BNS: Stafford III: Round sixteen preview, title on the line

STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. (September 23, 2003) -- Title clinching will be in the air this Sunday at ballparks around the nation, and at Stafford Motor Speedway, where Andy Santerre can, under the right circumstances, lock up his second consecutive...

STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. (September 23, 2003) -- Title clinching will be in the air this Sunday at ballparks around the nation, and at Stafford Motor Speedway, where Andy Santerre can, under the right circumstances, lock up his second consecutive NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series title. Even without any help from his friends, he can reduce his challengers to a purely mathematical shot at the crown. Like all true racers, Santerre has chosen to leave the calculations to others. He just plans to win at Stafford and let the number-crunching take its course.

The Carquest Fall Final is scheduled as a two-day event at the Arute family's half-mile track in northeastern Connecticut. It's the only multi-day short track event of the 2003 Busch North Series season, and Sunday provides New England NASCAR fans their only same-day doubleheader featuring the Busch North Series and the Featherlite Modified Series. The Busch North teams practice from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and then go against the clock in Bud Pole Qualifying after the Featherlite Modified time trials. Sunday's race time for the 150-lap Busch North Series feature event is approximately 2:00 p.m.

The title picture was brought into sharp focus when the approach of Hurricane Isabel forced the Busch North race scheduled for Dover International Speedway last Friday to be cancelled. That left only two races remaining on the 2003 slate- Stafford and the season finale at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., on Saturday, October 11. Santerre currently holds a 173-point lead over Mike Stefanik, with Kelly Moore 198 points out of the top spot. Since the maximum score for winning a race while leading the most laps is 185 points, Santerre can eliminate Moore simply by finishing in front of him, or even a few spots behind him depending on their exact positions.

For Santerre to close out Stefanik at Stafford is more difficult. He will need to gain 12 points in order to lead by 185 with one race to go, which would clinch the title because Santerre owns the tiebreaker of more race wins. Depending on the positions involved and the allocation of lap-leader bonus points, gaining those 12 points could require him to be as little as one place ahead of Stefanik, or as many as seven places ahead.

"People mention it to me every day, but I try to think about it as just another race and try to win it," Santerre said in discussing the point race, adding "We've had a good car at Stafford both times this year. I finished second in the first race and in the second race we had same problems but I finished ninth."

Stafford Motor Speedway has been good to Andy Santerre in the past, as he scored two wins there in the first phase of his Busch North Series career, one each in 1996 and 1997. Those wins are still good enough to tie him for the all-time Stafford lead with, among others, his title rivals Mike Stefanik and Kelly Moore. While Santerre was away running the Busch Series, the old, weathered Stafford surface was replaced by a new coat of asphalt. That hasn't cramped his style. "It's a better race track because it's smoother, but in the way you drive it, I do the same as I did in the mid-1990's," he related.

Perhaps as a legacy of those days crossing the country with the Busch Series, Santerre welcomes the two-day format at Stafford's Carquest Fall Final. "It's good because it gives you 24 hours to think about what you might do to the car to make it better," he noted.

Giving Andy Santerre extra time to improve his car is a daunting prospect for the Busch North Series teams who have been chasing the Aubuchon/Brickmill Chevrolet all summer. So is the knowledge that Santerre won't be counting points- he'll be racing to win.


* Mike Johnson is the defending race winner and Bud Pole winner of the Carquest Fall Final. Last September he took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. on lap 87 and defeated Kelly Moore, Andy Santerre, Dale Quarterley, and Matt Kobyluck. Truex faded to twelfth. Mike Olsen, running in the top five, crashed hard in turn four with 20 laps to go.

* The most recent Busch North Series visit to Stafford Motor Speedway was the Carquest 150 in June, where Tom Carey bested Martin Truex Jr. after a race-long battle. It was Carey's first win at Stafford and his first Busch North win on an oval track since 1999. Carey gained the lead for the final time on lap 137 in the fifth lead change between the two drivers. Altogether there were eight lead changes, with Andy Santerre in front on two occasions. Kelly Moore, Joey McCarthy, and Ryan Moore completed the top five. Santerre finished ninth.

* Earlier this spring, in the New England Dodge Dealers NASCAR 150 on Mother's Day weekend, Martin Truex Jr. ran the table, leading all 150 laps to defeat Santerre by over 3 1/2 seconds. Ryan Moore, Kobyluck and Carey were third through fifth.

*Martin Truex Jr. has been the Bud Pole winner at Stafford in both previous 2003 races at Stafford. The track record is held by Kelly Moore, set in June 2001 at 19.674 seconds, 91.491 miles per hour. It is the oldest track record of any active Busch North Series track.

* Stafford Motor Speedway is the only track the Busch North Series visits three times in 2003. This will be the 23rd race at Stafford since 1987, but no driver has won more than twice. Mike Stefanik, Brad Leighton, Andy Santerre, Kelly Moore, Mike Johnson, and Martin Truex Jr. share that honor.

*The Carquest Fall Final is the only same-day doubleheader between the Busch North Series and Featherlite Modified Series in 2003. Mike Stefanik and Jerry Marquis are expected to pull double-duty by racing in both divisions.

* With the cancellation of last week's scheduled Busch North Series race at Dover International Speedway due to the passage of Hurricane Isabel, Ryan Moore has officially clinched the 2003 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year Award.

* Stafford Motor Speedway, originally a half-mile fairgrounds horse track dating from the 1890's, was paved in 1967 and has been a NASCAR member track continually since that time. It is one of only two tracks on the Busch North Series schedule listed at the classic half-mile length. The other is Adirondack International Speedway, which is of completely different shape.


On July 28, 2000, Mike Johnson won the Bud Pole and led all 150 laps at Stafford Motor Speedway, scoring his first career Busch North Series win. That performance duplicated the feat of fellow Raybestos Rookie Martn Truex Jr, one week earlier at New Hampshire International Speedway. Johnson went on to edge Truex for the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year Award.


What: Carquest Fall Final 150, NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch north Series race #16 of 17
Where: Stafford Motor Speedway, Stafford Springs, Conn.
When: Sunday September 28, 2:00 p.m. (approx.)

Track layout: .500 mile paved oval
Race length: 150 laps, 75.0 miles

Television: SPEED Channel, Saturday, October 11, 10:00 a.m. Eastern

Schedule: Sat., Sept. 27: Practice 11:30 a.m. -- 1:00 p.m.; Bud Pole Qualifying following Featherlite Modified Series time trials; Sun., Sept. 28 -- Carquest Fall Final 150 3:30 p.m. (approx.)


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Drivers Martin Truex Jr. , Dale Quarterley , Matt Kobyluck , Mike Johnson , Ryan Moore