NASCAR BUSCH EAST SERIES SPREADS ITS WINGS IN 2006
Broader Schedule and Cost Savings Measures in Store
After 19 successful seasons under the title of the Busch North Series, NASCAR's premier full-bodied racing series in the northeastern United States approaches its third decade in 2006 under the new banner of the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series.
More than the series name is new, as the schedule includes speedways from New Hampshire to South Carolina, the widest geographical coverage in series history. The championship contest is wide open as well, with four-time titlist Andy Santerre stepping out of the driver's seat to concentrate on team management in 2006. New technical options for both bodies and engines will be introduced during the season, with the long-term goal of reducing costs to competitors.
national television coverage via live broadcasts on HDNet and enhanced replays on SPEED. For the fourth straight year, the leading point finishers of the two Grand National Division series will meet for bragging rights at the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown this fall.
Accenting the new order, the Busch East Series season opens at the historic Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday night, June 10. The event, before the HDNet cameras, will celebrate 35 years of live NASCAR television. The first live flag-to-flag telecast of a NASCAR race originated from Greenville-Pickens on ABC's Wide World of Sports in 1971.
The most obvious change from recent seasons will be the presence of Andy Santerre on a pit box rather than behind the wheel. In 2005, Santerre became only the second NASCAR driver to win four consecutive touring series titles, matching the feat of Ray Elder in the AutoZone West Series from 1969 to 1972. Now he will oversee the efforts of 2005 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Sean Caisse. He gained a taste of that role in 2005 when he managed both his own team and that of runner-up Mike Stefanik. Reflecting on the lessons learned in his championship run, Santerre offered this advice to those who would try to succeed him: "It's really important to finish every race. We focused on that last year when Mike finished every lap and I finished all but one, and that sure helped us get first and second in points."
Amidst this pattern of change, several key traditions remain intact. For the 20th straight year, Anheuser-Busch Inc., will serve as the series sponsor. Three times the Busch East Series will compete on NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race weekends, twice at New Hampshire International Speedway and once at Dover International Speedway, placing the series before the fans and talent scouts of NASCAR's premier series.
Along with its NASCAR Grand National Division counterpart on the west coast, the AutoZone West Series, the Busch East Series will enjoy extensive
The Busch East Series is set to take over where the Busch North Series left off. (Howie Hodge Photo)
"It's real critical not to wreck and not to have mechanical issues that put you out of the race," he continued, adding "You've got to be there at the end. You can't always go for the win if you're going for the championship."
With Stefanik concentrating on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2006, the mantle of pre-season favorite is shared by Matt Kobyluck, the leading winner in 2005, and 2001 title winner Mike Olsen, the only past champion expected to compete full-time in 2006. Both are owner-drivers who bring experienced teams with long-term sponsors, and both have something to prove. Kobyluck, the driver of the Mohegan Sun Chevrolet, won four races and the Busch Pole season title in 2005, but two poor
NASCAR is looking for ways to save teams money in Busch East with spec engines and composite bodies.
superspeedway finishes took him out of contention. Olsen's Little Trees Chevrolet, meanwhile, has been a model of consistency the last two years, but he has not reached victory lane in a points-paying event since 2003.
Ryan Moore, who placed fifth in 2005, will be a title contender unless his NASCAR Busch Series aspirations change his program. The remainder of the top ten finishers in the 2005 point standings are all expected to compete on a regular basis, including Bryon Chew, Sean Caisse, Dodge pilot Brian Hoar, Ford proponent Mike Johnson, and Eddie MacDonald, the winner of the 2005 season finale. The 1996 series champion, Dave Dion, will again contest the majority of the schedule with limited appearances expected from four other former title winners- Jamie Aube, Dale Shaw, Kelly Moore, and Brad Leighton. The 2005 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national champion, Peyton Sellers, will contest several Busch East Series events along with his full AutoZone West Series schedule.
The first offcial entry for what is expected to be a large and diverse 2006 Sunoco Rookie of the Year class is North Carolina native John Freeman, who will fill the seat for owner Barney McRae which carried Sean Caisse to the 2005 rookie honors.
While they will not be evident to the fans watching from the stands or on HDNet, two changes to the traditional series technical package will begin their phase-in periods in 2006, emphasizing NASCAR's commitment to cost containment for the Grand National Division teams. Already beginning to be seen on the track is the composite body, which replaces the traditional custom-
fabricated sheet metal body on the same chassis. Identical in appearance, the composite body is lower in initial cost and is expected to be less costly to maintain as well. Also coming into use in 2006 will be the "spec" engine, which takes its name from the NASCAR-specified components used in its construction. The new motor has already been tested head-to-head with current engines and proved fully competitive at a fraction of their cost.
In a season marked by change on many fronts, the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series expects to deliver the level of competition which has made it so successful under its previous identity since 1987.
Sean Caisse is moving from Barney McRae's team to Andy Santerre Motorsports for 2006. (51 Photo)