EXPERIENCED TRAVELERS HOPE TO HAVE THE EDGE IN GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION NASCAR TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN AT IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY, NOV. 10-12 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The third time is the charm, the saying goes. Andy Santerre certainly hopes so. In...
EXPERIENCED TRAVELERS HOPE TO HAVE THE EDGE IN GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION NASCAR TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN AT IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY, NOV. 10-12
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The third time is the charm, the saying goes. Andy Santerre certainly hopes so.
In the first two years of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in southern California, Santerre has led the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series team into action against their NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series counterparts. Twice he has been impressively fast in his Friday night qualifying race, stamping himself with the favorite's tag for Saturday's main event. But he has yet to visit victory lane, finishing a close second in 2003 and dropping out while leading in 2004. His third opportunity arrives the weekend of November 10-12 before a live SPEED Channel audience as well as the fans at the state-of-the-art Irwindale oval.
Santerre and teammate Mike Stefanik's Grizco Racing crews are better trained than most to make the long haul to California, since they tow every week during the regular season from North Carolina to the northeast, but that's still a morning commute compared to crossing the country. For defending Toyota All-Star Showdown winner Mike Johnson, for example, the trip from his home in the coastal town of Salisbury, Mass. to Irwindale, Calif., is literally "from sea to shining sea."
"We're putting both cars in one big rig and we're bringing a dually with some of the parts we couldn't fit in the big rig plus a back-up car Mike and I can share if we need it," explained Santerre, who also serves as Grizco Racing's team manager. "We're planning to bring a full crew for each car. Everyone who has stuck with us all season will get to go. It's not a vacation -- we're out there to win - but it's a chance for them to get some reward," he added.
Another edge for Santerre and Stefanik comes from the fact that both are veterans of NASCAR's national series, where tight schedules and short practices at unfamiliar tracks are a way of life. Santerre was the rookie of the year in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1997, while Stefanik claimed the same honor in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1999. That advantage, however, may be diminishing with the passing of time.
"I think maybe the first year we did," Santerre observed when asked about the perceived advantage. "It might have helped the guys with more experience. But looking at myself, I've had a good record at places the Busch North Series has gone for the first time." Indeed, since his return to the Busch North Series on a full-time basis in 2002, Santerre has won the inaugural races at New York's Adirondack International Speedway (2002), Pennsylvania's Lake Erie Speedway (2003), and Virginia's Motor Mile Speedway (2005). At Irwindale, he came from last to first in his qualifying race in 2003, two days after seeing the track for the first time, and he repeated that feat in 2004.
Steve Portenga, third place finisher in the Grand National Division, West Series standings and a veteran of two tours of duty on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, agrees with Santerre that big-race experience is helpful, but not as much as in the past. He raced in the inaugural 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown and recalled, "I think it helped at first that I was used to those pressure situations, like when I had to race my way into the Craftsman Truck Series races with no provisionals to fall back on." Now Portenga sees the influx of young and ambitious rookies to the Grand National Division as a factor changing the Showdown landscape. "They're looking to move to the next level and they're focused on the Showdown as the way to make their mark," he observed. Portenga races for the NAPA-sponsored Bill McAnally Racing team which won the 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown with driver Austin Cameron, as well as three consecutive West Series championships with drivers Sean Woodside (1999) and Brendan Gaughan (200-01).
Among competitors from the east coast and the west coast, veterans and rookies alike, the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown has become the crown jewel of the NASAR Grand National Division season in just its third year. Andy Santerre summed up the event's growing stature by observing, "There's a lot of money and prestige on the line, and the use of that Toyota truck for a year, so when we go out there and compete against the west coast guys we treat it as an all-star event, just like the name says."
The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel, November 11-12.
NEWS OF NOTE
* With one regular-season race remaining, it appears that ten Busch North Series drivers will qualify for their third consecutive NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. In order of their current point standings, they are Andy Santerre, Mike Stefanik, Ryan Moore, Matt Kobyluck, Mike Olsen, Bryon Chew, Brian Hoar, Mike Johnson, Eddie MacDonald, and Joey MaCarthy.
* On the other hand, three Busch North drives appear set to qualify for their first Toyota All-Star Showdown. Two of them, Sean Caisse and John Salemi, are rookies. The third, Dale Shaw, is the fourth most prolific race winner and money winner in series history. Shaw returned to full-time action with the Willoughby Motorsports team in 2005 after running extremely limited schedules in 2003 and 2004.
* The best combined records among Busch North Series drivers in the first two Toyota All-Star Showdowns belong to Joey McCarthy (seventh in '03, third in '04) and Bryon Chew (fourth in '03, seventh in '04). Kelly Moore (ninth in '03, sixth in '04) and Brian Hoar ( tenth in '03, eighth in '04) both own two top ten finishes, while Matt Kobyluck (12th in '03, second in '04), and Mike Olsen (11th in '03, seventh in '04) have just missed the double top ten.
* Andy Santerre, Mike Stefanik, Eddie MacDonald, and Ryan Moore all scored top ten finishes in 2003 but were 28th, 30th, 25th, and 18th respectively in 2004.
* By contrast, Mike Johnson's 2004 victory followed a 27th place finish in the 2003 inaugural. Dale Quarterley jumped from 26th to tenth the second time around.
* The format for the Grand National Division segment of NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown will again feature twin 50-lap qualifying races on Friday night, with starting positions determined by inverting the regular season point standings. The Busch North Series champion will start 15th and last in one qualifying race, with the West Series champion starting last in the other qualifying race. The order of finish in the qualifying races will set the lineup for Saturday night's 150-lap feature event, with winners on the front row. All 30 invited drivers will start the 150-lap main event.
* The four touring late model divisions that make up the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division will also compete at the Toyota All-Star Showdown, with a similar format to the Grand National Division leading to a 125-lap main event.