CLASSIC, CLEAN BATTLE CAPS WILD ASA OPENER by J. Troiano & M. Dillner
Veteran And Young Gun Battle Right To The Checkers
New rules. New drivers. New looks. New everything. Everything except the winner that is.
Butch Miller, the defending ASA race winner at Lakeland (FL), proved that last year’s win wasn’t a flop. Miller came back from the rear of the field twice and charged to the front to win SK Hand Tools 200 at USA International Speedway on Saturday night to open the 20004 season.
Miller held off a hard-changing and determined homestate-driver Travis Kittleson over the final five laps en route to his 50th career victory. Kittleson, who has been known to rough it up in the past, ran Miller clean and hard over the fast few laps, making the Timber Wolf team sweat it out coming to the checkers. Less than a couple tenths of a second separated the two at the end of the day.
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” said Miller to Kittleson after climbing out of the racecar in Victory Lane, to the hometown fan favorite Travis Kittleson.
Miller and Kittleson have a history that dates back to the Mansfield ASA racer last year, when Travis bumped Miller out of a position and Miller wasn’t happy about it.
“Travis ran me so clean and (third-place finisher Stephen) Leicht ran me so clean,” Miller added. “Travis is the kind of racer you like to race with. When you get a fender underneath him he gives it too you. When those two guys get a fender under me sometime they are going to get the whole racetrack. I like racing like that.” Even SS Racing crew chief Deon Deneau took the time to personally thank Kittleson for racing a good, clean race.
“We had a good racecar,” said Miller. On the long runs, we were considerably better than (Travis). On the little five lappers we were having I knew my only chance was to get as much distance on the restarts. After five or six laps I could sneak away from him but unfortunately we were only running five or six laps.
“I am so excited. You never know when that last win is coming. You really cherish each one. I tell you what…Travis ran us really hard but really clean and I can’t thank him enough.
The teams and drivers were only running five or six laps under green at a time because of the new restart rule. The rule was originally implemented on Thursday and changed again Saturday morning, much like that of the qualifying format. The “choose” rule was now in effect, pretty much saying any driver choose the lane they wanted for the restart, no matter if you were a lead lap or lapped car.
The “choose” restart rule, was not embraced by many ASA drivers. The race finished with 13 cautions for 95 laps, nearly half of the race’s 200 laps.
“At some point there is a balance between wrecking racecars and a good show,” said Butch. “I think if you wreck too many it makes a bad show. I think right now a
lot of the wrecks were caused by everybody not knowing what they were doing. We’ve got one race under our belts and I think it’s good for the series. It’s Steve Dale’s job and his group to write the rules and it is my choice whether or not I run with the series. He’s gonna have to change an awful lot of the rules before I choose not to run the series.”
Kittleson led late in the race but got passed by Miller with just 25 laps to go and worked hard from there to try and get the lead back. To the surprise of many, the normally aggressive 24-year-old stayed patient when within the grasp of his first ASA win.
The first podium of the 2004 season included Travis Kittleson (left), Butch Miller (center) and Stephen Leicht.
“It was killing me man. It was killing me,” said Kittleson of his will to want to pass Miller and recapture the lead. “The car was great on the short runs and I knew Butch wasn’t done racing. I was digging but I wasn’t going to pass to him unless it was going to be done clean. It is too early in the year for that beating and banging anyway.
“(Butch) made a comment at the banquet that he admired Kevin Cywinski’s tendancy to beat you using talent and not bumper.
“I had every opportunity to (take him out) those last five laps. He even left the doors open for us a couple of times but we jut couldn’t take advantage of it. But I wasn’t going to do it. It isn’t how I wanted to win my first ASA races.
“We might have done it different if there was someone else in front of me, but there wasn’t. This is Butch Miller. You just can’t slam him anywhere, anytime.”
Travis Kittleson was on top of the leader board much of the night.
Leicht ran a solid pace all day long and battled back from a coule of pit miscues to finish a very respectable third. The Waltom Development driver was the highest finishing rookie of the race. Reed Sorenson and Casey Smith rounded out the top-five finishers.
In addition to capturing the 50th trophy of his career, Miller also became ASA’s first “50-50” man… the only driver to win 50 career poles and 50 career wins.