Seasons Change But Racing at PIR Stays the Same for Southwest Series DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (September 29, 2004) This time of year beckons a change of seasons all across the country. With a change of seasons, comes the end of one chapter and the ...
Seasons Change But Racing at PIR Stays the Same for Southwest Series
DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. (September 29, 2004) This time of year beckons a change of seasons all across the country. With a change of seasons, comes the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. This scene will be played out for competitors of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series for the 19th time as driver's and teams enter the final three events of the season in their quest for a series championship. This year's championship chase will conclude with two of the final three events being staged at the famed mile in the desert, Phoenix International Raceway.
With Phoenix looming large on the horizon, five drivers will vie for the series championship. Jim Pettit II of Prunedale, Calif. leads 2001 series champion Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. by a narrow margin with Raudman's team Burney Lamar, also of Bakersfield in third place. Eric Holmes from Escalon, Calif. and 2002 series champion Eddy McKean from Jerome, Idaho round out the top five and both are looking for late season success to move them to the top.
McKean started out the season dominating round one of the 14 race championship series at PIR collecting his fourth career triumph. Pettit took round two at Madera (Calif.) Speedway, with Raudman claiming the victory at his home track of Mesa Marin (Calif.) Raceway. New comer and occasional competitor Jeff Seifert from Jamul, Calif. scored his first career win at Cajon (Calif.) Speedway in April. After the first four races, Raudman held the top spot in the standings with Pettit, McKean, Holmes and Dan Holtz in tow.
Holmes scored the victory at Stockton (Calif.) Speedway in May, with Lamar taking the checkers at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway later that month. David Gilliland from Riverside, Calif. had the cautions fall his way at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. after road racing ace Boris Said lost a motor that collected NASCAR NEXTEL Cup star Kevin Harvick. After the twists and turns of Infineon the teams headed back to Madera Speedway where Pettit swept both events and closed to within 13 points of leader Raudman.
Round nine went to Raudman as he rebounded and scored his 15th career win at Stockton 99 Speedway in late July. The series then headed east to the mountains of Colorado for the annual high plains shootout at Colorado National Speedway in August. Pettit scored his third win of the season in dominating fashion and retook the series point lead by 25 points over Raudman heading to the copper state for the final swing of the season. The event at Tucson (Ariz.) Raceway Park on September 18 was postponed due to unusually wet weather caused by many of the hurricanes in the gulf.
As the drivers enter the event this weekend at PIR, Pettit stands on the verge of scoring his second major NASCAR championship but it has taken him twenty years to get to this point. In 1984, Pettit won the Pacific Coast regional championship for the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series. During that time Pettit has won countless track championships at several racetracks in central California.
In 2003, Raudman put together an entirely new team with the sole purpose of winning the 2004 crown. Thus far, his two wins and four Bud Pole Awards have positioned him firmly in the championship hunt with three races left to go. His teammate Lamar is a young gun looking to make his mark in the sport and move up NASCAR's ladder and knows that a regional championship may well propel him into the future.
With the top three seemingly out of reach Holmes and McKean look to steal a little of the thunder by winning the final three races. McKean is the series master of the mile racetracks winning three times and scoring five other top three finishes since 2002.
Since 1986, only Ron Hornaday and Steve Portenga have claimed two series championships. Raudman looks to event the score and put his name in the record books. But he will have to pass Pettit to get there.
"Phoenix is a test at every turn," Pettit said. "This is our Daytona 500, so it is important to the team, our sponsors and our fans that we do well here. We have had some good runs in the past only to have trouble at the end. The team that performs well here (PIR) will win the championship."
Raudman agrees. "I have never had the best luck at Phoenix," Raudman said. "I hope that is all behind us. We are so focused on winning our second championship, but we need a good result at Phoenix. The track is fast and smooth. The improvements they have made have really improved the passing opportunities and will create a great show for the fans."
McKean has dominated many of the shows at Phoenix even though he has only tallied two wins there. He is looking to make a run in the standings and feels very confident about his chances at PIR. "I love the place," McKean said. "For most of us who grew up racing at our local track, Phoenix has always been the ultimate goal. I have had tremendous success here and I want to be in position to go for the win at both events. This tracks tests the teams like no other track on the schedule. We are ready."
The series will crown a champion in November at PIR and as the seasons change a new chapter for the AutoZone Southwest Series will begin while the sun sets on its 19th season.