Caps Off Strong Rookie Season as Olsen Clinches Title
There was a Latin flavor to the Busch East Series’ 200-kilometer season finale at Lime Rock Park (CT) Saturday afternoon.  Ruben Pardo, driver of the #12 Dodge, became the first Hispanic driver in the history of NASCAR to earn a Rookie of the Year title in any of its major touring divisions.

And he didn’t do it quietly.
Pardo earned the 2006 Busch East Series Rookie-of-the-Year by keeping his Mexican heritage and spirit alive. He did it with a victory on the kind of track Mexican drivers are accustomed to – a road course.

“I have the best car. My team works very hard,” said Pardo when asked if he was confident coming into the event.  “It’s incredible for me.  I’ve won different championships and different races in Mexico, but (winning) in the US is new for me.  I have been given the opportunity, and I was ready to compete here in the US.  I have a lot of experience in road course cars, but this track is new for me.  I tested at Lime Rock (last week) with several other drivers – mainly with the fast ones – and it was useful to me.”

Pardo made it clear from the onset that he was going to be a force to reckon with.  In practice, he consistently topped the speed charts.  In qualifying, he was just as fast, and earned an outside front row position with a qualifying effort that topped the 100 mph mark.

Ruben Pardo celebrates in Lime Rock victory lane.  (Mary Hodge Photo)
But Pardo says what helped him was the advice of his Busch East Series counterparts.

“This is an incredible series.  It is very competitive.  I spoke with other drivers, like Mike Olsen, who I have to congratulate on the championship.  Their advice helped me a lot.”

“He was very fast,” added Olsen on Pardo.  “When I came here and did the driving school, I learned that you have to run the racetrack differently for our heavier cars.  He was running a different line – not taking into account the weight of our cars – and I just tried to help him with that.  They’ve been very competitive the last six or seven races, and I think (his early struggles) were just a communication gap.  They hired on Paul Wolfe as a crew chief and they’ve been up front ever since.”
Pardo took the lead in race at lap 16 when early leader Matt Kobyluck elected to pit.  Pardo proved the inheritance was no fluke as he mastered his way around the tricky turns that have become infamous of Lime Rock Park.

Pardo relinquished the lead at lap 32 when he performed his scheduled pit stop.  He re-entered the race in ninth for the restart at lap 37, and by lap 48 was back in second.  Pardo trailed Kobyluck for several laps before attempting a pass on race-leader Kobyluck in turn one. The two made contact and both spun.

“Exiting the last turn I caught him,” Pardo explained.  “Going into the first turn, I was running inside and there was a little contact. We spun around.”

Both drivers were able to get back into the race without bringing out the caution, but it was Pardo who took the lesser hit and managed to hold on to second position.  Kobyluck was relegated to seventh.

“The 12 car (Pardo) was in the same line as the 14 (Joe Masessa), which was a lapped car. I don’t know what he did behind the 14, but I came into turn one, and when I got in there and he hit the rumble strips and just drove into my right rear.”

Ten laps later, Pardo drove by Brian Hoar to reclaim the lead, but his battle with Kobyluck was far from over.  Kobyluck pitted at lap 69 for fresh tires and began a procession to the front that would result in an exciting finish separated by only 0.184 seconds.

“The tires were old.  It was my first road course race, and I was leading the race,” said Pardo of the last lap.  “Kobyluck wanted to pass me and my crew chief told me to take my time.  We were running really fast and I should take it easy.  I followed his advice.”
Kobyluck gave a last lap effort, but ran out of time and finished second.

“I was geared toward setting him up towards the bottom of the hill and then passing him on the frontstretch, but when we got to the uphill corner is when they told me ‘checkered flag this time by.’  I wasn’t close enough to getting enough to go by him.  I was a lap too late,” said Kobyluck.

The victory was the first by an international driver in the history of the Busch East Series, and it also sealed the deal on the Rookie of the Year title for Pardo.

Pardo (#12) stays on course after contact with Matt Kobyluck (#40) for the lead.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
“The guys are so passionate with me,” said Pardo.  “NASCAR gave me the opportunity and Lee Roy worked with me in the first few races.  Race-by-race I learned so much.  Three months ago I didn’t know English, and it is difficult, but I’m here.  It’s important to highlight all the support that Carlos Contreras, Armando Fitz and Mike Vazquez have given to me, to make my dream come true to be in NASCAR.”

And with his convincing victory at Lime Rock Park, it’s safe to say that Ruben Pardo is here to stay.

Pardo (right) used Olsen's (left) advice to win at Lime Rock, but Olsen got the biggest trophy of them all, the BES championship trophy.  (Howie Hodge Photo)