The Chase is on For The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Divison, Southeast Series Title and Top-10 Efforts in Final Two Races DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 8, 2004) - The math is seemingly all too easy to be this hard to figure out. Perhaps it's...
The Chase is on For The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Divison, Southeast Series Title and Top-10 Efforts in Final Two Races
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 8, 2004) - The math is seemingly all too easy to be this hard to figure out. Perhaps it's because in stock car racing nobody can officially do the math until the last lap is turned in the final race of the 2004 season for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series.
There are battles being waged all across the board as drivers shuffle for the championship as well as a Top-10 finish when all the chips are tallied after the season finale at the Motor City Motorplex on September 25.
Jeff Fultz has clearly been on the top of his game with five victories in 10 races and leads the Southeast Series point standings by 64 markers over second-place driver Erik Darnell. Fultz knows he can't take anything for granted as does Darnell heading into the next-to-last Southeast Series race at Kentucky Speedway on September 18.
Rookie sensation J.R. Norris sits third in the standings, but coming off a disappointing 20th place effort, the Alabama native knows he's going to need some bad luck on the part of Fultz and Darnell to get back in the title hunt. Jason Hogan sits fourth, 60 points in arrears of Darnell but only 27 points ahead of a looming Kevin Prince in fifth.
The best part of it all is that while the race for the top-five is a great battle and story by itself, one of the best races is the handful of teams and drivers going after a Top-10 finish that would secure them a starting position for the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in November. It's perhaps the biggest and most prestigious Late Model race in the country and that fact is not lost on the competitors who are vying their way into contention for the second annual Toyota All-Star Showdown.
The Top-10 drivers in the final Southeast Series, Northwest Series, Midwest Series and Southwest Series receive invitation-only entries into the event that showcases NASCAR's top regional racers from across the country.
"That race is pretty much our Daytona 500," says Southeast Series rookie driver Robert Richardson.
Chris Davidson holds down the sixth position while fellow Southeast Series driver Greg Pope is only 40 points behind and looking to make a move in the final two races. The race for the eighth through the all-important tenth position is a wild one to put it mildly.
Richardson is currently eighth and looking for two solid races to insure his entry into the Toyota All-Star showdown, but he's keenly aware that if he has bad luck there are four drivers within 108 points of where he currently stands that would love to take his place.
"It's really not worrying me right now," Richardson says. "If something does happen and I fall out of the Top-10, there's not a lot I can do about bad racing luck. I'm really looking forward to our next race at Kentucky because I feel confident about our situation in the points. I'm also looking forward to our race at Nashville too.
"I was really worried about getting good finishes in our last two races at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) and Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) but we ended up getting Top-10s out of both of those events. We were pleased with that and it really took a load off our shoulders even though the season is not over yet."
Wayne Bowen is ninth in the current Southeast Series standings, only 30 points behind Richardson and only 27 points ahead of Justin Wakefield in tenth. Bowen agrees with Richardson in the fact that all he can do at this point is to try his best in the final two Southeast Series races and hope the chips fall into his favor.
"To be honest, I think our chances of making it to Irwindale are pretty good so I haven't sat around and dwelled on it that much," Bowen says. "We've kind of struggled with a new car the last two races, but I think we have all the kinks worked out for these final two races. We ran strong at Kentucky the first time we were there this year and stayed with the leaders the whole race. If we can do that again and follow it up with a strong finish at Nashville I think we're going to be in good shape and make the cut for the Irwindale race.
"We absolutely have to run in the Top-10 in these next two races and give it our all and see how everything shakes out. If we slip up and have a bad race, that could very well do us in and we won't make the cut. Getting the chance to go to Irwindale is something I would love to have the opportunity to do because the drivers are some of the best short track racers in the country. It would be the biggest race I've ever been in for sure and quite an honor for me personally. If things don't go our way and we don't make it - that will make us try that much harder next year."
Wakefield holds down the tenth position in the Southeast Series standings in the most precarious scenario by only 10 points over Allen Karnes who is currently on the outside looking in to make his way into the Toyota All-Star Showdown.
"I'm the man on the bubble, but I wasn't even close to cracking the Top-10 a few weeks ago," Wakefield says. "We went through a rough time and couldn't seem to finish a race, but I think we've got that turned around now. I've only had three or four races this year where I've not had any kind of trouble. This is the worst year I have ever had as far as how my luck has gone. Most everything that you think can happen to me has happened this year for some reason.
"I've had to realize that there are a lot of things I can't control. If I had a bad week I have tried to get out of the car and start looking forward to the next race and not get down on myself. What's behind us is behind us. If we do what we need to do and finish good in these last two races, we'll make it to Irwindale.
Karnes is a man on a mission as he seeks to overtake Wakefield's 10 point advantage and current entry into the Toyota All-Star Showdown. Karnes must also keep an eye on Dusty Williams and rookie driver Randy Pedley who hold down the 12th and 13th positions in the Southeast Series standings. Williams is 51 points outside of Wakefield in tenth while Pedley is currently 96 markers out of making the field at Irwindale.