SWS: Irwindale II: Race preveiw

Drivers eye the final four going into Irwindale. IRWINDALE, CALIF. (August 8, 2002) -- When the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division arrives at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday morning, four drivers are firmly focused on the final...

Drivers eye the final four going into Irwindale.

IRWINDALE, CALIF. (August 8, 2002) -- When the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division arrives at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday morning, four drivers are firmly focused on the final four events of the 2002 Featherlite Southwest Series season. A solid finish in the Auto Club "150" may well determine who will be the 17th series champion.

The title fight pits veterans and youth. It is age and experience taking on youth and enthusiasm.

Eddy McKean has led the series standings since April, but has failed to win on the series short tracks. McKean a veteran of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge, where he won two Regional titles and several track championships, hopes his experience pays off down the stretch. A win at Irwindale will be as big, if not bigger, then his breakthrough win at Pikes Peak earlier in the year. In five series starts at Irwindale McKean has three top-ten finishes.

"We always seem to run good there (Irwindale)," said McKean. "I just have to be there at the end, but there are a lot of other guys that run good there. Kanke, Raudman, Vidovich, and Lynch will be tough."

He is often very philosophical about winning and racing. If you ask M.K. Kanke to describe his chances on a given night, he will simply smile and tell you he has as good a chance as anybody. Knowing that a championship is in his grasps, doesn't change the series veteran, his smile simply gets bigger.

After fifteen years on the series, Kanke tops most statistical categories, including most money won, most Bud Pole Awards, most top-five finishes, and most top-ten finishes. Just one thing is missing from his trophy case, the Featherlite Southwest Series championship trophy. Kanke knows consistency over the final four events will be the difference. He plans to take a bite out of McKean's 89-point lead at Irwindale. Kanke won two of the three races at Irwindale Speedway last season, and finished second this past June.

"You need to run competitively every race," Kanke said. "I love racing and this is where I want to race. If I am upfront, I can win." Seeing the red 98 in your mirror can be intimidating for a competitor, knowing he is ready to pounce at any moment. Kanke likes it that way.

Each race Burney Lamar climbs closer to the top. After winning at Madera Speedway July 27, this college Junior has his sights set higher. His boyish grin masks a determined fire that is expressed in a take no prisoners driving style. Through ten races, Lamar has led the most laps (525), and if not for late race mechanical failures or excitement, he might have won three more races this season. "I have waited a long time for that first one (win) and now I want more," Lamar said. "I have known we were capable of winning, I also know I had to learn how to run upfront before I could win."

Doug McCoun, a twenty year veteran of the North County Fire Department, is on a bit of a hot streak as of late, winning at Mesa Marin Raceway June 29, and climbing to fourth in the season standings. McCoun has been a perennial top-ten points finisher the last nine straight years, but he is looking for more. McCoun has mounted a late charge to the top that includes one wine, two top-five, and six top-ten finishes. His best finish at Irwindale is seventh, but knows his experience will show better.

"We just have a good set-up for Irwindale," McCoun said. "We haven't been able finish very good, the track is so fast, if you are not right, it will be a long night. Luck is a very important variable. The winner will need to have some. I have a great car for Irwindale and I know we have a shot at moving up. The next two races are real important." As the series reaches the final four events, the driver plays the most consistent hand will be in the catbird seat going into the series finale at Phoenix in November. McKean, Kanke, Lamar, and McCoun are standing at the threshold, but so are guys following. Todd Souza, Frank Maronski Jr., and Jim Pettit II are in tow, holding down the fifth through seventh spots in the standings, all within just 200-points of McKean.

The Featherlite Southwest Series is one of eight NASCAR Touring Series that blanket the United States. NASCAR Touring brings special events to many NASCAR Weekly Racing Series tracks and some NASCAR superspeedways and road courses. NASCAR Touring Series can provide a competitor with an entire career, or they can provide valuable experience to competitors moving through the NASCAR ranks. Corporate sponsors make significant contributions to NASCAR Touring Series point funds. The sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Featherlite Trailers, Gatorade, Goody's Headache Powders, Raybestos Brakes, Hills Brothers Coffee, RE/MAX International, Inc., and R.J. Reynolds brand Winston.

THE INSIDE LINE

* The race within the race -- Brandon Whitt is clearly focused on the Rookie-of-the-Year title but knows consistency on each track is key. Whitt has taken a hit on his Rookie points lead over the last three races. With eight drivers withdrawing from the Rookie program, leaving only Steve Belletto and Whit to contend. Belletto has drawn within five points and looks to take the Rookie title down to the final event at Phoenix. Both Rookies find themselves in the top-ten in the point standings heading into the final four events.

* 129 drivers have earned championship points this season with an average of 40 cars attempting to qualify for each event. Through ten races there has been ten different race winners and only Burney Lamar (3) and M.K. Kanke (2) have earned multiple Bud Pole Awards.

* David Gilliland started the season wanting to contend for Rookie-of-the-Year honors but had to reevaluate his position after disappointing outings in the first four series events. He decided in June that he would only run selected races and build for 2003. He went to Irwindale Speedway June 8 just to have a solid run. Gilliland won the race and boosted his stock and his confidence. Over the last month Gilliland has joined forces with Rich Fountain and his #11 Centrifugal Technologies Chevrolet for the rest of the 2002 season and turned in a solid top-five performance at Altamont Raceway in July. Gilliland missed the event at Madera Speedway July 27 due to prior commitments, but has his eyes squarely on a repeat performance at Irwindale.

* Etc. -- Burney Lamar became the tenth different winner in ten events this season following his triumph at the last series event at Madera Speedway July 27. Lamar finally triumphed after dominating several races this season. Lamar also has three Bud Pole Awards this season to lead the series.

MOVING UP

* Jim Pettit II has moved up to seventh place in the standings after three straight top-ten performances. Pettit knows that a solid finish at Irwindale Speedway is imperative for a top-five position in the final run down.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

* "It is so tough racing with these guys, and to win the Bud Pole is a huge accomplishment." -- Steve Belletto (No. 30 California Hot Wood Chevrolet), describing his first career Bud Pole Award.

PAGE FROM THE PAST
M.K. Kanke has two victories at Irwindale Speedway in nine Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring races held at the West Coast's marquee speedplant that opened in 1999. Craig Raudman, David Gilliland, Rocky Nash, Matt Crafton, Greg Pursley, Frank Maronski Jr., and Kurt Busch each have one victory.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Kurt Busch , Matt Crafton , Brandon Whitt , Greg Pursley , David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Doug McCoun , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Todd Souza