MWS: LaCrosse Oktoberfest summary

Brian Hoppe wins Re/Max Challenge Series, NASCAR Touring Oktoberfest 250 at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway. West Salem, Wisconsin (October 6, 2002)--Brian Hoppe won the RE/MAX Challenge Series, NASCAR Touring Oktoberfest 250 presented by ALLTEL,...

Brian Hoppe wins Re/Max Challenge Series, NASCAR Touring Oktoberfest 250 at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway.

West Salem, Wisconsin (October 6, 2002)--Brian Hoppe won the RE/MAX Challenge Series, NASCAR Touring Oktoberfest 250 presented by ALLTEL, Sunday afternoon at the LaCrosse (Wis) Fairgrounds Speedway.

Hoppe was one of four lead-lap cars that pitted for tires on lap 189. After the stop, Hoppe rejoined the chase from the 14th position. Over the final 59 laps Hoppe charged through the field, taking the lead from Steve Carlson on lap 212.

Hoppe survived two late race cautions, taking the checkers ahead of Jon Lemke and Justin Diercks. Steve Holzhausen and Tim Schendel rounded out the top five.

After loosing the lead, Carlson, the RE/MAX Challenge Series point leader, ran out of gas, the victim of a faulty fuel vent tube. Carlson was credited with a 17th place finish, narrowing his championship point gap to 34 markers over Hoppe heading into the final event of the 2002 campaign.

Hoppe and his team were hit with a practice violation penalty by NASCAR officials, forcing him to start his Gildan Activewear Chevrolet last on the field.

"What we really needed the first pit stop was track position, and my crew gave it to me," said Hoppe. "We picked up seven or eight positions on that stop and that really helped get me through the field."

At the drop of the green, the battle at the front of the field focused on pole sitter Ron Breese, Jr and front row mate Nathan Haseleu. While Haseleu, behind the wheel of Gary Schultz's #98, edged ahead at lap one, Breese quickly took command.

Breese led the next 44 circuits and opened up a healthy advantage over the rest of the field. Battles raged behind Breese as Carlson, Johnny Sauter and Eddie Hoffman worked their machines to the front.

A brief caution on lap 17 for debris on the racing surface bunched the field. On the restart, Carlson got a great run on Haseleu and took over the second position. Breese and Carlson then waged a torrid early race battle before Carlson was able to take command on lap 46. Behind the lead duo, the tussle for positions continued as Haseleu, Hoffman and Sauter swapped spots several times.

Mike Belling, making his first career RE/MAX Challenge Series start in Dave Bean's Five Star Telecom entry, brought out the second caution of the day on lap 63. Belling got together with 2002 series Rookie of the Year Josh Vadnais. Belling was done for the day while Vadnais returned to the track after lengthy front end repairs.

The caution sent nearly all the lead lap cars to pit lane for service.

John Nutley, who did not pit, was shown as the leader when the field was sent back underway on lap 72. Once back under green, Carlson quickly got around Nutley. Breese, however, had difficulty working past Nutley. He tagged the tail end of Nutley's Chevrolet, hard, entering turn three, damaging the front nose piece and pushing the hood of his EWT, Inc. ride up.

A few circuits later, Nutley was involved in a front straight incident with Ryan Hanson and ended his day against the wall. Hanson's machine was fine, although the young driver lost a lap to the leaders as he tried to refire his Ford.

The caution allowed Breese a chance to head down pit lane to repair the damages to the front of his machine. Breese recovered to finish ninth, but the track position lost in the extra trip to the pits effectively cost him a shot at the win.

Over the next 125 laps, Carlson, Hoffman and Sauter thrilled the capacity, chilled, Oktoberfest crowd, swapping the lead half a dozen times. Jeremy Lepak, in just his sixth series race, and first Oktoberfest 250, made a charge to the front. Just past the half way mark Lepak was in fourth and appeared to have the fastest machine on the speedway, only to fade in the final 50 circuits.

Meanwhile, Hoppe was struggling and fading fast.

"We just had the car too tight and I blistered the right front tire," said Hoppe.

As Hoppe was free falling through the field, Mark Kraus came upon him on lap 186. Kraus went high in turn one to go around Hoppe, but found that path blocked as Hoppe's ill handling mount slid high. Kraus was then forced to look low on the back stretch. He had to check up when Hoppe slammed the door on the opening Kraus saw and that caused chain reaction braking behind the pair. When the dust settled, Kraus found himself spun in turn three, but did a masterful job of keeping his Chevrolet off the wall and the other competitors. The spin, however did bring out a caution that Hoppe desperately needed.

On lap 189, the leader, Hoffman, looked as though he was going to pit. Carlson and Sauter were right behind and were poised to follow him down pit lane. At the last second, Hoffman turned the wheel of his Lisa Thomas Salon machine to the right and stayed on the track. Carlson and Sauter reacted quickly and also stayed on course. Hoppe, Lemke, Diercks and Haseleu were not taken in by Hoffman's trickery as they were committed to pit no matter what the leaders did.

"Those rights on the last stop made all the difference in the world," said Diercks.

Once back under way, Hoppe, Diercks, Lemke and Haseleu shot through the field. Hoppe took the lead from Carlson on lap 212 and never looked back.

As Carlson crossed the stripe to complete lap 216, his machine lost power and scattered the field behind him. Without power, Carlson was unable to make it back to pit lane, once again putting the field under caution. After the wrecker got Carlson's mount back to pit lane, and his crew fueled the car, scoring showed him three laps behind the leaders. After the race it was found that the fuel vent tube on Carlson's machine was knocked loose. As a result, when the crew pitted the car on lap 65, fuel wasn't able to go into the cell as fast as normal and the crew didn't get in as much gas as they thought.

Haseleu's bid for victory ended when the hood of his Ford came loose, causing a caution and sending him down pit lane for repairs. That caution, with less than 10 laps to go, set up a shot out for the win.

"On that last restart, I thought I had something for Brian, but I screwed up going into one," said Diercks. "I planned on going to the grass to get under him, but I couldn't get the car to go where I needed to and that messed me up and opened the door for Jon."

With Diercks's bobble, Lemke was able to get past him for the second spot.

"I love racing with Justin," said Lemke. "We raced door handle to door handle for probably 75 of those 250 laps and never touched."

After leading 74 laps and picking up the Gatorade Front Runner award, Hoffman faded to a sixth place finish. Paul Menard, Jeff Kendall, Breese and Sauter rounded out the top ten.

The Oktoberfest 250 presented by ALLTEL will be shown taped delayed, Monday, November 18, at 7:00 p.m. (CT) on the SPEED Channel.

The RE/MAX Challenge Series will conclude its season, Saturday afternoon, October 19 at the Rockford (Ill) Speedway with the rescheduled running of the Insight Digital 250.


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Drivers Johnny Sauter , Paul Menard , Jeff Kendall , Tim Schendel , Mike Bell , Justin Diercks