Santerre Clinches 3rd Consecutive Busch North Series Championship Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre clinched his 3rd consecutive NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series Championship with a 5th place finish in the MBNA America...
Santerre Clinches 3rd Consecutive Busch North Series Championship
Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre clinched his 3rd consecutive NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series Championship with a 5th place finish in the MBNA America 150 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware on Friday, September 24, 2004.
Santerre and his Aubuchon Hardware Racing crew tested at the Monster Mile in early September. Santerre felt Dover could be a pivotal race in the Championship and he wanted to be prepared.
"We needed to get on the track and try some things," the 36-year old Santerre admitted. "I have always liked Dover but my finishes haven't shown that in my racing career. I honestly wasn't happy with my car here in 2002 and our race was cancelled due to a hurricane in 2003." Santerre, a Cherryfield, Maine native, finishes, "There were no other North cars testing to gauge with, but I thought we were decent and had a good starting set-up."
Santerre and crew quickly learned they had more work to do on the car after the first two practice sessions. Qualifying a mid-pack 14th, Santerre left the track and spent a solitary night thinking things through.
"I went to dinner alone and just thought through how the car handled and reacted to changes and about the initial set-up," Santerre explained. "I had a few ideas by the next morning of what we could do with the car to make it better and my guys worked hard race morning making those changes."
The changes worked as Santerre took the green flag in 14th position but quickly moved up to 11th where he rode for the first part of the 150-lap event. After a long green-flag run through the mid stages, Santerre raced into the top-10. When a caution came out just past halfway, Santerre and the Aubuchon Hardware Racing team pitted for fuel and right-side tires. The next circuit, they pitted again for left side tires and exited the pits in the 5th position.
"My pit crew has been rock solid all season long," Santerre exclaimed. "They have given me every advantage on pit road. I am so proud of them." Santerre adds, "You wouldn't know it by our position after pit stops, but the rear air wrench broke on the first stop. There wasn't enough time to repair it before I came in again so the rear took a while to change that 2nd stop. We would have been 2nd in line if we hadn't had the slight problem. Still, the guys kept their cool and did their job. I am so proud to have them beside me!"
Once racing resumed, Santerre quickly raced into the top-3 with a chance to win the event had the raced stayed under green flag conditions.
"My car was a rocket on the high side," Santerre said. "I was tight so I let the car run where it wanted to and it was flying up there. I really thought I had a chance to win the race for awhile." Santerre finishes, "I had a bunch of friends in the Busch garage in amazement that my car was working so well up there."
Toward the closing stages of the event, Santerre started battling a tight race car. Ryan Moore in the #74 was gaining ground on the race track so he waved him by on the front stretch, knowing if he finished the race he would clinch his 3rd consecutive Championship. A caution was called shortly after setting up a green, white, checkered flag finish.
When the green flag flew, Santerre stood on the gas, but Moore's car didn't go, Santerre turned to the high side to avoid Moore but was hit from behind by the #55 of Mike Stefanik. Santerre hit the outside retaining wall then slammed into Moore's right quarter panel and finally spun into the inside retaining wall. He suffered severe cosmetic damage and limped to pit road.
The Bessey Motorsports crew went to work repairing the car so Santerre could finish the race and clinch the championship. They were able to keep Santerre on the lead lap.
"I never saw it coming," Santerre said of the accident. "I talked to Ryan's crew and they said the car just wouldn't go. He was probably having a fuel pick up problem on the banking , which is common. You can't pass to the inside prior to the start/finish line so I did the only thing I could do. Stefanik had no where to go either and got into the back of me. It was no one's fault just a racing thing. We're just lucky it didn't cost us."
Santerre restarted the event in the 6th position and passed a car on the final lap to collect his 9th top-5 and 12th top-10 in 13 events.
"I can't believe we still finished in the top-5," Santerre admitted after the race. "I knew if we could stay on the lead lap ahead of the #61 we would win the Championship, but I didn't know we still had a shot at a top-10 let alone a top-5." Santerre continues, "I am so incredibly happy right now. Not for me, but for our sponsors - Aubuchon Hardware, Castle Chemical, EJP, Pottle's Transportation - for my crew, who have worked so very hard last year and this year and for all those involved with our team and this effort. To win one championship is a lifetime dream, to win two was mind boggling, but to win three championships in a row is just incomprehensible. I need some time for it to sink in."
Though Santerre has clinched his 3rd title, he and the team still have unfinished business. "We are going to Wall to try and get that elusive Busch Pole," Santerre admits. "And then we are going to do everything we can to get our 6th win of the season."
Santerre and the team celebrate their championship season at Wall Township Speedway on Saturday, October 2, 2004 in the Wall Township 150.