Leftovers: NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown by Penny Aicardi
Pitkat, Caisse, Olsen, Eddie Mac and More
Pitkat's #6 at Irwindale. (NASCAR Photo)
No Guaranteed Starting Position? No Problem!
NASCAR Whelen All American Series ace Woody Pitkat wheeled his way into the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown field by means of the last-chance race on Friday night in his first appearance in the NASCAR Busch East Series. Pitkat, who ran only as high as seventh in the first 48 laps of the event, capitalized on a late-race caution to make it into the field by means of a fourth place finish. Pitkat finished the 250-lap feature race in 26th, but felt the experience was a valuable reward.
“I was running seventh when they lined us up for that last restart and I knew if I didn’t do something I would be going home,” Pitkat said about the last-chance race. “I got a good jump. I had that planned. That’s what I was doing. I didn’t even try to feather it off like I was the whole race. It was time to go and I flat-footed it, hung in there, and had my spotter yelling at me to dig-dig-dig! I was trying to get the car to work and I think maybe the speedy dry helped out a little bit too.”
By the way, 2001 & 2006 Champion Mike Olsen was that spotter yelling at Pitkat to “dig”. Pitkat was driving a car owned by Olsen, who made it into the race by means of a provisional after his rear-end broke on his second qualifying lap.
Mike Johnson won the last chance race after taking the lead on the first lap.
Both Johnson and Pitkat were told at one point that they had guaranteed starting positions in the race only to find out that the information that was first given to them was incorrect. Both drivers had to make it in on their own accord. Johnson is a past winner at
the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown while Pitkat was runner-up in the Whelen All American Series.
Even before the qualifying race started, Pitkat wasn’t too worried.
“Obviously if I had a guaranteed spot, that’s one thing, but you can’t look at it that way and rely on that,” said Pitkat. “I’ve got the confidence that I can get in the show without needing the guaranteed spot anyways. I know Mike’s got the setup for that track because he won the race there a few years ago before getting penalized. He’s won two championships, so I’m not worried about the car. It’ll come down to me, the driver, but I think I’ll be alright because of the Late Model experience I’ve got and the experience of testing one of those cars at Thompson a while back.”
The Last Chance race also earned Chris Bristol and Antonio Perez starting positions in the Showdown. Greg Pursley and Ryan Philpott were West Series drivers that made it in by way of the 50-lap race.
Caisse Goes Home Disappointed
There’s nothing worse than having the dominant car, but not being able to prove it with a victory. Sean Caisse led the first 74 laps of the Toyota All-Star Showdown after winning the pole position the day before, but was taken out of contention and out of the race when a lapped car got into him and sent him into the wall. To make matters worse, NASCAR drew his number for a random engine testing. The ASM Motorsports team had to spend hours at the track following the race pulling the motor out for NASCAR to take.
“The guys did a great job giving me a piece to run up front with,” said Caisse. “I’m just a little bit frustrated right now. Whatever happened, happened. I know the 78 [of Moses Smith] ended up getting into us, but that’s racing. You win some and lose some I guess. I’m frustrated more for my guys because I’m pretty sure this is my last race with Andy Santerre Motorsports and I wanted to go out on a high note and not like this.”
Caisse is trying to advance to one of NASCAR’s national series – either behind the wheel of a Craftsman Series truck or Nationwide Series car for 2008. The young driver has been sponsorship searching in hopes of obtaining his goals.
“We have bigger and better things coming up. We’re going to do a race with Germain Racing at Miami. We’re going to keep plugging away and you can’t give up,” he said. “I can’t really say I won’t be back with ASM. I’m going to work on some sponsorship stuff and if that doesn’t work out I’d like to try and doing something with ASM for next year.”
The Showdown tends to bring out the best in teams, and this year was no different.
Matt Kobyluck, the 2006 winner of the Toyota All-Star Showdown, looked very much like he was on the road to a repeat before he blew a right front tire and brushed the wall. Despite the set-back, Kobyluck drove up through the field to finish fourth.
“I came out here to win the race. Whether I finish fourth, tenth or fifteenth it really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I wanted to win the race and I know we had a car good enough to win the race. Things happen on the racetrack that you can’t control. To lose the tire, hit the wall, and go back and finish fourth I was pretty happy with that. I needed more laps to get to the front. It’s par for the course: when you need laps you can’t get them and when you don’t want cautions you keep getting them.”
Eddie MacDonald, driver of the No. 48 N.E.M.O./Grimm Construction Chevrolet, posted a top-five finish. MacDonald has only run nine races (including the Showdown) this year, and had much less seat time than most of the drivers out there. Although I have no confirmation on it, rumor has it that MacDonald will be back to the East Series in 2008 on a more regular basis. We’ll have more on that in the coming weeks after we get a chance to sit down and talk with MacDonald about his plans.
John Salemi was quite impressive with a top-10 finish after starting 33rd. It’s only the drivers second top-10 finish this year. This Nashua, NH-driver has been getting better
and better each week this year, and I expect we’ll hear his name a little more next year. The key, he says, is Dale Quarterley, who has taken over as crew chief on the car.
“I remember the first time I came here we wrecked and the second time we came here we finished like ten laps down. This year we started 33rd and finished ninth so that’s almost like a victory for us,” said Salemi. “Dale Quarterley really (is the difference). It’s not only what he can do to the car, but knowing what to buy for the car. The car may not look pretty, but it’s a good car. We’ve run good all year, but we’ve gotten wrecked or whatever and it just doesn’t show. People not at the race don’t see that – they don’t see how we were running before it happened. We’re not running any different than we have all year. The breaks went our way tonight. We stayed out of trouble. These cars are all about finding the sweet spot and finding what the driver likes. We almost hit it tonight.”
Olsen was another driver who made a lot of headway through the field. After breaking the rear-end in qualifying, Olsen was forced to drop to the rear of the field – 40th – to start the 250-lap race. By the end of the first break, Olsen was up to 16th and when the checkers fell he was eighth. If you look at the final results, it doesn’t appear that he wrestled his way through the field so much since his starting position is listed as 28th – the provisional spot he was given when he didn’t qualify on time. Nevertheless, Olsen worked much harder than that, and put a strong exclamation point on his season that was plagued with bad luck.
“I’m very happy. The car was good it just wasn’t good enough. I had to use it up quite a bit to come through the field. We probably should have finished a little better than we did, but on that last restart my tires just weren’t ready – I just didn’t have any heat in the tires,” Olsen said. “I wanted to finish on a better note than we did at Dover and we did.”