin) are the pit reporters.