MWS: St. Louis: Round eight preview

Points battle tightens going into St. Louis/Pikes Peak DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 10, 2003)--A major turning point in the championship battle for the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series could be just...

Points battle tightens going into St. Louis/Pikes Peak

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 10, 2003)--A major turning point in the championship battle for the NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series could be just around the bend as the series next two events are at the two biggest tracks the tour visits. The Midwest Series will travel to the 1.25-mile Gateway International Raceway in suburban St. Louis, Mo. before it finds its way to the one-mile Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colo. the following weekend.

Ron Breese, Jr (EWT, Inc. Chevrolet) is atop the year-long championship point standings, just six markers ahead of Eddie Hoffman (Lisa Thomas Salon Chevrolet) and 44 points ahead of defending series champ Steve Carlson (Wilson Oil Company Chevrolet).

"I'm not points racing," says Hoffman. "Maybe if it gets down to the last race and we're still in it I might points race, but now I just want to win races and the points will take care of themselves."

Thirty-six drivers are scheduled to fill the field for the Gateway 125, Friday, July 18. The fastest 30 competitors in time trials earn an automatic starting berth in the main event, with up to six additional provisional starting spots available based on current points. Qualifying is set for 2:30 p.m. (CT) with the green flag slated to fly over the Gateway 125 at 8:30 p.m. The Midwest Series will run at Gateway as a companion event to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Breese's situation is unique. After finishing third in the championship chase in 2000 and 2001 Breese competed on a limited basis in 2002 and intended to do the same in 2003. But back-to-back top five runs in the first two events of the season put him atop the standings and in a position where he almost had to give a championship bid one more try.

The next two "big" track shows could make or break the championship chase for Breese. He has had success at the big tracks but also his fair share of disappointments. In 12 tries at Gateway and Pikes Peak, his average finish is 11th and he has failed to crack the top 10 the last three superspeedway races.

"At those tracks the starting fields are bigger than we normally have," said Carlson. "So for points you can't afford to have a bad run, or even a mid-pack run."

Carlson struggled with speed and consistency at the big tracks. On more than one off-season Carlson made it his team's goal to improve on their superspeedway setup and results. The teams hard work paid off with a win at Gateway in 2000. Since then Carlson has been a factor in nearly every big track race the series has contested.

Despite sitting fourth and fifth, respectfully, in the Midwest Series championship chase, Brian Hoppe (Gildan Activewear Chevrolet) and Tim Schendel (Mathews Archery Chevrolet) can't be counted out of the year-long title tussle. Hoppe is the only series driver to repeat at Gateway, with wins in 2000 and 2001. Schendel meanwhile posted a third place showing at Gateway last season and came back to score his first series win at Pikes Peak.

Just minutes from downtown St. Louis and in the shadow of the arch, Gateway International Raceway's multi-purpose motorsports facility is located at the intersection of Interstate 55-70 and Route 203 in Madison, Illinois. Order tickets at (866) 35-SPEED or visit them at www.gatewayraceway.com.

NEWS OF NOTE

* This event marks the 9th time the series has visited Gateway Int'l Raceway. Former winners include Mike Garvey (1997), Jason Schuler (1998), Justin Diercks (1999), Brian Hoppe (2000 and 2001), Steve Carlson (2000), Ryan Hemphill (2002) and Jon Lemke (2002).

* This year marks the first under the series' new name: International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series. For the past five seasons, the series was known as the RE/MAX Challenge Series. Prior to that it was known throughout the Midwest as the ARTGO Challenge Series.

* Steve Carlson is the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series defending champion.

* The Midwest Series last competed on July 5 at I-94 Raceway in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Eddie Hoffman scored his third victory of the 2003 campaign and pulled to within six points of championship point leader Ron Breese, Jr. Hoffman's three wins is tops on the series this season. Tire wear was the story of the race. Hoffman, Brian Hoppe, Jon Lemke (K.C. Colors Chevrolet) and others all pitted for two fresh tires just past the half-way point, during the events only caution. Once back under green, those with fresh tires blew past Breese, Steve Carlson and the handful of others that didn't pit. Of those that did pit, Hoffman cleared race traffic first. He held off a spirited battle from Hoppe to win while Lemke placed third. Lemke was also the Bud Pole fast qualifier.

* When the 2003 Midwest Series schedule came out, several St. Louis area teams circled this event on their calendars. Full-time series campaigner Mark Voigt (Bilstein Shocks Chevrolet), from Marine, Ill., and part-time series competitors Doug Klein (Westpointe Bank Pontiac), from Fairview Heights, Ill. and Craig Smith (Smith Racing Chevrolet), from Godfrey, Ill. all would like nothing more than a great showing at their "Home" track.

* This event marks the only time in 2003 that the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series will run as a companion event to the Craftsman Truck Series. Current Craftsman Truck Series point leader, and 2001 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, Travis Kvapil, is a graduate of the NASCAR Midwest Series.

* Nathan Haseleu (G&M Auto & Transmission Ford) has posted three consecutive top-10 runs in Midwest Series action. Haseleu sits 15th in series points despite the fact that the team didn't travel to the first race of the year. Haseleu competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for half of the 2001 campaign behind the wheel of a Jack Roush owned truck.

* After starting the season with 17th and 24th place finishes in the first two events, Jon Lemke has posted five consecutive top-five runs.

* As he has done from week one, Eric Fransen (Sonya's Rose Chevrolet) continues to lead a very talented Victory Circle Chassis Rookie of the Year class. Fransen struggled with the tricky track conditions last week at I-94 Raceway and finished a season-low 15th. He was the second highest finishing rookie, so he only lost one point to rookie runner-up Jeremy Lepak (U.S. Navy Chevrolet). Lepak finished fifth at I-94 to close within four points of Fransen in a rookie battle that promises to go right down to the wire. Clint Bowyer (Sonic Drive Ins Chevrolet) was running in the top-10 at I-94 when a right front tire blew and ended his night. Bowyer sits third in the Victory Circle Chassis Rookie of the Year program ahead of Mark Voigt and Dan Bedard (Information Technology Group Chevrolet).

* POWERade Sports Drink is a welcome addition as a new contingency sponsor with the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series in 2003. POWERade will put $750 up for grabs at each event to the eligible driver who advances the most positions during the course of the race.

* Hoosier Tire returns as the tire of choice for the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series in 2003. The Indiana based company will give away over $4200 worth of their rubber at every series event. Other contingency sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Auto Meter Products, Edelbrock Intake Manifolds, Five Star Stock Car Bodies, Flowmaster, G-Force, Goody's Headache Powder, Holley Carburetors, JE Pistons, Mac Tools, Mobil 1 Oil, Moroso, MSD, Penske Shocks, Quarter Master, Quick Car, Raybestos Brakes, "76" Racing Gasoline, Wix Air Filters and Victory Circle Chassis.

WHAT'S IN A NUMBER?
"When I started racing dirt tracks, I stood in the pits and went through everyone of my favorite numbers and they were all taken. I looked around and saw that there was no #99, so I became #99. And it's been that way ever since."--Bryan Roach.

FROM THE ARCHIVES
July 26, 1997--Mike Garvey set fast time and won the 40-lap main event as the Midwest Series ran as a companion event to the Busch Series cars at Gateway International Raceway. In qualifying, Garvey set a series speed record of 132.755 mph which still stands today. At 1.25-miles, the track is the largest oval the series has run on in its 29 year history.

Fast Facts

What: Gateway 125 (NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series, Race 8 of 12).
Where: Gateway International Raceway.
When: 8:30 p.m. CT, Saturday, June 28.

Track layout: 1.25-mile banked asphalt oval.
Race length: 100 laps, 125 miles.

Points leaders: 1) Ron Breese, Jr, 1142;  2) Eddie Hoffman, 1136;  3) Steve
Carlson, 1098;  4) Brian Hoppe, 1042;  5) Tim Schendel, 1033;  6) Eric
Fransen, 1019;  7) Jon Lemke, 1008;  8) Justin Diercks, 977;  9) Jeremy
Lepak, 977;  10) Ryan Hanson, 933.

Victory Circle Chassis Rookie of the Year leaders: 1) Eric Fransen, 67; 2) Jeremy Lepak, 63; 3) Clint Bowyer, 50; 4) Mark Voigt, 44; 5) Dan Bedard, 30.

Schedule: 7:00 a.m. (CT) Garage Opens; 10:00 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. Practice; 2:30 p.m. Time Trials (2 Laps); 8:30 p.m. Gateway 125.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Jason Schuler , Ryan Hemphill , Clint Bowyer , Jack Roush , Tim Schendel , Mike Garvey , Justin Diercks , Steve Carlson , Travis Kvapil