MWS: I-94: Race notes

Sauk Centre, Minnesota (July 5, 2003)--Eddie Hoffman won the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series July Spectacular 150, Saturday night at I-94 (MN) Raceway. The win was his third of the season and moved...

Sauk Centre, Minnesota (July 5, 2003)--Eddie Hoffman won the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series July Spectacular 150, Saturday night at I-94 (MN) Raceway. The win was his third of the season and moved him within six points of championship point leader Ron Breese, Jr.

Hoffman used lap traffic to hold off a determined Brian Hoppe by .210 seconds. Jon Lemke, Tim Schendel and Jeremy Lepak rounded out the top five.

"It took those guys a little while to get through traffic but I knew they were coming at the end," said Hoffman. "Sure enough, they were."

Hoppe pulled even with Hoffman on several occasions over the final 10 laps, but Hoffman held strong in the high groove. Hoppe's final bid for the lead happened as the pair raced to the white flag. Hoppe got a great run off of turn four and pulled even with Hoffman, again. It looked as though he would have enough momentum to carry him past Hoffman, but the veteran was able to pin Hoppe behind the lapped car of Dave Finney.

"I was really hoping that lapped car would slide up in front of the leader for a change instead of all the lapped cars being in front of me," said Hoppe. "I can't say enough about this team though, we had to pull out the backup car because I messed up the primary car earlier today. So I guess we'll take this second place and go to the next race."

It was a wild 150 lap main event, marked by just one caution, tire preservation and three distinct grooves of racing.

Breese started from the pole with former I-94 Raceway track champion Bryan Roach alongside. Roach got the jump on the field at the drop of the green and led the first lap before Breese slipped past. Roach settled into the runner-up spot while rookie Clint Bowyer, Justin Diercks, Jeremy Lepak and Finney battled for positions in the top five.

Breese opened up a two-second advantage over the field before Diercks worked up to the second position on lap 23. Diercks immediately set sail on Breese and caught him by lap 50. Diercks sized up Breese and carefully slid under him for the lead as the pair raced lapped traffic.

While most eyes were on the battle for the lead, a trio of championship contending drivers were blasting their way through the field.

Hoppe dropped to the tail of the grid prior to the green as a result of having to start his back-up machine. By mid-race he had worked from 24th to sixth.

Defending series titlist Steve Carlson qualified 15th, but by the half-way point of the race he found himself in the seventh position.

Just as impressive was Schendel. The fourth year driver had a poor qualifying effort and had to race into the July Spectacular 150 through the last chance qualifying race. Schendel started 18th in the main event and by mid-race had worked his way to fifth.

The I-94 Raceway offers a unique compound banking surface which lends itself to many different racing grooves. Schendel spent much of his night hugging the infield on the completely flat lower groove. Few drivers could make serious headway in the flat, lower lane, but Hoppe and Schendel were the exceptions.

The only caution of the race flew when Bowyer blew a right front tire, while running in the top-10, and launched his machine into the front stretch wall.

At the urging of several teams, series officials decided to give the competitors two extra tires for the main event. The move was in the interest of safety and changed the complexion of the race.

During the caution, all the leaders except Carlson, Breese and Josh Vadnais pitted for the two tires that were in their pits. That gave the lead momentarily back to Breese and mired those that pitted in heavy race traffic.

Once back underway, Carlson got around Breese for the lead and Hoffman, Hoppe, Lemke, Schendel, Lepak and Diercks began the processes of working their way back to the front.

Hoffman got their first, and with fresh tires, quickly dispatched with Vadnais, Breese and Carlson.

Over the final 50 circuits, the trio that didn't pit were free-falling through the pack, clearly waiting for an opportunity to pit. With just the one caution, they never got that chance, however.

With 25-laps to go, Hoffman had opened up a nearly three-second advantage on Hoppe. But Hoppe had cleared a large group of traffic and was making up ground in a hurry using his unique low groove line.

Hoppe shadowed Hoffman for the last 10 laps, making several attempts that were all thwarted by Hoffman and the lapped traffic.

Lemke's third place run continues an amazing streak for the Minnesota driver. After starting the season with 17th and 24th place showings, Lemke has posted five consecutive top five runs, including back-to-back third place finishes.

"The new tires just went away quicker than what I thought they were going to," said Lemke. "Our goal after the first two races was poles and podiums and this is two in a row for us."

Lemke was the Bud Pole fast qualifier while Schendel advanced the most positions from his starting spot to earn the POWERade Power Move of the Race Award and the $750 that goes along with it.

The Midwest Series travels next to Gateway International Raceway in suburban St. Louis for the running of the Gateway 125, Friday, July 18.

Next Race: Gateway International Raceway, Madison, Illinois, Gateway 125, Friday, July 18, 2003


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Drivers Clint Bowyer , Tim Schendel , Justin Diercks , Steve Carlson