BNS: Lake Erie: Round three preview

LAKE ERIE SPEEDWAY SUITS MIKE JOHNSON JUST FINE; BUT HE"D LIKE TO BREAK SECOND PLACE HABIT IN LOCAL DODGE DEALERS 150 ON SAT., JULY 9 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 30, 2005) -- Mike Johnson can take satisfaction from his two races at Lake Erie ...


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 30, 2005) -- Mike Johnson can take satisfaction from his two races at Lake Erie Speedway with the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series. He's qualified in the first three rows and walked away with a hard-fought second place each time. The experience on Lake Erie's compound banking- steeper at the top, flatter at the bottom- helped him dial in for the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at the similarly-designed Irwindale Speedway in California, where he scored his biggest career victory last November.

There's just one thing that keeps Lake Erie Speedway from being the apple of Mike Johnson's eye. Both times he's taken the checkered flag he's been looking at the rear bumper of series champion Andy Santerre, who is undefeated at the state-of-the-art facility which marks the westernmost stop on the Busch North Series schedule. This year's trek to the western frontier of the Keystone State comes with the Local Dodge Dealers 150 on Saturday, July 9, where a large crowd and the live HDNet cameras will be on hand under the lights.

Three factors most drivers would advocate for their ideal speedway are smoothness, traction (which racers call "grip" or "bite"), and the ability to race side-by-side. When Lake Erie Speedway debuted in 2003, Busch North Series drivers discovered all three qualities in abundance. "It's got a good smooth surface where you can get lots of grip. We can go three wide a Lake Erie," Mike Johnson noted. Since the Busch North Series teams do not make scheduled pit stops for tire changes at Lake Erie, the key to success is setting the car up to take advantage of those characteristics at the end of 150 laps, not just at the beginning.

"Andy (Santerre)'s handling has been key on the long runs, having his car set up good. He won this race from 10th or 12th the first time," Johnson continued in sizing up his chief rival. Indeed, Santerre started from the sixth row in 2003, taking the lead from Mike Stefanik on lap 87, with Johnson following him through to finish 1.033 seconds behind. In 2004, Santerre gave himself an easier path to the front by qualifying third, but saved his car and didn't take the lead from Mike Olsen until lap 110. Again Johnson was on the move at the finish, but fell short by .435 second.

The stopwatch shows Mike Johnson less than 1.5 seconds from being undefeated at Lake Erie Speedway, but in fact it's Santerre who displays the two trophies in his trophy case. What can the Johnson Racing team do to turn the tide? One thing is to carry into action the confidence that comes from winning the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, the biggest race for NASCAR's regional touring competitors, on a track that's nearly identical in layout. The other is to do better what Santerre's team has done so well in the chassis department.

"The key is long-range set up and tire strategy; it's really a combination of a lot of things," Johnson observed with a nod toward crew chief Jason Janvrin. "The crew chief doesn't share all that information with me because he knows I like to talk to people."

"There's definitely two grooves which makes for good, exciting racing," Johnson concluded, with the clear intent of placing his Johnson Lumber Ford in the fastest of those grooves coming to the checkered flag.

The Local Dodge Dealers 150 is scheduled as a one-day event on Saturday, July 9, with practice starting at 3:00 p.m. and Busch Pole Qualifying at 5:45 p.m. The green flag is set for 8:00 p.m. before the HDNet cameras bringing the race to a live national TV audience in high-definition. SPEED Channel will provide an enhanced replay on Saturday, July 23, at 12:30 p.m.


* As described above, Andy Santerre and Mike Johnson have been first and second, respectively, in the two previous runnings of the Local Dodge Dealers 150. In both cases, the driver who led at the halfway mark has finished third- Mike Stefanik in 2003 and Mike Olsen in 2004. Matt Kobyluck and Dale Quarterley were fourth and fifth in the inaugural, with Bryon Chew and Kelly Moore occupying those positions in the 2004 edition.

* In addition to Santerre and Johnson, Stefanik (3rd & 8th), Kobyluck (4th & 9th), Quarterley (5th & 6th), Olsen (9th & 3rd), and Chew (10th & 5th) have perfect top-ten records at Lake Erie.

* Kelly Moore holds the Busch Pole Qualifying record at Lake Erie, 15.234 seconds, 88.816 miles per hour set in 2003. Brian Hoar was the 2004 pole winner. The Local Dodge Dealers 150 has not been kind to the fastest qualifiers, as Moore was 16th and Hoar 13th after their pole runs.

* Brian Hoar's Busch Pole at Lake Erie in 2004 was the first in the modern era won by a Dodge. Appropriately it came at an event sponsored by a Dodge dealer's group, since the Hoar family own Goss Dodge in South Burlington, Vermont. Brian's dad Doug Hoar made a one-time return to the cockpit in the same race, finishing 22nd.

* Matt Kobyluck enters the Local Dodge Dealers 150 as the Busch North Series point leader by a margin of ten points over Andy Santerre, 350-340. Kobyluck has one win and one third place, while Santerre has two seconds. Mike Stefanik is third with 323 points.

* Lake Erie Speedway opened in 2003 and has drawn praise from competitors, media, and fans for its competitive racing as well as its state-of-the-art facilities. The dateline on news stories from the track may need explanation: the speedway's postal address is North East, Pa., which is named for its location with reference to the nearby city of Erie. It's actually in the northwestern corner of the state.


What: Local Dodge Dealers 150, third race of the 2005 Busch North Series season

Where: Lake Erie Speedway, North East, Pa.
When: Saturday, June 9, 8:00 p.m.

Track layout: .375 mile paved oval
Race distance: 150 laps, 56.25 miles

Schedule: Saturday, July 9 -- Practice 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.; Busch Pole Qualifying 5:45 p.m., Local Dodge Dealers 150 8:00 p.m.


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Drivers Dale Quarterley , Matt Kobyluck , Mike Johnson , Bryon Chew