NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, EAST SERIES NEWS & NOTES -- GREENVILLE-PICKENS * Defending Winner Caisse Hopes For Sweet Return In 2007 Opener * Olsen Opens Title Defense; Road To Showdown Underway * Track Still A Favorite For Legends...
NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, EAST SERIES NEWS & NOTES -- GREENVILLE-PICKENS
* Defending Winner Caisse Hopes For Sweet Return In 2007 Opener
* Olsen Opens Title Defense; Road To Showdown Underway
* Track Still A Favorite For Legends David Pearson, Jack Ingram
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR returns to a revered "foundation track" that helped birth and build America's most popular form of motorsports this week. The NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series opens its 21st season with the Greased Lightning 150 at the iconic Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C., Saturday, April 28. Nearly 40 teams have entered the event.
Sean Caisse (No. 44 Casella Waste Systems Chevrolet) scored a dramatic first career series win in the inaugural appearance of the series at Greenville-Pickens Speedway last spring. The then 20-year-old Pelham, N.H., driver knew how special his Greenville accomplishment was.
In Victory Lane, he celebrated with tears in his eyes.
He had just passed the names of NASCAR legends of generations painted on the track's whitewashed retaining walls 150 times: Ralph Earnhardt, David Pearson, Butch Lindley, Robert Pressley, Dexter Canipe, Pete Silva, Marty Ward, Randy Porter and a host of others.
"The first time I walked in there and saw the names of Ralph Earnhardt and David Pearson on the wall, all I could think was wow," Caisse said. "The place has such a history; it was neat just to go there and run competitively. It's a special place. It will always be extra-special to me.
"Just looking back, we won our first race with Andy Santerre Motorsports and our sponsors Casella Waste Systems and Castle products, and the deal didn't get put together until the last minute," his voice trails with the thought of how close he came to not even being at the track that day.
Meeting three-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion, hometown hero Pearson, now 72, of nearby Spartanburg, S.C., a four-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race winner at Greenville-Pickens on dirt (1964, 66, 67) added to Caisse's race day. Pearson's name is painted on the retaining wall honoring his 1959 track championship.
"To get to meet him, shake his hand, and know he was watching the race, that means a lot to me."
Winning at Greenville-Pickens still means a lot to Pearson, too Decades. later, Pearson still delights in talking about the place .
"I've always liked Greenville, I really have," Pearson said. "I still enjoy going over there. I won a lot of races there on both asphalt and dirt," Pearson said.
He enjoyed last year's inaugural NASCAR Busch East Series race at Greenville-Pickens, too. And he wasn't alone.
Caisse was anxious to prove himself worthy of a driver's seat that had been occupied by team owner Andy Santerre to drive to 14 race wins and four consecutive NASCAR Busch East Series championships (2002-2005). By comparison, Caisse had started only 14 series races in his entire life.
Caisse, the series' 2005 Sunoco Rookie of the Year award winner, had caught the eyes of Santerre and his wife and team co-owner, Sue, with two top-fives and seven top-10s in 13 starts and a seventh-place finish in points in his rookie year. At the same time, with nothing left to prove as a driver, Santerre had a desire to focus on ownership, business and marketing the team with his wife.
Santerre had a hall of fame driving career in the NASCAR Busch East Series starting in 1992 when Caisse was just a six-year-old. Santerre's driving record: 166 starts, 23 wins, 85 top fives and 119 top 10s. Money won: $1,397,585.
With a pair of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers and International Motorsports Hall of Famers -- Pearson, and his old buddy and two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion Jack Ingram -- joining the packed house watching, Caisse qualified second fastest for the race.
The race was far from an easy ride for Caisse, even though he led much of the first third of the 150-lap event before settling into the top five. He began his run for the win late in the event, and led from lap 137-140, when Ryan Moore took the lead that Caisse had taken from him a few laps earlier. A late race caution bunched the field and set up a dramatic showdown for the win.
On the restart, Caisse charged low into the first turn as hard as the car could stand with Moore to his outside. Several cars touched, including those of Caisse and Moore. Moore, on the outside, spun.
That set up a final restart and a race to the win that brought the huge crowd to their feet.
Racing to the finish, Bryon Chew challenged Caisse. Suddenly, the nose of Brian Hoar's Dodge appeared to both drivers, and Chew became the odd-man out.
At the stripe, Caisse won by a scant .268 of-a-second over Hoar. Busch Pole Award winner, Mike Olsen, who would eventually win the 2006 series championship finished third. Matt Kobyluck finished fourth setting up a two win regular season and a win in the post-season's NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown, and Chew, who would go on to score his first career series win two months later in Holland, N.Y., was fifth.
"I had tears in my eyes ... I held my breath ... It's just an amazing feeling," Caisse said in an emotional victory lane before an appreciative Greenville-Pickens crowd. "This is probably one of the best feelings of my career."
Caisse believes the 2007 edition of the event will be enjoyable for him, especially with a new team-mate, 16-year-old Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose great-grandfather's name is painted on the Greenville-Pickens wall.
"It's going to be cool this year racing there with my teammate, Jeffrey," Caisse said. "Even for him, it was an experience to see his great-grandfather's name on the wall for the first time.
"I'm just looking forward to getting the season started with an awesome teammate. He's a great kid, and I think we're going to have a lot of fun at the track this year."
NEWS & NOTES
* 39 entries, a dozen rookies:A minimum of 39 cars are expected to make qualification attempts for the Greased Lightning 150. Among the entries are all 12 registered Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award candidates to date. They are: Marc Davis, 16, Mitchelville, Md.; Joey Logano, 16, Middletown, Conn.; Jim Pritchard, Jr., 18, Wharton, N.J.; Michelle Theriault, 21, Bristol, Conn.; Richard Jarvis, Jr., 27, Ocean City, Md.; Chase Austin, 17, Eudora, Kan.; Maxime "Max" Dumarey, 18, Gent, Belgium; Jamie Hayes, 33, Norlina, N.C.; Todd Peck, 21, Glenville, Pa.; Jesus Hernandez, 27, Fresno, Calif.; Jeffrey Earnhardt, 17, Mooresville, N.C.; Jonathan Cash, 26, Oxford, N.C.
* Four champions entered: Joining defending NASCAR Busch East Series champion Olsen on the Greased Lightning 150 entry list are three NASCAR champions. They are: Eric Holmes, 32, Escalon, Calif., 2006 NASCAR West Series champion; Tim Schendel, 27, Sparta, Wisc., 2006 NASCAR Elite Division, Midwest Series champion; and Peyton Sellers, 24, Danville, Va., 2005 NASCAR Whelen All American Series national champion.
* Race winners gain Showdown entry: Race winners in the NASCAR Grand National Division this year will get an added bonus by gaining a starting spot in the 2007 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. The rich and prestigious post-season all star event is scheduled for Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway October 19-20. One driver each from the NASCAR West Series and NASCAR Busch East Series have already won races and clinched a starting position in the Showdown. Scott Lynch (No. 29 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Dodge) became the first driver this year to clinch a spot when he won the season opening NASCAR West Series race at Kyle, Texas, March 31. NASCAR Busch East Series driver Joey Logano (No. 10 Joe Gibbs Driven Racing Oil Chevrolet) won the NASCAR West Series' event April 19 to become the first NASCAR Busch East Series driver to win a Showdown starting spot. Only NASCAR Grand National Division race winners and champions of the NASCAR Developmental Series will be locked in to the field. All others must race their way into the event.
* But he won't miss the race: Jack Ingram, 70, of Candler, N.C., is a legendary fixture at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. He is a two-time champion of the modern era NASCAR Busch Series, including its inaugural season of 1982. He won his second title in 1985. Prior to 1982, he won the NASCAR Sportsman Division championship in three consecutive years spanning 1972-1974. Ingram will make history again on Thursday, April 26, when he becomes the first NASCAR Busch Series champion inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala. He said he may stick around to visit some friends in the garage at Talladega Superspeedway during its NASCAR race weekend, but he wouldn't miss the Greased Lightning 150. "Oh, yes," Ingram said. "I'll be there. I wouldn't miss it. I have to drive right by on the way home." Ingram last drove in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1991. He closed out his 1982-1991 modern era with 275 starts, 31 wins, 12 top-fives, 164 top-10s, five Busch Pole Awards, and an amazing 45,241 laps (or 30,731 miles) completed. He led 1,075 laps during that time. Ingram said he's using his International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction as part of an equally happy occasion, the 50th wedding anniversary with his wife, Aline.
* G-P History 101: The First Race: Greenville-Pickens Speedway was built and opened as a .5-mile horse racing track including 65 stables, in 1940. The first stock car race there was promoted by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. on July 4, 1946. NASCAR was not founded until 1948... Ed Samples won the first race and the winner's purse of $500, driving a 1937 Ford Coupe. ... Historians report that France, ever the promoter, advertised the race to be held at the "$100,000 Greenville-Pickens Speedway," and promised an antique automobile jubilee display with Elmer Snodgrass and his radio show Boys and Baby Ray and his Country Cousins. ... The race day began with two horse races in the morning. ... An estimated 5,000 fans who arrived at the track too late and had to be turned away, the local newspaper reported.
* G-P NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races: Greenville-Pickens Speedway hosted 27 NASCAR Grand National (now NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series) races between 1951 and 1971. The first series race at the track on Aug. 21, 1951, was won by Bob Flock. Richard Petty won six G-P races while Pearson four. Pearson led the events with five Bud Pole Awards. ... Only the final three NASCAR races at the track were after the track was paved in April 1970. All others were on the original red clay. ... Included in Petty's wins are five on dirt, including the last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race on the dirt surface in 1968, and the last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race on pavement there in June 1971. ... The only other pavement NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at the track were both won by Bobby Isaac.
* Hello, I'm Chris Economaki ... and welcome to Greenville-Pickens Speedway. With words that likely sounded similar to those, the pioneering National Speed Sport News Editor and Wide World of Sports anchor Jim McKay welcomed a national television audience to ABC Sports' historic first live start-to-finish television broadcast of an automobile race from the track on April 10, 1971. ABC's legendary Roone Arledge made the decision to commit the network to what was a logistically challenging proposition. Network, NASCAR and track officials implored the starting field to use great care to limit caution periods so the network could keep the program within its strict 90-minute time widow. There was only one caution flag and the race was run in one hour and 16 minutes. Isaac won the race by a comfortable margin over Pearson, Dick Brooks, Dave Marcis and Benny Parsons.
What: Greased Lightning 150, NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series Race #1
Where: Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Greenville, S.C.
When: 8:00 p.m., Saturday, April 28.
Track layout: .500-mile oval.
Distance: 150 Laps, 75 miles.
Posted Awards: $122,192
TV: SPEED, Tape (premiers May 16, 12:00 p.m. ET)
2006 winner: Sean Caisse.
2006 polesitter: Mike Olsen.
Records: Qualifying: Mike Olsen, June 10, 2006, 86.709 mph, 20.759 sec.; Race: Sean Caisse, June 10, 2006, 48.949 mph, 1 hr 31 min 56 sec.
Pre-race schedule: Friday -- Inspection 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday -- 8 a.m. Registration and Inspection begins 8 a.m.; Practice 1:00-3:00 p.m. Qualifying 6 p.m. Subject to change.