Countdown to the Showdown: Drivers seek edge

Countdown To The Showdown: Drivers Seek Edge in Team Competition DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 10, 2004) -- The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown is a unique event in many ways. At no other time do drivers from six NASCAR series, representing two ...

Countdown To The Showdown: Drivers Seek Edge in Team Competition

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 10, 2004) -- The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown is a unique event in many ways. At no other time do drivers from six NASCAR series, representing two divisions, come together for a single event. No other NASCAR regional racing event receives live national television coverage on SPEED Channel and it's the only non-points race for these series.

All of these elements -- plus $500,000 in prize money -- combine to make the Toyota All-Star Showdown a truly special weekend of racing. Adding to the intrigue, NASCAR established a team competition, to reward the individual series that puts in the best performance relative to the other series. If the event is a battle for "bragging rights", then the team competition is the front line.

This year's Toyota All-Star Showdown will be held Nov. 11-13 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. The team competition works like this: the feature events for each division, held Saturday night, are split into two segments. In the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division race, the segment break comes after 75 laps of the 100-lap race. In the NASCAR Grand National Division, the first segment lasts for 100 laps of the 125-lap race.

Drivers are assigned points, based on the running order after the first segment. Traditional NASCAR points are used, so the leading driver after the first segment receives 175 points, the driver running second receives 170 points and so on. Then, NASCAR officials simply tally the totals from each series; the series with the highest total after the first segment is declared the team champions. After a 10-minute competition break, the drivers return to the track for a final 25-lap segment, during which the team rules are off and it's every driver for themselves.

In the inaugural 2003 event, the Midwest Series came out on top among the four series from the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division. In the NASCAR Grand National Division, the "visiting" Busch North Series teams handily defeated their west coast rivals from the West Series.

Midwest Series star Brian Hoppe, of Madison, Wis., is ready for a repeat performance by his series in 2004.

"It was kind of neat to see the team effort," Hoppe said. "And, it tells everybody else around the country how stiff the competition is here in the Midwest. Personally, I didn't run as strong as I wanted to, but I think we can go back out there and do better."

Including race winner Ron Breese Jr., Midwest Series drivers claimed five of the top 10 finishing positions in last year's race. Hoppe, the 1999 Midwest Series champion, finished 13th. He says the Toyota All-Star Showdown provides another worthy goal for drivers who may have come up short in their bid for a series championship.

"I think the top five [drivers] are still going after the championship but from fifth to tenth, they're looking at going to California, having a good time and getting some recognition that way," said Hoppe. "When you can go out and say that your series was the strongest of the four series across the country, it's a pride thing. To be a part of that is good for our series, it's good for sponsors and it's good for competition."

TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN NOTES:

* Similar to the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the Toyota All-Star Showdown produces a "bubble" race in each participating series, as drivers compete for the last invitational spot. In the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, the top 10 drivers from four series -- Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest -- are invited while the NASCAR Grand National Division portion of the event includes the top 15 drivers from two series -- the Busch North Series and West Series.

* This week, Bobby Hillis, of Phoenix, holds down the 15th spot in the West Series while Jamie Aube, of North Ferrisburg, Vt., is 15th in Busch North Series points, by just a three point margin over Dave Dion. In the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, rookie Rip Michels, of Mission Hills, Calif., is ranked 10th in the Southwest Series. Justin Wakefield, of Woodstock, Ga., is also "on the bubble", in 10th place in the Southeast Series. In the Northwest Series, Joe Benedetti, of Auburn, Wash., leads John Bender by 43 points, for the 10th and final invitation to Irwindale. Russ Blakeley, of Richmond, Wis., is currently 10th in the Midwest Series point standings, just 40 points in front of David Finney. Wakefield, Benedetti and Bender all competed in the 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown.

* The final list of invitations will be determined once each series completes its respective schedule. NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series teams wrap up their season Oct. 2 at Wall Township (N.J.) Speedway while the West Series concludes its 2004 campaign Oct. 23 at Irwindale. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series finishes Oct. 10 at LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway, the Northwest Series Sept. 25 at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval and the Southeast Series Sept. 25 at Music City Motorplex in Nashville. The Southwest Series, meanwhile, goes right down to the wire with a season finale set for Nov. 4 at Phoenix International Raceway.

* Host track Irwindale Speedway, a half-mile oval constructed in 1999, put Toyota All-Star Showdown tickets on sale Aug. 24. Two-day passes and other special discounts are available. Adult two-day passes are $40 (reflecting a $10 savings). A child's two-day pass is $10 (saving $5.00). On Friday night, Aug. 12, all members of the military (with current ID) will be admitted for $7.50 (half-off the regular adult price). For track and ticket information call (626) 358-1100 or visit www.irwindalespeedway.com.

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
Where: Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway
When: Nov. 11-13, 2004

Who: Top 10 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers from four series -- Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. -- Top 15 NASCAR Grand National Division drivers from two series -- Busch North Series and West Series.

TV: SPEED Channel

Posted awards: $500,000.

Track layout: Half-mile oval

On the Web: www.nascarregionalracing.com/toyota

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Bobby Hillis , John Bender , Rip Michels