Countdown to the showdown: with championship chase ended, Midwest Series contenders focus on Toyota All-Star Showdown. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 17, 2003) -- In April, at the 2003 NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation...
Countdown to the showdown: with championship chase ended, Midwest Series contenders focus on Toyota All-Star Showdown.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 17, 2003) -- In April, at the 2003 NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series opener, the pit area was filled with optimism. While many teams hoped to finish in the top-10 in points and earn an invitation to the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, a handful eyed the ultimate racing prize: A NASCAR Championship.
"I know we have all the elements of a championship team," said 1999 Midwest Series titlist Brian Hoppe (Gildan Activewear Chevrolet). "And at the start of every year, I guess most people would say we're one of the teams that can win the championship."
Hoppe's quest for the crown quickly took a wrong turn at the series opener, when a broken oil line relegated him to a 22nd place finish. Another poor finish at the fourth event effectively ended his championship run.
But the Toyota All-Star Showdown offers Hoppe, of Madison, Wis., a chance to redeem his season and end it on a good note.
"A win at Irwindale would be a huge lift and a huge accomplishment for me and this team," said Hoppe. "It wouldn't take the place of a championship, but it would end our season in a great fashion.
"To win a championship is such a good feeling because you know that you've beat a group of guys, week in and week out, for 12 to 15 or 20 races, however long the schedule is," says Hoppe. "But with the Toyota All-Star Showdown, it'll tell you how you stack up against the 40 best short track drivers, in the same type of car, in the country."
The invitation-only event will be held Nov. 6-8 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. The top 10 drivers from the four series that comprise the NASCAR Elite Division -- Featherlite Southwest Series, Raybestos Northwest Series, Kodak Southeast Series and the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series -- will be invited. The event will also feature the top 15 drivers in each of the two series in the NASCAR Grand National Division -- Busch North and Winston West -- who will compete in a similar format.
The event begins with practice on Thursday, Nov. 6, followed by twin 50-lap qualifying races on Friday Nov. 7 and the main events on Saturday, Nov. 8. Friday night's qualifying races -- which will determine the starting lineup for Saturday's feature events -- and the main events on Saturday will both be televised live on NASCAR TV on SPEED Channel, providing two nights of nationwide television exposure for these regional racers.
Another Midwest Series contender, Ron Breese, Jr. (ETW, Inc/Pinkston-Tadd Industrial Roofing Chevrolet), stood in the pits at the opener and stated he only planned to run roughly 80% of the series races in 2003. But after two races, Breese was atop the point standings, he changed his plans, and the championship chase was on.
Breese, of DeKalb, Ill., led the Midwest Series championship standings for more than half the season before slipping to third at year's end.
"Losing the championship was disappointing, but not as disappointing as you might think, because we originally weren't going to run the entire schedule," said Breese. "By the same token, I guess winning the Toyota Showdown would add some redemption to our season."
Drivers in the showdown will be competing for their share of $500,000 in prize money, more than has been posted for any single Midwest Series event.