MWS: Season opener Rockford race notes

Steve Carlson wins NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series season opener. Rockford, Illinois (April 13, 2003)--Steve Carlson won the Freund International 250, NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck...

Steve Carlson wins NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series season opener.

Rockford, Illinois (April 13, 2003)--Steve Carlson won the Freund International 250, NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series season opener, Sunday afternoon at the Rockford (Ill) Speedway.

Carlson started defense of his Midwest Series championship by passing Ron Breese, Jr on the last lap to record the wild win.

"I've raced at Rockford a long time," said Carlson. "But I think that's the wildest one I've ever seen."

Justin Diercks finished third while Eric Fransen and Tim Schendel rounded out the top five.

Fransen started from the pole position and led the entire race until a lap 245 caution set up a two-lap shoot-out. Series rules mandate at least a green/white/checkered finish, even if it means completing more than the advertised distance.

Fransen, a rookie on the series, brought Breese, Carlson and Diercks to the restart on lap 252 and continued to lead the field under the white flag. Exiting turn two of the last lap, Breese and Fransen made contact, sending the first-year driver up the track. Before Fransen could fully recover, Carlson and Diercks snuck by.

As Breese powered the field up the back straightaway, he appeared to have victory in hand. In turn three, Breese went low to protect the preferred line but Carlson found enough room underneath and got along side Breese as the pair drag raced to the finish line. At the checkers it was Carlson by .116 seconds--or about a foot.

In victory lane, Carlson's Chevrolet sat on a flat right front tire and displayed battle scars all the way down the right side.

Carlson's win was made more improbable when he pitted for right side tires, under caution, on lap 193. While there was only six cars on the lead lap, he was forced to race back through those cars, and the lapped cars, in just over 50 laps.

"We had no choice but to pit," said Carlson. "There was only a handful of cars on the lead lap and we weren't gonna win on the four old tires we had on."

The win was Carlson's 12th at the Northern Illinois speed plant and 60th career series triumph.

Fransen got a great start as the green was displayed for the start of the Freund International 250 and led the field into turn one.

The field was set under yellow just four laps into the race when Les Ferris looped his machine in turn two and scattered the field behind him. Rookies Kenny Richards and A.J. Rhoads suffered minor damage in the fray.

Once back under green, Fransen pulled away with ease and opened up a three-car length advantage over Carlson.

"I just didn't want to mess the start up," said Fransen. "I thought maybe if I got a really good start that maybe I could beat Steve into turn one and then maybe I could lead some laps. But I was surprised I led as many as I did."

Defending race winner Brian Hoppe started 16th in the 24-car field. He had quickly worked his way into the top-10 before his Chevrolet erupted into flames traveling down the front straight on lap 33, the victim of a broken oil line. Hoppe's team made repairs and he was able to return, but unusually low field attrition could only net Hoppe a 22nd place showing.

Bud Pole Fast Qualifier Jon Lemke started sixth and was on the move early. But as Lemke worked under rookie Jeremy Lepak for the third spot, the pair made contact sending both cars spinning. The melee damaged Lemke's front body work forcing him to make several trips down pit lane to patch up the scars. Lemke lost several laps in the pits and finished the race in the 17th position.

Solo spins by Dave Finney and Mark Voigt brought out the next two cautions. But a chain reaction mess between Clint Bowyer, Josh Vadnais and Bryan Roach on lap 190 gave Carlson his chance to put new right side rubber on. Carlson was joined on pit lane by Diercks and Schendel. After starting 12th, Breese drove a masterful race and found himself in second when the field was sent back underway on lap 199.

"My car was great," said Breese. "It stayed the same the whole race."

Carlson restarted fourth, but with 22 cars still on the tight oval, was mired deep in the field with just over 50 circuits remaining.

Another single car spin on the back straight, this time for Vadnais, put the field under amber and allowed Carlson to close the gap between he and the leaders and set up the wild two-lap shoot-out.

"No way did I think I could go from third to first in just two laps here at Rockford," said Carlson.

Jeff Way started the 250-lap grind in 20th position, stayed on the lead lap all race long and came to the checkers a career best sixth. Bryan Roach, Vadnais, Voigt and Doug Klein rounded out the top 10.

Fransen was the highest finishing Victory Circle Chassis Rookie of the Year competitor while Voigt captured the POWERade Power Move of the Race award for advancing the most positions.

The International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series travels next to Wisconsin Dells Motor Speedway, in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, Saturday night, May 10.


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