SWS: Phoenix: Season opener preview

* Pettit is looking for back-to-back championships * Schrader set to battle series regulars in season opener * McKean is the master of the Phoenix mile, looking for fourth victory DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2005) -- Jim Pettit calls...

* Pettit is looking for back-to-back championships
* Schrader set to battle series regulars in season opener
* McKean is the master of the Phoenix mile, looking for fourth victory

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 26, 2005) -- Jim Pettit calls Prunedale, Calif. home, but through much of his 2004 campaign the real estate at the front of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series field become Pettit's residence. Claiming the 2004 series championship on the strength of four wins, Pettit hopes to flex some muscle and find victory lane this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series will kick off its 20th season of competition at PIR as part of the Copper World Classic on Jan. 29-30. For most of the years over the past two decades, PIR has been the season opening event for the Southwest Series, but this season marks the return of the popular Copper World Classic event.

Pettit will try to become only the second driver to win consecutive series championships since Ron Hornaday accomplished that feat in 1992-93. Pettit knows you have to start the season out right at PIR. "Sometimes this track just means survival," said Pettit. "Last season we had top five runs at Phoenix. It's time to find victory lane."

In three Phoenix races last season, Pettit finished 3rd, 5th, and 4th.

Another drive hoping to find Phoenix success is Greg Voigt. Voigt is fresh off his best season to date in Southwest Series competition where he finished the 2004 campaign eighth in the final standings.

Voigt now knows you need seat time and experience to be successful at Phoenix. Three years ago he made his first trip to the one-mile paved oval and got "schooled" -- as he put it. This weekend he hopes to write a new chapter in his racing career.

"I have always been successful and never thought you had to test," Voigt said. "The Southwest Series is a tough deal. I underestimated what it took to run up front and it has taken me three years to figure it out. We have a new car, and more importantly we have a lot more experience, so this weekend should play out a lot better for us."

Voigt finished the 2004 season with a career best second place race finish at Tucson Raceway Park, and his knows he a top five runs this weekend will go a long to propel his season. "Since I am self sponsored," Voigt offered. "Every race takes on special importance."

While Pettit is looking for repeat success and Voigt seeks the front of the pack, Eddy McKean, the 2002 Southwest Series champion, is hands down the hottest series regular at Phoenix. McKean has eight top three finishes including three victories in the last nine Southwest Series races staged at Phoenix. McKean found victory lane in two of three visits to PIR last season and could be considered the odds on favorite this weekend.

"I don't know what it is, I just have a good feel for the place," McKean said of PIR. "Phoenix is a track where I just feel comfortable, and in a racecar that is a real good feeling."

Other notable drivers expected to compete at PIR include the 2004 series Rookie-of-the-Year Rip Michels of San Fernando, Calif. Eric Holmes of Escalon, Calif. who claimed a wire-to-wire victory at PIR last October returns looking for win number two. Darrell LaMoure from Phoenix, Ariz., track record holder Dan Holtz from Pacific Palisades, Calif. and 2003 champion Auggie Vidovich of Lakeside, Calif. are all set to compete this weekend.

Leading the Colorado contingent into Phoenix is former series champion (1991) and affectionately known as the High Plains Drifter, Rick Carelli of Arvada, Colo. Joining Carelli from Colorado are Ed Belec, Mike Gallegos, Greg Fowler, Danny Mientka, and Kevin Clark.

Long-time series veterans Doug McCoun of Prunedale, Calif., Bob Lyon of Aqua Dulce, Calif., and M.K. Kanke of Frazier Park, Calif. are also entered in the season opening event.

Joining the entry list from the Northwest Series are two-time and defending Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson of Naches, Wash., Four-time Northwest Series champion and former Phoenix winner Garrett Evans of East Wenatchee, Wash. 1999 Northwest Series champion Pete Harding of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, 1990 Northwest Series champion John Dillon of Eagle, Idaho, 2004 championship runner-up Travis Bennett of Ellensburg, Wash., and Late Model hotshoe and third year Northwest Series driver Brandon Riehl of Boring, Ore.

Newcomers to the series include two Dustin Jones from Tucson, Ariz., Don Campbell of Campbell, Calif. and Stephan Sadler of Brea, Calif.

The 75-lap marks the first the Southwest Series has competed at that distance at PIR. The past ten events have either been 100 or 125 lap races.

NEWS & NOTES

* The race -- This event is the first race on the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series schedule for 2005. It is the first of two series visits to Phoenix International Raceway this season, with the series finale slated for November.

* The track -- PIR is a one-mile superspeedway with turns one and two banked 11 degrees, turns three and four banked nine degrees and two degrees of banking in the dogleg. The track has hosted 31 previous Southwest Series events.

* The event -- As part of the Copper World Classic at PIR, the Southwest Series will share the stage with the NASCAR Grand National, West Series as well as USAC's Midget and Silver Crown cars.

* Last year's race -- Burney Lamar claimed the Bud Pole Award and led the field to green. Lamar managed to lead only one lap giving way to Eddy McKean who dominated the next 99 laps en route to the victory. Tim Schendel, Jim Pettit II, Jeff Jefferson, and Craig Raudman rounded out the top five finishers. Mike Price was the top finishing rookie with a 17th place effort. Eventual 2004 Rookie-of-the-Year winner Rip Michels finished a disappointing 31st.

* The Mile Master -- Eddy McKean has only finished outside the top three at PIR two times in his last ten starts.

* Multiple winners -- Scott Hansen and Rick Carelli each have four wins at PIR with Eddy McKean and Ken Schrader sharing three wins apiece. Dick Trickle, Ron Hornaday, and Garrett Evans each of two victories at Phoenix.

* Top marks -- Eddy McKean holds the mark for the most top-five finishes in the series at PIR, with eight.

* Return performance -- Doug McCoun has taken the green flag at PIR more than any other driver in the series. The veteran driver has competed in twenty race staged at PIR in Southwest Series competition.

* The manufacturers -- Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Ford have all claimed wins at PIR.

* From the history books -- Ron Hornaday won the 50-lap Copper World Classic event from the pole position on February 5, 1995. Garret Evans, Bob Lyon, Brett Bell, and Jeff Krogh rounded out the top five finishers. Jason Fensler was the top finishing rookie with a tenth place performance. Hornaday led three times for 26 laps. Rick Crawford led twice for 24 laps.

*** Southwest Series Driver appearance at the AutoZone store located at 8669 NW Grand Avenue, Peoria, Ariz ON FRIDAY January 28 from 12:00-2:00 p.m.-Where two-time and defending Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson will be on hand along with Southwest Series star Greg Voigt. The drivers will have their cars on display and sign autographs for all fans. The drivers will also be available for media interviews in preparation for the Copper World Classic "75" at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday and Sunday, January 29-30 - a great opportunity to meet and develop stories on these talented NASCAR drivers.

News of Note
Danny Grill of Acton Calif. returns to the Southwest series as Series Director after two years with the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. Grill got his start in the Southwest Series on the other side of the pits where he spent seven years as crew chief with Ron Hornaday that included two series championships.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ken Schrader , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Rick Crawford , Rick Carelli , Jeff Jefferson , Eric Holmes , Dan Holtz , Burney Lamar , Darrell LaMoure , Doug McCoun , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Auggie Vidovich , Tim Schendel , Rip Michels , Kevin Clark , Scott Hansen