NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES DRIVER J.R. NORRIS USES WEDNESDAY NIGHT WIN AT MUSIC CITY MOTORPLEX TO INCH CLOSER TO CHAMPIONSHIP NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 9, 2006) - J.R. Norris made a major step forward in his hopes of...
NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES DRIVER J.R. NORRIS USES WEDNESDAY NIGHT WIN AT MUSIC CITY MOTORPLEX TO INCH CLOSER TO CHAMPIONSHIP
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug. 9, 2006) - J.R. Norris made a major step forward in his hopes of winning his first NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series championship thanks to his victory in rather dominant fashion in the Music City 150 presented by Nashvillle Convention & Visitors Bureau 100 on Wednesday night at Music City Motorplex. Wednesday night's race was a combination event featuring both the Southeast Series as well as the Midwest Series.
The Southeast Series season concludes this Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway in another Southeast-Midwest combination race while the Midwest Series still has two races remaining before wrapping up their season in October.
However, the main headline coming from Wednesday night's race was Norris who came into the race tied with Jason Hogan for the Southeast Series championship lead and exiting with a 15-point advantage in the Southeast Series standings over Hogan who finished third behind Norris and second place Music City finisher Gary Helton who heads into the final race only 61 markers outside the top spot.
It was Norris' second victory of the 2006 season and a pretty nice birthday present for team owner Billy Ballew as well as close friend and crew chief Richie Wauters. Norris, in fact, wasn't sure he was going to have a ride this season in the Southeast Series.
"This is a total turnaround from what I expected heading into the year," Norris said. "I just have to thank God that I've been this fortunate and I feel good about our chances of winning the Southeast Series championship heading into Saturday night's race at Greenville-Pickens because we usually run pretty good there and I think we've found a couple things that are going to make us even better. I'm looking forward to it. I can't say enough about all the guys on this team because they take care of the car so all I have to worry about is driving.
"I have to thank Jeff Victor with Victor Ford for supporting us like he does. Without him, I don't know where Richie and I would be at today. I also have to thank Richie Wauters because he has done so much for me and my career over the last two-and-a-half years. Richie works as hard on these cars as I do and it's just unbelievable what he can make a race car do. I also have to thank my mom and my dad too because they've helped me out a lot - they are my biggest supporters because without them I wouldn't be where I'm at today. I really feel like the Good Lord has blessed me this year because I really feel like He has."
Norris was quick to point out that even though he currently holds the Southeast Series championship lead, he's not taking anything for granted heading into the last race of the year.
"My job is to win races," Norris said. "Yeah, I want to win the championship but winning races is what makes me feel good. It's kind of been a heartbreaker to come so close but not winning the championship the last two years. The main thing in my mind heading into Greenville is that if I win that race I will win the Southeast Series championship and that's the way I'm approaching things."
Wauters, naturally, was thrilled with his driver's efforts on Wednesday night.
"I've been trying to win a guitar from Nashville for 20 years and now we've done it," Wauters said of the guitar that is awarded to all race winners at Music City Motorplex. "I've finished second here a bunch of times with drivers like Ted Musgrave, Scott Hansen and Mark Martin. I've worked with a lot of drivers before tonight but never been able to win a race here. To win my first race with J.R. Norris driving for me is pretty neat. I love J.R. and he's a great kid. He's like my brother because whatever we've got to do to win this championship is what we've going to do. I also plan on putting J.R. behind the wheel of our NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ride at Las Vegas."
Despite slipping a bit in the championship race behind Norris, Hogan said he knows anything can happen in the last race of the season and that he is still in title contention.
"It's not that disappointing to me at all because I knew J.R. was going to have a good car as well as Gary Helton," Hogan said. "We had an awesome car but it just wasn't our night. We have good car for Greenville that we'll take back to the shop and give some tender loving care to and take it to Greenville. The good thing about it now is J.R. is the guy with target on his back so to speak and I'm just going there to try and win the race. As far as the pressure goes, I think I'm on the good side of the stick. J.R. and those guys aren't immune to having a bad night at Greenville and missing the set-up just like I did tonight. I'm one of those guys that never quits and I'm going to give it 110-percent right up to the very end."
Not to be overlooked, but the battle for the Midwest Series championship lead was even closer going into Music City with a three-way tie for the lead. When all was said and done Wednesday night, it was Dan Fredrickson taking sole possession of the Midwest Series championship lead by 10 points over Tim Schendel who had a strong night of racing action under the lights at Music City Motorplex. Schendel - in addition to Fredrickson - were two of the three Midwest Series competitors who were tied for the lead in the championship standings heading into Nashville along with Steve Carlson who had engine problems and finished 27th in the 29-car field.
Josh Hamner started from the pole position but watched fellow Southeast Series counterpart Helton beat him into the first and second turns to take the early lead, bringing Norris just behind him in second. Norris was able to pull alongside of Helton coming off the fourth turn to take the lead on Lap 22. The first caution came when Brent Kirchner's car went off the pace on Lap 40.
At the halfway point, it was Norris leading the top-five of Helton, Hogan, Dusty Williams and Ryan Lawler. The second yellow flag of the night came when Scotty Backman spun off the second turn following slight contact with Hamner.
The third caution of the night came on Lap 72 for a multi-car wreck on the front straightaway involving the cars of Ronald Hawley, Greg Fowler, Jim Sikes and Walter Sutcliffe. On the ensuing restart, it was Norris still in command of the top-five made up of Helton, Helton, Lawler and Fredrickson.
It will be a rather short break in the racing action for both the Southeast Series and Midwest Series as the two tours return to action this Saturday night for the Rock '101' 150 at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway. The famed short track has hosted more Southeast Series events than other facility in the country. With that being the case, it seems more than appropriate that Greenville-Pickens will host the last Southeast Series race under NASCAR sanction at legendary promoter Tom Blackwell's track and a Southeast Series champion will be crowned.
Meanwhile, the Midwest Series will have two more races following Saturday night's race at Greenville-Pickens with yet another tight championship on the line. The Midwest Series races Aug. 19 in the United Power/Touchstone Energy 150 at Colorado National Speedway in Erie, Colo. before concluding their final race under NASCAR sanction and crowning their champion Oct. 6 with the Oktoberfest at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem, Wis.
The finality and importance of Saturday night's race at Greenville-Pickens is not at all lost on the Southeast Series drivers and teams.
"Greenville-Pickens Speedway is such an historical track and there have been a lot of great drivers that have come through that place," Hogan says. "It's only fitting that the last race for the Southeast Series will go down in the history books as being held at Greenville-Pickens. That place has been a great track for the Southeast Series for a lot of years.
"There are a lot of Southeast Series guys that have been so close to winning but come up short and I know they'd love nothing better than to win the last Southeast Series race at Greenville-Pickens and put their name in the record books. For some of those guys to win the last Southeast Series would be huge for a lot of well-deserving drivers."
Norris agrees with the assessment of his close friend and fellow Southeast Series competitor in Hogan.
"It's going to be another interesting race because it is a combination race with the Midwest Series," Norris says. "Jason is going to be tough but we both have to keep in mind that we're racing against guys that have never raced at Greenville-Pickens before. It's going to be interesting to see how those guys adapt. I know it's going to make it tougher on a lot of the other Southeast Series drivers because I know the Midwest Series guys want to have a good race as well.
"As far as the championship goes and the Elite divisions going away at the end of the year, it's going to be tough because I've made a lot of great relationships in this series as well as all the guys with NASCAR. The rules have always been fair for everybody and the number of relationships I've made through the years is something that doesn't come along often. I don't know what other than to say other than the series will never be the same as far as the amount of respect, friendship and clean racing the Southeast Series has provided me."