Plenty Of Stories From Friday at Irwindale

Every year, the NASCAR Southwest Series seems to have a little bit of an added advantage at the Toyota All Star Showdown.  The Southwest Series is the only division of the four Elite Divisions that race at Irwindale during the regular season. 

“Jim was fast, but we were right there.  He is a great guy and he is fast.  All of these guys are great.  Rip Michaels is the best there is to beat out here.”

Pettit held onto second, followed by this year’s Southwest Series champion, Rip Michaels in third.

Jim Pettit II comes over and congratulates Eddy mcKean on his Showdown win. (51 photos)
Ryan Lawler wasn’t planning to make the trip to Irwindale Speedway at the start of the year.  In fact, at the end of the year, he wasn’t probably still planning to make the trip.  Fact is that he ran only two of the four races with the Southeast Series this year, finishing 16th in the final point standings.

However, because so many drivers in front of him declined their invitation to the Showdown, the series looked all the way back to Lawler to fill out the field.  And now, they are glad they did.

Lawler was the final driver selected from the Southeast Series to come to Irwindale.  That meant he started on the front row for the second of the two qualifying races on Friday night.  And he made the most of it, leading all 50 laps and cruising to the victory, driving a second Richie Wauters-prepared car. 

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Lawler of his Irwindale debut.  “This is my office.  The car was pretty good.  It was better in the first half of the race then it was in the second half.  We had pulled away enough in the first half though that it didn’t matter.  It was just enough to get me back out there. 
Ryan Lawler won the second Elite 50-lapper.
On Friday night, the Southwest Series showed they are going to be tough to beat, sweeping the top-four spots in the first of the two 50-lap qualifying races.  

The sweep was led by series master Eddy McKean.  McKean passed former Southwest Series champion Jim Pettit II with 11 laps to go for the win.

“We were trying to get him on the outside and he kept sliding up in front of me,” said McKean, whose best finish in the Showdown was a 10th in 2004.  “We have to be careful because we don’t want to get tangled up tonight and have problems for tomorrow night.  We just kept working him and working him and I finally got him.
“We weren’t great in practice, but we put on some better tires.  We had the stagger all jacked up.  I’m pumped up about tomorrow night.  I’m starting on the outside of the front row.  The outside is the way to go here.”


Rip Michaels, the Southwest Series champion, is pumped for Saturday night’s feature at Irwindale.  Not only  because Michaels had always been good at Irwindale, but he’s never finished worse than sixth at the Showdown.
He might also be good because he’s old (Michaels is 41).

“Look at this, a bunch of old guys up front,” said Michaels of the results of the first 50-lapper.  “You see anyone under 40 (years old) up front?  What that means is that the old guys got it.  Roush is watching, Childress is watching; they are all watching on TV right now and it means the old guys are throwing down.  That is what it is about.”

Eddy McKean, who won the first 50-lapper, is 46, while Jim Pettit II is 42.
Rip Michaels is always one of the best at Irwindale Speedway.

When you come to the All Star Showdown at a series champion, you have a bulls-eye on your back.

Come Saturday night, two champions will just look to get through the race without an problems.
Things were really bad to Northwest Series champion Gary Lewis.  Lewis didn’t even get to start the second 50-lapped on Friday night.  Because of that, he’ll start dead last in the 40-car field on Saturday night.

“We had a oil leak all day long,” said Lews.  “We thought it was the rear seal on the pan, so we tore that off and put all new stuff on there.   Then, we fired it up and it still leaked.  We pulled the pan back off and took the rear cap off and replaced all that crap,  we got it all back together and it seemed fine, but when we fired it up for the race, it was just spraying out.  We’re going to tear it apart and see if we can find it.  If we can’t get it fixed, we’ll throw the backup motor in.

“We had a good race here last year and had to come from the back.  We have a good car, we just have a lot of work to do now.   That’s racing I guess.  We’ll just get it fixed and race our way up front tomorrow night.”

Southeast Series champion JR Norris finished fourth in his 50-lap qualifying race and will start seventh in the 50-lap feature on Saturday.  However, things won’t be easy for Norris.  

Norris got involved in an accident on lap 18 of his qualifying race when he got into the side of the #37 of
Gary Lewis (#73, top) never took the green flag, while JR Norris (#5, bottom) had to change engine late into the night.
Tim Schendel is one of the six Elite drivers that have made every start in the Toyota All Star Showdown.  But he’s never run very well. 

Things could be different this year.  

After starting at the back of his 50-lapper, Schendel came to the front and finished third, putting him sixth in the starting lineup for Saturday night’s feature race.

“Before when we were here, we kind of struggled a little bit,” said Schendel, who has a best finish of 11th in the All Star Showdown.  “I guess it took the fourth time for us to get it right.  I knew I had to start out strong on those
fresh tires.   I kind of got some breaks and I’ve been working on my car all day to pass cars way down low.   I really abused my stuff.  I ran it 50 hard, hard laps.”


One of the biggest surprises on Friday night was the strong run that Southeast Series driver Dusty Williams.

Williams finished fourth in the second of the two 50-lap races.

“It was three-wide, sometimes four-wide to get up to the front there,” said Williams.  “I got a few little bumps and dings, but nothing major, I’m happy with it.  This is the best performance I’ve had since we’ve been coming out here.”

Northwest Series driver Mike Longton.  The accident, with also included Jeff Barkshire, David Mayhew and Josh Hamner, did some damage to Norris’ powerplant.   For the rest of the race, smoke could be seen coming out of the pipes of Norris’ car.

“I think it is something in the valves,” said Norris. 

Late into the night, Norris and his team was still working on changing engines.

Tim Schendel
Thomas Martin was fast in practice all day on Friday.  So a lot of people were looking towards him in the second 50-lapper.   And Martin didn’t detour, finishing second to Ryan Lawler.  However, he might have overlooked Lawler.

“That 52 car completely surprised me,” said Martin.  “I heard he had two races in the series and he finished 16th in the points, so I was expecting a lot less.  He took off and I did everything I could to follow him.

“The car wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping it was.  I wasn’t as happy as you think I would be for as fast as the car was in practice.  I think we’ll be good tomorrow.”
Thomas Martin (#28) will be one of the favorites for Saturday night.
- Northwest Series driver Travis Bennett was another of the drivers changing engines after the race on Friday night.

- Jeff Barkshire’s team was switching over to their backup car after getting involved in the accident in the first qualifying race.

- Southwest Series driver Jim Pettit II joined Darrell LaMoure’s “Racing For The Missing” program three years ago. The primary component of this is placing a picture of a missing person on the hood of the racecar to raise awareness for this worthy cause. In the Toyota All-Star Showdown he has brought 11 more race teams to the table to lend a hand. Nine of the 10 Southwest Series


- The Southeast Series is struggling with its representation at Irwindale.  Only eight of the 10 drivers started on Friday night.  Walter Sutcliff ruined his rearend in practice and couldn’t make the start, but will race on Saturday night.  Joe Mattress didn’t even make the trip out west.
Travis Bennett's team changes an engine.
drivers (Pettit, Eric Holmes, M.K. Kanke, Thomas Martin, David Mayhew, Eddy McKean, Rip Michels, Kevin Vernon and Greg Voigt) will have pictures on board along with the Northwest Series’ Travis Bennett on the Elite Division side. For the Grand National portion Holmes will participate with his AutoZone West Series car, as well. In the Busch East Series, Kip Stockwell has joined the cause.