LEIGHTON WINS THOMPSON AMID FIREWORKS by Mike Twist
Santerre Slides Into Wall After Late Race Battle
Things weren't as they seemed for the NASCAR Busch North Series race at the Thompson Speedway (CT) Saturday night. The weather looked impossible (but the race was able to run the full distance), Brian Hoar looked unbeatable (but lapped cars changed that) and two veterans and old friends looked like they'd be putting on a classic battle to the finish (but they ended up with hurt feelings and one battered racecar instead).
Twenty minutes before the start, it looked like the teams and fans would be waiting until the next day's rain date to see any racing. Light drizzle, fog and cool temperatures offered no help in drying the track. The idea of taking extended pace laps to get a little bit of heat in the pavement would be overly optimistic. It worked though. After about a dozen circuits around the speedway the drivers were happy with the racing surface and the race went green.
Brian Hoar pulled out to a healthy lead early on. Less than 20 laps into the race, he found himself squarely behind a fierce and heated battle behind Charles Lewandoski and John
Cerbone for the 25th position. Hoar rode behind the two for a couple of laps and then tried to lap them by using the high groove. It didn't work. Hoar got his wheels too high on the track and went sailing into the fourth turn wall, ending his night.
"It was a two groove track and unfortunately I tried to make it a two and a half groove track just going around the lapped cars," said Hoar. "The lapped cars weren't cooperating and were in the middle of the track. I got my tires into the wet stuff and on a normal night, on a dry night or even later tonight, it would have been OK, but at that point it was like ice and that was it."
Hoar's Dodge was badly damaged and ended up finishing in the 27th and final position.
Next, it was Brad Leighton's turn to lead. On lap 87, all of the lead cars pitted under caution except for Leighton and Joey McCarthy. It looked like with old tires and more than 60 laps to the finish, that Leighton would be a sitting duck.
Andy Santerre had qualified outside of the top ten, but through patience and a great pit stop, found himself behind Leighton as the laps ticked down. The stage was set for a classic battle - Santerre had a quicker car and Leighton had the track position. It wasn't clear which would be
a bigger advantage late in the race.
Andy Santerre (#6) and Mike Stefanik (#55) battle for the top spot at Thompson on Saturday night. (Ken Spring Photo)
Santerre tried to pass Leighton several times on the outside with no success. With seven laps to go, Santerre tried to look inside Leighton at the end of the backstretch. Leighton moved inside as well and contact was made. The #6 of Santerre first headed into the slick grass of the infield and then shot nose-first into the outside wall. His car was wounded and now back to the tenth position.
The fact that the two cars did not fit into the same space was obvious to both drivers after the race, but the combatants had differing views on which car had the right to be in that space.
"We definitely got together going into turn three," said Leighton. "We had both of our spotters talking and my spotter told his that we were going to have the bottom. If he wanted to pass us, he'd have to take the top. In turn three, he dug to the bottom and didn't lift in time. With five to go, that's not far enough up to pass us (Leighton points to a dent from the incident on his left rear quarter panel). That's racing. I'm out here to win and he's racing for a championship. Next time, I'm sure that he'll remember that."
Brian Hoar's night ended against the while trying to lap a couple of cars. (Ken Spring Photo)
Santerre had a different perspective.
"We caught the #35 and he was slipping and sliding on old tires," said Santerre. "With a few laps to go, it was time to go for the win. I stuck it up beside him coming off of turn two and he just turned left going down the backstretch. I saw him turn into me and I swerved trying to keep away from him. That put me in the grass and once I hit the grass, I just gained speed and bounced back onto the racetrack. Brad and I are good friends and have had some good races together, but everytime I tried to pass him tonight he'd throw that block on me. I don't think that I'd want to win that bad I guess, but I don't know - if
that's the way he likes to win and wants to race, I can play the same game."
Leighton ended up with the win but not before a little bit of controversy.
Mike Stefanik lurked behind the battle for the lead and for a moment thought that he might benefit from the carnage.
"I thought they were going to wreck each other and I'd inherit the lead," said Stefanik. "They were going at it pretty aggressively. From what I understand, Brad had his spotter tell Andy's spotter that he wasn't going to give up the bottom groove - that was apparent."
Leighton ended up with the win over Stefanik and Dion. Santerre nursed his wounded car to a ninth place finish. Ironically, this puts Leighton, who is only planning a limited schedule in 2004, into the
Further back in the pack, there were other ruffled feathers as well. Ryan Moore and Bryon Chew both had solid runs held down by the same lapped car. Stay tuned for Speed 51's Busch North Leftovers for more coverage of that story and more from Thompson.
The next event for the NASCAR Busch North Series will be Saturday's run through the road course at Lime Rock Park (CT). Speed 5l will be on hand to bring you complete coverage of the event.