MWS: Elko: Race report

Early pit strategy helps Brian Hoppe win AC Delco 250 at Elko Speedway ELKO, Minn. (June 21, 2003) - Brian Hoppe, of Madison, Wis., won the AC Delco 250 at Elko (Minn.) Speedway, the fifth race of the 2003 season for the NASCAR Elite Division,...

Early pit strategy helps Brian Hoppe win AC Delco 250 at Elko Speedway

ELKO, Minn. (June 21, 2003) - Brian Hoppe, of Madison, Wis., won the AC Delco 250 at Elko (Minn.) Speedway, the fifth race of the 2003 season for the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series. It was Hoppe's first victory of the season and the 18th in his career. Hoppe, the series' 1999 champion, started from the fifth position and gained the lead on lap 76 of the 250-lap event. Ron Breese Jr., of DeKalb, Ill., padded his series' points lead with a second place finish, while Eddie Hoffman, defending series champion Steve Carlson and Jon Lemke rounded out the top five finishers.

Hoppe gained the lead from local favorite Josh Vadnais, of White Bear Lake, Minn., on lap 76, although it may have been an early yellow flag that sealed the deal for Hoppe. Race procedures called for each team to make a mandatory pit stop, sometime between lap 25 and 250. Under caution after Jeremy Lepak spun on the front straightaway on lap 21, Hoppe brought his car in for service at the first available opportunity -- on lap 25 -- and returned to start the race at the tail end of the lead lap.

As the only driver among the race leaders to make this move, Hoppe gave up the early track position in return for a payoff at the end of the evening.

"It was just great strategy by our whole crew," Hoppe said. "I was a little nervous when we came out on lap 25, and I was last with all those cars in front of me. You never know what you can get caught up in. But, we stayed clean and when they all pitted, it was what we needed."

What Hoppe needed was the rest of the leaders to pit, which they did on lap 67 during the night's third caution period. When the race restarted, Hoppe was second position while the rest of the contenders lined up much further back in the field.

"On lap 25, I was having some second thoughts because track position means a lot here," Hoppe continued. "You can go down a lap pretty fast here, if you get stuck behind some cars. It was a little nerve-wracking, but we came through it and everything worked well. Hopefully, it was a good show for the fans."

After the third restart, Hoppe's concern wasn't getting stuck in lapped traffic, but overcoming it, as he jumped to a large lead once he passed Vadnais for good on the 76th lap.

Behind Hoppe, Breese, Carlson and Lemke staged a battle for the second and third positions that included dozens of laps of side-by-side racing -- while they also tried to catch Hoppe.

"It seemed like where my car was working good, Brian was giving up a little. And where my car was giving up a little, his car was working good," Breese said.

"I think track position was a big part of it. That was a great call by his crew chief -- a gutsy call, because he could've gone a lap down. We just came here to win the race. We knew we hard a car good enough to do it. Unfortunately for us, Brian had the track position and he had a car good enough to do it also," Breese continued.

Although Breese and the rest of the field were left trailing Hoppe throughout the closing laps, Breese survived another weekend with his points lead intact.

"Having the point lead is great. Obviously, we try and keep a cool head about us because of the points. We did gain some points tonight. We'll take it, and go to Lake Geneva and put on another good show."

A pair of rookie drivers collected two of NASCAR's most prestigious special awards during the AC Delco 250. Eric Franson, of West Bend, Wis., claimed the Bud Pole fast qualifier award with a fast lap of 13.793 seconds (97.876 mph). At the other end of the spectrum, another first-year driver was equally impressive in his performance. Dan Bedard, of Prior Lake, Minn., was forced to use a provisional to start the race, yet he earned the POWERade Power Move of the Race award, given to the driver who advances the most positions in each race. Bedard climbed from the 24th starting position to 11th in the final results.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Steve Carlson