SWS: Phoenix II: Season finale preview

It all comes down to one race. Phoenix! PHOENIX, ARIZ. (November 4, 2002) -- When the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division unloads at Phoenix Int'l Raceway on Tuesday morning, all that is on the mind of each competitor is to put...

It all comes down to one race. Phoenix!

PHOENIX, ARIZ. (November 4, 2002) -- When the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division unloads at Phoenix Int'l Raceway on Tuesday morning, all that is on the mind of each competitor is to put on the best show of the four race NASCAR weekend that also includes the Winston Cup Series, Busch Series, and Craftsman Truck Series.

Past fan surveys at PIR have positioned that the Featherlite Southwest Series is second to Winston Cup in popularity on the annual fall weekend. With more than sixty drivers from all of NASCAR's Late Model Regional Touring Series', the stage is set for perhaps the best race of the weekend.

The Cruise America "125" marks the final event of 2002 season which has title contenders plotting every detail and planning for every contingency. Four drivers mathematically have a chance at the title, but many more want nothing more than a victory at the "Desert Jewell." Joining NASCAR's Touring regulars will be several drivers from NASCAR's "Big Three" including Ken Schrader, Kurt Busch, and Matt Crafton.

Leading the point standings in the Featherlite Southwest Series is Eddy McKean. McKean is a graduate of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge where he won four track championships and two regional titles. McKean is in his second year of competition on the Featherlite Southwest Series, a year that has seen him lead the point standings since May when he collected his first series victory at Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway.

McKean has had success at PIR and is banking on past fortune to propel him to victory. In the past three events staged on the one-mile "D" shaped oval, McKean has two second place finishes and third. McKean needs to finish ahead of championship rival M.K. Kanke in order to secure his first series championship.

"I'm pretty good on the big tracks for some reason," McKean stated. "I am confident that we will race well on Thursday. I just have to stay out of trouble."

Trouble is the operative word, and avoiding the "big one" is paramount. Things happen quickly at PIR, just ask M.K. Kanke. Kanke was involved in a lap one incident back in February that relegated the series veteran to a 38th place finish in the season opening event. Since that time, Kanke has clawed back to within 43 points of McKean going into Thursday's final race.

"Phoenix is fast and fun," Kanke stated. "You have to be very aware of what is happening around you and just getting to the end is the battle." When asked about the championship, Kanke brushes off any notion that he is points racing. "I plan on running up front and going for the win," Kanke said. "I will probably have a more enjoyable race than any of the other guys in the top-five. While they are thinking about the championship, I am just going to sit back and race, the points will fall where they may and anything can happen at Phoenix."

Burney Lamar from West Sacramento, Calif. sits in third place in the standings 103 markers out of first. This second year driver wants nothing more than a win and the championship. He knows the latter may be a stretch, but a win is well within his grasp. Lamar tested along with 28 other teams last month and continually clicked off the top lap times. His confidence is buoyed by the fact that he has clinched the Bud Pole Award (4) and the Gatorade Front Runner Award for 2002.

"I feel real good about my chances on Thursday," Lamar said. "This Junior Joiner led crew has been awesome all year and we definitely have a car that is capable of winning."

Jim Pettit II and Todd Souza round out the top-five in the point standings and both realize that a move up the point ladder is possible. Both drivers are having their finest seasons in the Featherlite Southwest Series and look to have a good finish at PIR to cap their stellar season.

"I ran real good here in February," Pettit said. "I have a lot of confidence. My team is on a roll and I know we can deliver the goods. Whatever the outcome, it is going to be exciting."

Exciting is right. With champion drivers from all across the country and a few Winston Cup and Craftsman Truck Series interlopers, the battle will be in qualifying. Only 33 starting positions will be filled by qualifying, with eight provisional starting positions making up the 41-car field, so each of the more than sixty drivers will have to focus, prepare, and find some speed. It all comes down to one. One good lap will make one great race.

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. A 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 poised to capture the Rookie-of-the-Year title at Phoenix this week. He must qualify and start the event to secure the title. Whitt and Steve Belletto have waged a spirited battle for the crown and it were not for Belletto missing the February event at PIR, the title fight may have ended up differently. Both Whitt and Belletto have won Rookie-of-the-Race honors on five occasions this season. Whitt has qualified and started for all 13 races run so far, with Belletto making 12 starts.

* How many cars? More than 60 cars have pre-entered the Cruise America "125" featuring drivers from all four of NASCAR's late model Touring series'. The list includes all the Featherlite Southwest Series regulars led by point leader Eddy McKean. Joining McKean is 2002 RE/MAX Challenge Series Champion Steve Carlson and 2002 Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series champion Kevin Hamlin. Stanley Smith from the Hills Brothers All-Pro Series weighs in along with Winston Cup veteran Ken Schrader and former Featherlite Southwest Series champion and Winston Cup rising star, Kurt Busch. Craftsman Truck Series star and former Featherlite Southwest Series Champion Matt Crafton also joins the lineup.

* 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. After Gilliland joined forces with Rich Fountain and his #11 Centrifugal Technologies Chevrolet the duo has posted five top-ten finishes including two runner-up finishes in the series last two events.

* Etc. -- Burney Lamar and Eric Holmes are the only drivers to visit victory more than once this season. Both drivers have two wins.

* Burney Lamar has locked up the Gatorade Front Runner Award for the 2002 by leading more laps than any other driver. He will also win the Bud Pole Award for 2002 with his series leading four Bud Pole Awards going into Phoenix. Lamar will receive these two special awards at the season ending banquet held in Reno, Nev. December 14.

* After the race at PIR, more than 160 drivers will have earned championship points this season in the Featherlite Southwest Series. With an average car count at each series event of 40, the Featherlite Southwest Series distinguishes itself as one of the most popular and well supported touring series in the country. At the conclusion of the event at PIR, the 17th series champion will be crowned. This champion will be the 15th different series champion in the series seventeen-year history. Only Ron Hornaday Jr. (92,93) and Steve Portenga (94,98) have repeated as champions.

MOVING UP
* Jim Pettit II is having his best season in his 3rd year on the "Tour". Through thirteen events he has recorded two top-5 and seven top-10 finishes with 1,647 laps completed out of 1,669 run. His point total of 1,712 has him in fourth place in the championship standings just 131 markers out of first place.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
* "It is important I run as many laps as I can before next season." -- JR Patton (No. 97 Patrick's Carpet Chevrolet), describing his Rookie-of-the-Year plans for 2003.

PAGE FROM THE PAST
Scott Hansen, Ken Schrader, and Rick Carelli each has four victories at PIR. Ron Hornaday Jr., Dick Trickle, and Garrett Evans each have two wins at the Desert Jewell. Six other drivers share one victory apiece.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Dick Trickle , Ken Schrader , Kurt Busch , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Matt Crafton , Rick Carelli , Steve Portenga , Brandon Whitt , Eric Holmes , David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Jim Pettit II , Steve Belletto , Todd Souza , Steve Carlson , Scott Hansen