BNS: Stafford: Andy Santerre - NASCAR spotlight

Andy Santerre's Busch North Series return is on track, and on the road, heading for CarQuest 150 at Stafford Motor Speedway, Friday June 21. STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. (June 14, 2002)-- Without a doubt, the hottest topic of last winter's Busch...

Andy Santerre's Busch North Series return is on track, and on the road, heading for CarQuest 150 at Stafford Motor Speedway, Friday June 21.

STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. (June 14, 2002)-- Without a doubt, the hottest topic of last winter's Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring "silly season" was the return of Andy Santerre to full-time action.

When the former Busch North runner-up and ten-time race winner announced his intention to run the series from his shop in North Carolina, some said "Write the check now," feeling Santerre's four years with the Busch Series, Grand National Division would put him in a league of his own. Others weren't so sure, pointing to the major upgrades in Busch North Series equipment and the influx of talented drivers and teams during Santerre's absence, not to mention the logistical challenge of running a New England-based series from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

With the Busch North Series' long, hot summer of ten races in eleven weeks set to begin with the Carquest Auto Parts Stores 150 at Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday, June 21, Santerre has shown his championship aspirations are real, but the road won't be easy. After five races, he stands fourth in the Busch North Series point standings, just over 100 points behind leader, and Stafford graduate, Matt Kobyluck. Between Santerre and Kobyluck on the chart are two more tough customers, Brad Leighton and Dale Shaw.

The Carquest Auto Parts Stores 150, the first of three appearances for the Busch North Series at Stafford during the 2002 season, is scheduled as a one-day event on June 21. Practice starts at 3 p.m., with Bud Pole Qualifying at 5:30 p.m. Race time is approximately 9 p.m, following the feature events in Stafford Motor Speedway's regular NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge.

Andy Santerre recently took time to recap his season to date. It began in grand style for the Cherryfield, Maine native with a come-from-behind victory in the 2002 opener at Lee USA Speedway, and nearly became the stuff of legend when he fell short by a bumper to Brad Leighton at New Hampshire International Speedway. "It started off with a bang," Santerre recalled. "Winning at Lee was a big boost to the LesCare Kitchens team, then we went to New Hampshire where I was sick and we qualified way back. That wasn't much fun, but we finished second in the race and almost won." Those who had jumped on the off-season Santerre bandwagon we smiling right along with Andy, but the pendulum was about to swing the other way.

"We had high hopes moving on to Nazareth. We ran real well and got up to fifth or sixth in the race, but we had a flat tire and got a lap down when we had to pit under green, which really hurt our chances," Andy related. He continued, "I'd never been to Seekonk. We took a brand new car and had some problems in practice. It was only an hour practice, so we had the same problems in the race. We were just in' ride' mode, trying to finish the race and pick up whatever points we could."

A strong third place at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway righted Santerre's ship, leaving Andy thinking about Stafford, a track where he owns two Busch North Series victories in 1996 and 1997. That was on the old, relatively abrasive surface, not the current smooth ribbon of asphalt, which points out one of the challenges Andy Santerre faces in his Busch North Series return.

"Not having run up here for the last few years, I don't have any notes to go by from the year before, so it's been a little tough," Andy observed, balancing that with the comment, "Everybody's on a new tire, so nobody's notes are really good."

Another change for Santerre is the fact that the majority of Busch North Series races- 11 out of 19, in fact- are one-day events, compressing the time the driver and crew have to make changes to their car's setup. "For the most part, it's good to practice, qualify, race, and get it over with in one day," Santerre noted, "But if you only have an hour's practice and you have a little problem, you lose a lot of time."

Casting its long shadow over all Andy Santerre's Busch North Series plans is the haul from Mooresville, N.C. to New England. The round trip for Stafford is calculated at just over 1,500 miles-- about average for the 2002 season. And that's not done in the luxury of a big rig. "I couldn't afford to go out and buy a tractor-trailer and hire someone to drive it and pay for the maintenance," Santerre said with a smile. "With a one-ton truck and a single car trailer, anybody can drive it without a special license."

Who's the primary truck driver for the weekly odyssey along the interstates? You guessed it. Andy Santerre himself.


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Drivers Matt Kobyluck