COUNTDOWN TO THE SHOWDOWN NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 26, 2005) -- At the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series season finale this Saturday night at Montgomery (Ala.) Motor Speedway, Jeff...
COUNTDOWN TO THE SHOWDOWN
NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 26, 2005) -- At the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series season finale this Saturday night at Montgomery (Ala.) Motor Speedway, Jeff Fultz will be one of the headline stories as he seeks to win his third Southeast Series championship.
Several more competitors will be focused on finishing in the Top 10 in the final Southeast Series standings in order to receive a very coveted invitation to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. The third-annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown will be held at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway and broadcast live on SPEED Channel, November 10-12.
Here is a look at the Southeast Series drivers that are currently eligible for Irwindale, as well as those drivers and teams who are vying to crack the prestigious Top 10 and an invitation to do a little 'California Dreamin' under the Southern California sun.
No. 1 Jeff Fultz, Mooresville, N.C. (No. 54 C&C Boiler/IEN Chevrolet) Points: 1,725 (+64) A perfect example of a driver who has been down the Southeast Series championship road before and well aware of its pitfalls, Jeff Fultz can claim his third series title. To pull of his third Southeast Series crown, all Fultz has to do is finish 15th or better and the title is his even if Jason Hogan goes on to win the Montgomery race and earns maximum points. Fultz knows he can't take anything for granted, having lost three Southeast Series championships in the last race of the season and finishing second by a combined 54 points. A man with a plan, Fultz says he will take it easy on his equipment Saturday night until he knows the championship is secured then try to win the race.
No. 2 Jason Hogan, Cleveland, Ga., (No. 92 Hogan Lumber Chevrolet) Points: 1,661 (-64) Hogan has been on a hot streak as of late, but problem is so to has Fultz and with only one race remaining it may be too little too late to catch Fultz and his 64-point advantage. He also knows that anything is possible after watching J.R. Norris lose the championship lead to Fultz at South Georgia Motorsports Park when Norris lost an engine only five laps into the Sept. 24 event. It doesn't look good for Hogan's chances of winning the Southeast Series title this year, but Hogan knows that if things fall into place that he could possibly leave Montgomery a champion.
No. 3 Gary Helton, Sevierville, Tenn. (No. 86 Volunteer Performance Racing Engines Chevrolet) Points: 1,642 (-83) The leading Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate is posting numbers that first year drivers just aren't really supposed to pull off right away. Goals heading into the 2005 Southeast Series season for Helton? Just get some track time and gain the respect of his fellow peers, teams and officials. Mission Accomplished. Helton won the Bud Pole Award in his first career start this year at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway and has notched a season 'sweep' of Southeast Series races at Music City Motorplex in Nashville, Tenn. Helton is keenly aware that he's not completely out of title contention and he could pull it off, but knows it's a long shot. Much like Hogan, Helton is also looking in his rearview mirror and trying to maintain his position because even the slightest problems could drop him in the final standings.
No. 4 J.R. Norris, Hueytown, Ala. (No. 5 Victor Ford/ UPI Painting Ford) Points: 1,638 (-87) The bad luck this young talent has gone through in the last two races at South Georgia and Music City is unreal. Championship lead in hand, Norris lost the top spot to Fultz when he finished 14th at South Georgia and backed that up with a 21st place effort in the last Southeast Series event at Music City. Out of the last two Southeast Series races and a possible 307 laps of competition, Norris has finished only 17 laps. Norris can easily salvage his season and get back to second in the final standings, but at this point can also fall back even further. At this point, it's a matter of survival for Norris and his Ritchie Wauters owned team as they hope to right the ship with a date at Irwindale looming on the horizon.
No.5 Dusty Williams, Savannah, Ga. (No. 40 Pennzoil/Dixie Excavating Chevrolet) Points: 1,616 (-109) A star on the rise through the NASCAR ranks, Williams may very well be the best story of the year when all is said and done at the end of the 2005 season. Last year had been a season of frustration for Williams and his family-owned team, and the young Georgia driver moved the operation from his hometown to Charlotte, N.C. and hired crew chief Tracey Norman. Williams scored his first career victory in his 40th career start at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. He can move forward or backwards in the final Southeast Series standings following Montgomery, but this season has been a success for Williams no matter how things end. Plus, he's got an invitation to Irwindale on the line for the third straight trip to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
No. 6 Kevin Prince, Wilmington, N.C. (No. 1 Land O' Frost/ Uncle Yammy's BBQ Sauce Chevrolet) Points: 1,588 (-137) A walking testament to how close the Southeast Series championship race has been, Kevin Prince heads to Montgomery sixth in the tour standings with a long but legitimate shot at finishing as high as second in the final standings. Prince sits only 28 points behind Williams for the fifth position, but is another who must look in the mirror for Justin Wakefield who trails him by a mere 16 markers. Still looking for his first career Southeast Series victory, Prince, car owner Randy Wilson and crew chief Jason Greene could write a perfect script by pulling into Victory Lane which would be icing on the cake for their third straight invitation to Irwindale.
No. 7 Justin Wakefield, Woodstock, Ga. (No. 98 Bandwagon Printing/ FYE Ford) Points: 1,572 (-153) It's hard to believe that the driver sitting seventh in the standings with only one race remaining could possibly move up to second in the final Southeast Series standings, but that's exactly the case for Wakefield. Under the guidance of legendary driver turned crew chief, Jody Ridley, the young Wakefield has shown that he is going to be future star to be reckoned with in NASCAR.
No. 8 Greg Pope, Monroe, N.C. (No. 63 GK Pope Trucking/ Gourmet Boutique Chevrolet) Points: 1,530 (-195) Along with fellow Southeast Series competitor Allen Karnes, there's not too many people in the garage area who don't recognize Greg Pope and have a great deal of respect for how hard he works to make things happen on the track. The first to admit that he's not operating on a budget like some of the top drivers he competes against each Southeast Series event, Pope is a tribute to the fact that hard work pays off for genuinely good people. This will mark Pope's third straight trip to the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at the picturesque Irwindale short track.
No. 9 Allen Karnes, Sharpsburg, Ga. ( No. 29 Stock Building Supply/Quality Cabinets Ford) Points: 1,509 (-216) Another hard worker, Karnes will see his tireless efforts pay off into yet another trip to Irwindale. He could crack the top five in the final Southeast Series standings, but Karnes is just looking to keep his shot at an invitation to Irwindale alive and not lose ground in the season-finale Saturday night at Montgomery.
No. 10 Eddie Stivers, Columbia, S.C. (No. 66 SAE House of Vanderbilt/Wynn's Fluid Chevrolet) Points: 1,322 (-403) Currently sitting second in the battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, Stivers has had a respectable first full season of Southeast Series competition. Good enough that the successful South Carolina businessman is currently the final Southeast Series driver who will earn an invitation to Irwindale in his first attempt. Stivers must also look back and make sure he doesn't get bypassed in the season finale by Robert Richardson, who can mathematically overtake him for the 10th and final position in the final point standings.
On the bubble:
No. 11, Robert Richardson, McKinney, Tex. (No, 33 Richardson Racing Chevrolet) Points: 1,304 (-421) Richardson can easily break into the Top 10 in points and get yet another invitation to Irwindale, but to do so he needs to make up 18 points on Stivers to get the last invitation. Richardson missed one Southeast Series race earlier in the season to make his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.