SWS: All-Star Showdown early preview

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 8, 2004) -The stars of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division have their eyes set on an return invitation to Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway this fall, the site of the second annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown on Nov. 11-13,...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 8, 2004) -The stars of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division have their eyes set on an return invitation to Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway this fall, the site of the second annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown on Nov. 11-13, 2004. More than $500,000 in prize money and live national television coverage on SPEED Channel await the 70 drivers who will be invited to compete in this one-of-a-kind All-Star NASCAR event.

This invitational event will once again feature the top 10 drivers from each of the four series that comprise the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division - which includes NASCAR's Midwest Series, Northwest Series, Southeast Series and Southwest Series - competing together in a single race.

The Southwest Series drivers left Irwindale Speedway last November, having been upstaged by the Midwest Series drivers - who claimed five of the top-10 finishing position at last year's event.

This time around, the Southwest Series drivers will try to even the score in the second edition of the All-Star event. Buoyed by his second place performance in last year's Showdown and coming off a third place finish in the 2003 championship standings, Jim Pettit II, of Prunedale, Calif., eyes nothing less than the top spot.

"The Showdown was an awesome deal," Pettit said. "The Midwest guys kind of stole the show in front of our hometown fans, but we had a great time and I can't wait for another shot against those guys."

With a second chance at the Toyota All-Star Showdown at season's end, Pettit has great optimism about the 2004 campaign. Pettit finished third in the season opener at Phoenix and recently purchased his own race team. Pettit sees all the pieces falling into place and only needs a full-time marketing partner to complete the puzzle.

"My family and I purchased the team I had been running for the past three years," Pettit said. "Owning my own team makes things a whole lot more complicated, but at the same time I could not be happier about the situation."

The next race for Pettit and his Southwest Series rivals is at Madera (Calif.) Speedway this weekend, followed by a trip south to Bakersfield, Calif. for a 150-lap race at Mesa Marin Raceway March 28. Then the series heads to Cajon Speedway in El Cajon, Calif. for the 19th consecutive year, for a 125-lap clash on its tricky 3/8-mile layout.

Third-year driver David Gilliland says the Toyota All-Star Showdown is one his main racing goals in 2004. "I love racing at Irwindale. We have had a lot of success there in the past and having the Showdown back there again will be great," Gilliland said. "[The Southwest Series] had four guys in the top ten at that event and I want to hoist the trophy this time."

Gilliland ended the 2003 Southwest Series season with five wins and a sixth place finish in the championship. He backed up a fine season with a third place performance in the inaugural Toyota All-Star Showdown.

Bakersfield, Calif. driver Burney Lamar, the 2001 Southwest Series rookie of the year, is looking for an improved performance at this year's Showdown, after he posted a sixth-place result in 2003.

"I'm really excited about the Showdown this year. Irwindale is such a great place to race and last year's event was unbelievable," said Lamar. "I know that NASCAR, Toyota, and Irwindale have an even bigger show in store in November."

Likewise, 2003 Southwest Series champion Auggie Vidovich, of Lakeside, Calif., can't wait for November to arrive.

"Last year was kind of a disappointment at Toyota All-Star Showdown after the year we had," Vidovich said. "We are just focused on performance at each race. The Showdown is a neat deal for the Elite Division, everybody in our series wants an invitation. We are already talking about it and we have not even run the second race of the season."

Vidovich looks to get his season back on track after electrical problems sidelined him with a 40th place finish at Phoenix in the 2004 season opener. Vidovich's plans at present are undecided and may only run a partial Southwest Series schedule. Vidovich finished eighth in the Inaugural Toyota All-Star Showdown.

Bakersfield, Calif. racing veteran Craig Raudman, who finished 10th in the 2003 Southwest Series standings to secure an invitation to the 2003 edition of the Toyota All-Star Showdown, is determined to make the cut for this year's Toyota All-Star Showdown.

"I'd just as soon forget 2003, but I am focused on returning to the Showdown in November," Raudman said. "The Showdown is a big deal for the drivers and teams at our level. The whole racing world is watching us, what could be better?"

Raudman had a 12th place performance in last year's Toyota All-Star Showdown.

The driver selection process for this year's event will be the same as it was in 2003. In order to receive an invitation, NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers must finish in the top 10 of the 2004 point standings for their respective series, resulting in a 40-car field for the Elite Division portion of the event.


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Drivers David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Auggie Vidovich