SWS: Phoenix: Winter Heat preview

Featherlite Southwest Series drivers look forward to Winter Heat. PHOENIX, ARIZ. (January 30, 2003) - The New Year has come and gone and the chill of winter will be replaced with "Winter Heat" at Phoenix International Raceway when the newly ...

Featherlite Southwest Series drivers look forward to Winter Heat.

PHOENIX, ARIZ. (January 30, 2003) - The New Year has come and gone and the chill of winter will be replaced with "Winter Heat" at Phoenix International Raceway when the newly renamed NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series takes to the track for round one of their fourteen race championship series.

More than sixty drivers from across the country who compete in NASCAR's Elite Division will attempt to qualify for one of 42 starting positions in Sunday's 100-lap race and vie for their share of $112,770 in posted awards.

2002 series champion, Eddy McKean, has had little more than six weeks to bask in the glow of his accomplishment before he must defend his crown. McKean, a former two-time NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge regional champion, would like nothing more then to repeat as champion. Only Ron Hornaday Jr. has won back-to-back titles (92, 93) in the series' 17 year history.

"No one driver dominated last season," McKean said. "This year I would like to win several races and run in the top-five every race. I really want to win at Phoenix. I have finished second twice and know we have the team to get it done. There is no more important race on the schedule, and we have worked real hard over the winter in order to defend our championship."

McKean is not the only driver thinking championship. 2001 series champion, Craig Raudman, is back full-time in 2003 with a new team and a new attitude. "I am so excited I can't wait to take the green flag," Raudman said. "My new sponsor, HPS Mechanical and Victory Circle Chassis, and owner Les DenHerder, have given me the resources to pursue another championship. A lot of guys from the 2001 championship team are back with me, led by crew Chief Tracy Norman. We have a lot of confidence going into this season."

A driver making the long commute this season will be Frank Deiny Jr., who calls Mechanicsville, Virginia home. Deiny, a ten-year veteran of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge and 2003 South Boston Speedway track champion, will join forces with the most recognizable teams in the Featherlite Southwest Series. Deiny will pilot the #70 Star Nursery Chevrolet, the team that Kurt Busch drove for when he won the 1999 series championship."

"I just love to race," stated Deiny. "Over the past ten years I have race roughly 50-60 times a season, and the opportunity to drive the Star Nursery car is a big step in my career."

Deiny eyes more then a Rookie-of-the-Year crown, he is talking championship. "I know we have the team to win it, and I know I am capable," Deiny said. "Craig Keough has built a first class operation and has the resources to get it done. After the six races I ran for him last year, I am confident we will win races and we will have to be reckoned with all season."

Burney Lamar from West Sacramento, Calif. who finished second in the championship standings in 2002 has changed teams over the winter, but is every bit as determined to fight for the 2003 title. Lamar joins CBA Motorsports, a team owned by third year owner Clarence Broussard, after driving for his family owned team last season. "It was time to move and Clarence gave me an opportunity I could not turn down," Lamar said. "He has great cars and great people. I would really like to get Clarence his first win as a car owner and Phoenix would be a great place to start." Lamar started on the pole last November at PIR.

Ken Schrader will make his annual pilgrimage to Phoenix, a track where he has scored 13 wins, including four wins in the Featherlite Southwest Series. Also joining the roster will be former Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series champion John Dillon from Idaho.

Jason Jefferson from Yakima, Washington will debut the first ever Dodge Intrepid to compete in NASCAR's Elite Division. Jefferson is keeping his fingers crossed as he and his team just completed work on the new car. "I am real excited, but nervous at the same time," Jefferson said. "Everything is new and I just hope we have no problems. It is going to be exciting, I know that."

Exciting is right. With champion drivers from all across the country, the battle will be in qualifying. Only 30 starting positions will be filled by qualifying, with eight provisional starting positions being doled out and four transfers from the non-qualifiers race making up the 42-car field. 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 Regional 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, Powerade, Goody's Headache Powders, Raybestos Brakes, KODAK, and International Truck & Engine.

THE INSIDE LINE

. The race within the race . Danny Burson and JR Patton head the list of Rookie-of-the-Year candidates that will fight top honors. In 2003, a declared Rookie driver will earned points in each championship event. Of the 14 races on the schedule, the best 12 finishes will counted towards the title.

. How many cars? More than 60 cars have pre-entered the Southwest Series "100" featuring drivers from all four of NASCAR's Elite Division series'.

. Sean Woodside returns to the Featherlite Southwest Series full-time in 2003 after suffering a season-ending leg injury in 2002.

. Darrell LaMoure of Phoenix, Arizona welcomes NAPA Auto Parts and Yerf-Dog Fun Karts as sponsors to his team in 2003. LaMoure continues to bring awareness regarding missing children to fans through his Racing for the Missing program.

. Featherlite Southwest Series drivers will meet and race fans at the Speedway Raceway Indoor Karting facility in Phoenix on Friday, January 31 at 7pm. Match races, a barbecue, and autograph session is on tap.

. Drivers to keep your eye on: Joe Herold, Steve Belletto, Brandon Whitt, and Todd Souza all finished in the top-ten last season and each has the potential to win at any race track.

MOVING UP

. Jim Pettit II had his best season in his 3rd year on the "Tour". Pettit finished third in the 2002 standings and completed all but twenty laps contested all season.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

. "This is going to be a great year. I have learned a thing or two." - Mike Ledbetter (No. 61 Pabco Gypsum Chevrolet), describing his plans for 2003.

PAGE FROM THE PAST

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. Seven other drivers share one victory apiece. But it is Scott Hansen that leads all drivers in Featherlite Southwest Series competition with five wins on the one-mile oval. Hansen's wins have all come in the fall race with his last victory coming in 1999.

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Dick Trickle , Ken Schrader , Kurt Busch , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Rick Carelli , Danny Burson , Joe Herold , Burney Lamar , Darrell LaMoure , Mike Ledbetter , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Todd Souza , Jason Jefferson , Scott Hansen