SWS: Phoenix III: Season finale preview

Southwest Series Finale at Phoenix is Final Test for Pettit DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (November 2, 2004) - Since 1991 Phoenix International Raceway has staged nearly every final event for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series, and as ...

Southwest Series Finale at Phoenix is Final Test for Pettit

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (November 2, 2004) - Since 1991 Phoenix International Raceway has staged nearly every final event for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series, and as history has proven, the championship will come down to the last lap. This year's title fight will also see the addition of several invaders from all over the country as each driver looks to etch his name on the Cruise America "125" winner's trophy.

More than forty-five drivers from across the country who compete in NASCAR's AutoZone Elite Division will attempt to qualify for a starting position in Thursday's 125-lap race and vie for their share of $119,294 in posted awards.

2002 series champion, Eddy McKean, has seven top three finishes including two victories in the last eight events at PIR and looks to finish the season on a high note with another victory on the desert mile. McKean from Jerome, Idaho, is a former two-time NASCAR Dodge Weekly Racing Series regional champion that cut his teeth on a third-mile oval, but would like nothing more then to put his name in the series record books. McKean's average finish at PIR is 1.75.

With McKean looking to score third win at PIR, series point leader Jim Pettit II from Prunedale, Calif. needs only to finish 33rd or better in order to claim his first series title. But do not look for Pettit to take it easy.

"Our team has been real good at Phoenix in the past," Pettit said. "We know that the championship hangs in the balance, but we are not going to change what has gotten us this far. We want to win at Phoenix and win the championship with no questions asked."

Confidence and momentum may be on Pettit's side, but Craig Raudman from Bakersfield, Calif. trailing Pettit by 119 points will make a final push and try to upset Pettit's title hopes. Raudman claimed the runner-up spot when the series visited the desert oval last month and knows he is going to need a lot of luck.

"Jim's (Pettit) got it going his way right now," Raudman said. "We just need to go out and win and let the rest of it take care of itself." Raudman, toe 2001 series champion, has two straight top five finishes at PIR.

Michels, the 2003 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Sunbelt regional champion and leading rookie contender, knows that anything can happen at Phoenix and wishes no bad luck to anyone, but a strong finish is critical for his team. "This place will humble you in a hurry," Michels said. "I could not get out of my own way in January, but really prepared and came out of here with a ninth place finish last month. That finish really boosted our confidence. I think a top five run is certainly possible."

Greg Voigt from Santa Barbara, Calif. is coming of his career best finish of second at Tucson Raceway Park October 24 and has his sights set on a possible top five points finish. "It has taken us a lot longer to be competitive then I would have thought," Voigt said. "I believe we are finally in the position to compete for wins at every event, but at Phoenix it all has to go right."

With series regulars looking to close out their season on a high note, several competitors from the other three series in NASCAR's AutoZone Elite Division have only winning on their mind. Representing the Northwest Series is 2004 champion Jeff Jefferson, along with his brother Jason Jefferson, Brandon Riehl, and Jeff Bailey. Making the tow from the Midwest Series will be Ed Hoffman, Tim Schendel, and Erik Darnell. Joining the roster from the Southeast Series is JR Norris.

While NASCAR's rising stars take center stage on the Thursday event, Ken Schrader looks to add to his legend at Phoenix along with Kyle Busch who will make his debut in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division.

This Cruise America "125" promises to showcase some of NASCAR's brightest young talent and rising stars. Will Pettit prevail or will McKean continue his mastery of the desert mile? The answers will be revealed Thursday as the sun sets on the desert and the 19th season for the Southwest Series.


* The race within the race . Rip Michels leads Nick Lynch in the Autometer Rookie-of-the-Year race.

* How many cars? More than 43 cars have pre-entered the Cruise America "125".

* Points leader Jim Pettit II from Prunedale, Calif. has completed 1611 out 1613 laps run this season along with a series leading four victories.

* Eddy McKean has two wins and seven top three finishes in the last eight AutoZone Southwest Series races staged at PIR.

* There have been 16 different winners in 29 previous AutoZone Southwest Series races at PIR.

* Drivers to keep your eye on: Nick Joanides and Danny Burson are both on the outside looking in on the NASCAR Top 10. Both drivers need stellar runs and a little luck in order to climb in the standings.

* The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown will feature the top 10 drivers in each of the four series in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division. The Elite Division consists of the Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, and Southeast series'. The Toyota All-Star Showdown will be televised live on NASCAR TV on SPEED Channel, November 12 and 13.


* Greg Voigt of Santa Barbara, Calif. has moved up the sixth position in the standings after a career best second place finish at TRP October 24. Voigt trails fifth Holmes by 60 points going into the series finale.


* "Live to achieve, not to acquire." - the late Alan Kulwicki

November 2, 1991 was the date for the series finale for the Southwest Series in which Rick Carelli clinched the championship with a fourth place finish. Ron Hornaday Jr. claimed the victory in the 186-lap event followed by Danny Crafton, Ken Schrader, Carelli, and Dennis Dyer. Schrader was the fast qualifier with a 28.145 seconds/127.909 mph lap around the one-mile paved oval. There were eleven caution flags for 62 laps with eleven lead changes among ten different drivers. Steve Johnson claimed the Rookie title by one point over Brett Bell even though he did not start the event. 16 of the 42 starters were running at the conclusion of the event.

Fast Facts

What: The Cruise America "125" Race 14 of 14 for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series.

Where: Phoenix Int'l Raceway, Phoenix, Ariz.
When: 3:30 p.m. PDT, Thursday, November 4.

Track layout: 1-mile paved oval.
Race length: 125 laps, 125 miles.

Posted awards: $119,294

2003 winner: Eddy McKean
2003 Bud Pole winner: Joey Miller

Qualifying Record: Dan Holtz, Ford, 27.091 seconds, 138.885 mph, February 2, 2002.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Tuesday 11/2 11:00 am Haulers Enter and Registration begins, 12:00 noon Inspection Begins, 6:00 pm Garage Closes, Wednesday 11/3 7:00 am Garage Opens, 7:30 am Mandatory Rookie Driver's meeting, 7:30 am Qualifying Draw, 8:30-11:00 am Practice, 1:15 pm Time Trials, 3:00-4:00 pm Final Practice (Time Permitting), 6:00 pm Garage Closes, Thursday 11/4 7:00 am Garage Opens, 8:00 am Mandatory Scorer's Meeting, 1:00 pm Mandatory Driver's Crew Chief's Meeting, 1:30 pm Mandatory Spotter's Meeting, 3:30 pm Cruise America "125".

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Drivers Ken Schrader , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Rick Carelli , Jeff Jefferson , Jeff Bailey , Danny Burson , Dan Holtz , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Johnson , Jason Jefferson , Tim Schendel , Joey Miller , Erik Darnell , Rip Michels , Nick Joanides , Kyle Busch , Alan Kulwicki