MWS: Rockford: Season opener preview

Steve Carlson set to defend International Truck and Engine, Midwest Series crown at familiar haunt. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 31, 2003) -- The high-banked Rockford (Ill.) Speedway oval has been very good to Steve Carlson (Lefthander ...

Steve Carlson set to defend International Truck and Engine, Midwest Series crown at familiar haunt.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 31, 2003) -- The high-banked Rockford (Ill.) Speedway oval has been very good to Steve Carlson (Lefthander Chassis Chevrolet) over the years. Since 1992, Carlson has found victory lane at the Northern Illinois speed plant 11 times, including an amazing four-year stretch that saw him win seven straight series events. But Carlson travels to Rockford Speedway, April 12-13, for the opening event of the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series (formerly RE/MAX Challenge Series) in an unfamiliar role; he is not the defending race winner.

In fact, Carlson has been held in check the last two times the series has raced at Rockford. Traditionally, the .29167-mile bull ring has opened the season for the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series but rain postponed the opener in 2002, placing the Rockford event at the end of the schedule. Brian Hoppe (Gildan Activewear Chevrolet) won the curtain closer in 2002 while Eddie Hoffman (Lisa Thomas Salon Chevrolet) won the Rockford finale in 2001.

"Not to take away anything from Brian, because they have really got their stuff together," said Carlson. "But last year I knew all I had to do was keep him in my sights and I'd win the points championship, and that's what I did."

Racing on the tight Rockford oval has often been compared to the action packed NASCAR races at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where very few cars leave without a wrinkled fender, a tire mark on the side or a pushed-in bumper.

"There's no doubt you need some luck to win at Rockford, and I've had my fair share there," recalls Carlson. "She's a tough little race track and trouble can find you quick."

The racing action begins with an optional practice session April 11. Practice for the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series drivers takes place Saturday afternoon, April 12 with qualifying scheduled for 5:00 p.m. (CT). A 40-lap last chance qualifying race is slated for 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. The green flag will fly over the Freund International 250 at 2:00 p.m., April 13.

The fastest 16 drivers from qualifying will earn automatic starting spots in the main event with six starters added as a result of the last chance qualifier. Up to four additional provisional starting spots are available based on 2002 series point standings.

Rockford Speedway is located at the intersection of Forest Hills Road and Hwy. 173 in Rockford, Ill. In addition to the Freund International 250, a full program for the Midwest Sportsman Championship Series and National Short Track Series Sportsman is also on tap.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Steve Carlson