IF IT'S LEE, IT MUST BE SANTERRE IN VICTORY LANE by Mike Twist
For the Third Year in a Row, Santerre Wins the Busch North Opener
There was a time in Andy Santerre's NASCAR Busch North Series career when Lee USA Speedway (NH) was not one of his best tracks. But for the third-straight season, you would never know that.
Since 2002, Santerre has scored opening-day victories every season at Lee. This past Sunday, he continued his streak with a victory in the Lee 150.
"This is the way that we started the last two years and we ended up with the championship both times," Santerre said. "This track used to be a struggle for me. I used to be a ninth- or 10th-place car here back in the mid '90s. I never could figure it out. Then I came back here in 2002 with an old Busch car. I didn't think that I'd ever be competitive with it. My goal for that race was to get through it and move on, but we came here and won it. We learned a few things from that and have kept getting better."
Although Santerre is not known for his qualifying prowess, he started the race in the third position. Meanwhile, Dave Dion earned the pole position with a near record lap of 15.529 seconds. It was his first time starting out front since the October
2000 race at Thompson Speedway (CT). Dion led the first 23 laps before getting passed by Santerre for the top spot.
Dion was Santerre's closest pursuer for the first half of the race. On lap 72, nearly all of the leaders pitted. The #29 team of Dion did not
make any adjustments to their orange Ford and that kept them from contention in the remaining laps. Dion faded to 10th at the end of the race.
"The car ran along pretty good and it wasn't like we went downhill instantly," he said. "It seemed like Andy called for the right adjustments and I didn't when we pitted. We didn't adjust. We just put
tires on. I didn't call for any adjustments and maybe I should have."
The series of pit stops also eliminated the other front row starter from contention. Brad Leighton received a stop and go penalty from NASCAR for not making a pit stop after it appeared that he made a commitment to pit.
Mike Olsen, Ryan Moore and Joey McCarthy all pitted early and had the top three spots on the restart. Moore and McCarthy would bypass Olsen within five laps, while trying to hold off a charging Santerre. Twelve laps after the restart, Santerre was up to second. Three more laps and he was leading.
"It was fun coming up through there passing cars," Santerre said. "It felt like I was Saturday night racing again.
Santerre captured last year's title after winning the opener at Lee. Could it happen yet again? (NASCAR)
We had a good time doing that and everybody ran me clean."
Although there were still 50 laps to go, it became obvious that without any problems, Santerre would not be seriously challenged for the top spot. That didn't mean that there wasn't plenty of action behind the #6 car though.
Behind him McCarthy and Moore battled for some time and were joined by a fast approaching Eddie MacDonald in the closing laps. McCarthy held the duo off to nail down a second-place finish, MacDonald ran out of laps and had to settle for third, while Moore nursed an ailing engine to the finish for the fourth position. Mike Stefanik rounded out the top five.
McCarthy, who made his first start for the #8 team was not disappointed with finishing behind Santerre.
"I had nothing for Andy today," McCarthy said. "He was the class of the field."
The NASCAR Busch North Series will now take the next three weekends off before returning to action on May 22nd at the Thompson Speedway (CT).
Dave Dion looks over his #29 car which scored its first pole in nearly four seasons.