Santerre makes second return to Stafford. Waterbury, Connecticut - The makings of Friday the 26th of July couldn't have appeared more perfect for Andy Santerre, driver of the ...
Santerre makes second return to Stafford.
Waterbury, Connecticut - The makings of Friday the 26th of July couldn't have appeared more perfect for Andy Santerre, driver of the #44 LesCare Kitchens Chevrolet Monte Carlo, until lap number 147 in the NASCAR 150 at Stafford Motor Speedway. It was at this point Santerre had been leading when he was forced into the wall at turn 2 on the .500 mile oval track. With 3 laps to go, he was working toward another win until the unfortunate event unfolded.
The day started out like any other race day in the 2002 season. Santerre and his crew had high expectations going into Friday nights NASCAR 150. The advantage was the excellent notes taken from their previous visit in June, when they placed second behind Kelly Moore. With the setup and tire notes in hand, Crew Chief Roger Tryon directed his crew to prepare the car exactly as they had it when it came off the track during the previous visit.
At approximately 9:15 pm, the NASCAR 150 went green with Andy in the 13th position. He was overheard on his radio telling his crew "this car feels real good tonight boys, we are going to have something for them." He knew he had a strong car but was taking his time, something Santerre is known for. With the moves and strategy that were quietly being choreographed, Santerre did just that. By lap 26, Santerre had gained 4 positions and was now in the top 10 of the running order. A caution flag flew on lap 33 when one of the competitors spun out in turn 2. When racing resumed on lap 38 Andy had the LesCare Kitchens Chevy in 10th place. Andy made short work of the cars in front of him, when on lap 42, 3 cars spun out in turn one. Again Santerre's experience paid off as he was able to avoid any contact and advance himself to the 5th position.
From that point on it was a long green flag run for the competitors. By lap 75, Andy was racing hard with previous race winner, Kelly Moore for 4th. Again Andy's patience and persistence enabled him to make the pass on lap 90 to take 3rd place. From there it was just a matter of time before he ran down the 2nd place car driven by Dale Shaw. On lap 100 Andy was challenging the 60 for second, and by the next lap had secured the position. Now it was a matter of chasing down the leading car 56. Andy had his LesCare Chevrolet exactly as he wanted it, as he was consistently 1 to 2 tenths of a second faster than the leader. By lap 110 Andy was making progress on his run to the front, as he had closed the gap down to less then 10-car lengths. On lap 123 the 56 appeared to have a mechanical problem as he slowed considerably on the track. Much to the delight of the LesCare employees as well as all Santerre fans, the 44 was now in first place.
From there it was easy going as Andy's spotter informed him "no pressure at all from behind, just hit your marks and do what you have to do to bring this baby home".
But as usual, it was no easy run. Lap 130 had the field in line for another restart. During this caution most of the cars behind him decided to pit for new right tires. By lap 136 another caution was out. Finally the green flag was waved again on lap 142, with the 56 and 32 trying to get close enough to challenge for the lead. During the next few laps Andy and the 32 car battled side by side for the lead, with both drivers racing hard for any advantage. On lap 147 Dale Shaw made a daring move going into turn one, making it 3 wide. The end result was contact between the 3 cars, with the 44 and 32 spinning out, and the 60 assuming the lead.
After Andy shook off his devastating hit on the outside wall, he was able to radio his crew "I am all right guys, it's a shame we tore up another racecar, but I was going for the win. We had the fastest car tonight, and we can hold our heads high. We will be a factor in the fall here. This track owes us one now." Andy limped his car around to finish a disappointing 16th place.
LesCare Kitchens had been entertaining more than 125 employees and guests at the Speedway with their 3rd Annual Employee Night at the Races. Santerre had his own cheering section made up of LesCare employees alone as well as his normal following. And the cries could be heard too when he took the wall. It would have made for a story book ending, but all that was felt was deep sorrow for this young driver whose performance on the track that evening had even the not so race savvy routing for him. Andy was seen visiting the LesCare Kitchens hospitality tent set up in turn 3 of the speedway grounds. To the delight of all the employees of LesCare, he signed autographs and made a lot of new friends and fans. LesCare has been a sponsor since 1994, but this is there first year out with Santerre.
Santerre is now tied fourth in points with Kelly Moore, and 76 points separate him from leader Brad Leighton. Busch North takes a week off before returning to road course action for the Little Trees 150 at Watkins Glen International on August 10th. Andy has had much success at The Glen and expects to have an exemplarily weekend, when they race in front of the prestigious Winston Cup Tour.