SHOWDOWN LEFTOVERS: ELITE DIVISION by Jeremy Troiano
Southwest Kicks Ass, Victory Circle Kicks Ass, Pettit Misses Out & More
The Southwest Series, which finished second to the Midwest Series in 2003, was led by the duo of Burney Lamar and Eric Holmes, who dominated the first 75-lap segment. The third-place finisher in the first segment, Todd Souza, is also a Southwest Series regular.
“I think some of the other guys really missed it,” said Holmes. “(The Southwest Series) do have an advantage here. But where else are you going to go in the whole country that can provide racing like this.
“All of us were pretty determined though. I think it showed. We have some great guys in this series. Burney ran strong, Rip (Michels) ran strong. Craig (Raudman) ran strong.
SOUTHWEST SERIES REDEEMS ITSELF
The NASCAR Southwest Series made up for last season’s disappointment and dominated the team portion of the Toyota All Star Showdown for the Elite Division, beating the Northwest cars 1359 points to 1095. The team portion of the event, made up of the first 75-laps, earned each of the Southwest Series drivers an additional $2,000.
“To tell you the truth, I didn't care about the team thing too much, but Rip was a big spokesperson in the garage all weekend long making sure we all stuck together. It didn't matter to me, I just wanted to win the race.”
“We dominated,” said Michels, who called the Southwest guys out all weekend long, telling them they needed to take the team title back at one of their “home tracks.” “We hear about all these east coast guys this and that. Well there are still some pretty good drivers out here. Eric, Burney and a lots of guys. You just don't always get to see it. They saw it tonight.”
The strong run of Burney Lamar (#1) allowed the Southwest Series to win the team title over last year's champs, the Midwest Series and Eddie Hoffman (#8). (51 Photos)
The Southwest Series runs at Irwindale Speedway twice a year, but failed to win last year's team competition after the Midwest Series drivers took it from them. That wasn't the case this time around.
The Northwest Series finished the team segment second and was led by the Jefferson brothers, Jeff and Jason, who finished the first 75-lap segment fourth and fifth. The Southwest Series had four more guys in the top 10 and the Northwest Series had one.
The top finishing Southeast driver during the team
segment was Erik Darnell, leading the SES guys to a third-place finish in the team competition. Last year’s champs, the Midwest Series, finished last. The top MWS finisher was Brian Hoppe, who was running 18th.
“It is a great show. I love it. I have a good time out here,” said the Southeast Series' Kevin Prince. “My only opinion is that we should go to neutral ground where no one races. That seems to be what you might say more apples to apples for everyone. Otherwise, you have 10 guys that race here twice a year and you expect to see those guys racing up front. That is the only bad thing I see about it.”
It is an advantage when the money is on the line as well.
In the final rundown of the 125-lap event, the Southwest Series cars had five drivers in the top-10, with the Northwest and Southeast having two drivers in the top-10 and Eddie Hoffman the lone Midwest Series driver in the top-10 positions.
VICTORY CIRCLE CHASSIS WHOOP SOME TAIL OUT WEST
Brian Hoppe (#51) was the best Midwest guy at the break, while Erik Darnell (#7) topped the Southeast contingent.
The Victory Circle dominance was a big part of the reason that the Southwest Series dominated the team competition.
“I think we walked away with that bonus,” said Raudman.
JEFFERSON BROTHERS FAIR WELL
The racing Jeffersons showed everyone they are a force to be reckon with not just in the Northwest, but on a national level as well.
Craig Raudman's Victory Circle Chassis company kicked about as much ass as the Southwest guys did in California. In fact, it was about dead even, since many of the top Southwest guys run the Victory Circle Chassis.
Victory Circle cars finished first, second, third and 10th in the Elite Division on Saturday night, with Raudman himself coming in fourth.
“Hopefully, this sends the message out there that we are the dominate kind of chassis to have,” said Raudman. “I have to thank the guys back at the shop for all the hard work they give me.”
Both Jeff (the 2003 & 2004 Northwest Champion) and Jason raced among each other in the top-10 all night long during the 125-lap event. Eventually, Jeff came home sixth, with Jason ninth.
Jeff paced the Northwest Series with a finish of sixth. After finishing 38th a season ago, it is hard to look at sixth as a disappointment, but, in a sense, it was.
“I really thought we were in great shape heading into the final 50, but the car did not respond the way it should have with the changes we made,” Jeff said. “With about 10 laps to go, the bumping and rubbing started and I got shuffled back just a bit. We ran in the top-three for most of the night, so it was a good race for just.
“We came here with the goal of finishing in the top five and came in sixth.”
Jason, Jeff’s younger brother, did his part for the Northwest Series, as well. After finishing third in his qualifying race on Friday night, he started sixth on Saturday night. At the
break after 75 laps, he found himself in fifth giving him a re-start on the outside pole after the six-car invert for the final 50 laps. However, his #97 became too tight at a racetrack in which a tight condition is hard to overcome.
Jeff made his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut earlier in the season at the Milwaukee Mile and he will get another shot at Homestead-Miami Speedway (FL) this weekend. Jeff will drive the #03 Chevrolet.
“We had it running very well and could be very competitive,” Jeff said of his test in the truck a few weeks ago. “This is a great opportunity for me and I am thankful for the chance that Team EJP Racing has given me.”
THREE SERIES CHAMPIONS STRUGGLE
Jeff (#42) and Jason (#97) Jefferson were two of the tough guys this weekend.
Irwindale was owned by Craig Raudman (#2) and his Victory Circle Chassis.
do better than how we ended up though. When they dropped the green flag, we passed a lot of cars, but then as we moved up through the field, the competition got a lot tougher. When we came in for the break, we'd gotten up to 15th.
“We took on tires and were able to get by about four car until another car got into us and knocked the toe-in out of whack. So we were kind of sitting ducks after that. After as bad as we qualified, to go through the problems we did and finish in the top-20 with this class of cars means a lot to me.”
Diercks struggled all weekend as well, but managed to move up 10 spots from his 29th starting spot.
Outside of the Jeff Jefferson from the Northwest Series, the other three series champions struggled for the most part on Friday and Saturday nights.
Jeff Fultz, the Southeast Series champion, finished 17th, with Justin Diercks (Midwest champ) coming home 19th and Jim Pettit II (Southwest) 28th.
But while the finishes weren't great, looking at where each driver started showed that the nights got better for all of them.
“That was ok,” said Fultz, who started 35th. “We wanted to
Jeff Fultz struggled all weekend at Irwindale.
“I think we got a bad set of tires (Friday) night,” said Diercks. “Everything we changed for today's race, we took back off at the break. Unless the track changed that much.
“I talked to (fellow MWS driver) Brian Hoppe and he had the same thing happen. Yesterday we were just bad loose. We changed stuff, went out there and in the first 75 laps we were bad tight. It was just pushing. We worked on it and I'm really proud of my guys on getting me a good car.
“I just wish the race was longer, because we got the car
pretty good at the end. It was sure some good side-by-side racing.”
Pettit, who finished second at Irwindale last year during the Showdown, has the most struggles of any of the champions.
“Every night can't be the perfect night,” said a humble Pettit. “We fought the deal all weekend. We got it pretty good the first session. We worked our way up about 15 spots. I was content with that. Then, me and the 60 car (the Midwest's Ryan Hanson) came together. He made a run on the outside and my spotter told me at the last minute. We made some contact and it tore my spoiler off and we were pretty much done after that. I was just trying to hang on there. Then, for whatever reason, the 5 car (the Southeast's JR Norris) decided he wanted to drive in there and take me out. For whatever reason, I guess he thought I did something to him.”
DARNELL A MAN ON A MISSION
“That wasn’t too bad. We kind of missed something in our qualifying race, but I think we made up for it in the race on Saturday night. It was pretty neat because I’ve never had the chance to compete in a race that big. I’m glad we got the chance to do it and finished as well as we did. I thought we had a shot at the victory.”
Darnell won the Powerade award for advancing the most positions from start to finish. He improved 22 spots.
HOFFMAN LEADS STRUGGLING MIDWEST SERIES
Eddie Hoffman was the only member of the struggling Midwest Series to finish in the top 10.
“I messed up and we over-adjusted from the loose track last night,” said Hoffman, who came home seventh. “It was just pushing like a dump truck in the first segment. We were all the way back to 22nd at one point.
While the Southwest Series drivers impressed many people on Saturday night, the Southeast's Erik Darnell was the man on a mission.
Darnell started the race in 27th position. At the 75-lap break, he was 13th. Fifty laps later, at the end of the night, he had climbed all the way to fifth and was still climbing.
“Once I got up to fifth I had pretty much used up my tires,” said Darnell. “If we would have had 50 more laps, who knows were I might have ended up.”
“I thought we had a pretty good shot at running good coming in here but we ended up missing the setup in the qualifying races and had to come from deep I the field tonight. When we got here and saw all of the grooves, we just tied to get the car to work on the bottom. It ended up helping us in the race.
Erik Darnell talks to a fellow racer before the start of Saturday's race.
“We went back to where we were last night after the break and the car was good. If we would have been in the top seven or eight after the break, I think we could have got up to the front. But we got up to seventh and was still going when the checkers waved. We just ran out of laps. That is all we can do.”
Last year's team champions, the Midwest Series struggled. After Hoffman, Brian Hoppe was the next highest finisher, at 18th. Justin Diercks came home 19th and Tim Schendel 20th.
Steve Carlson, the nine-time Midwest Series champion, finished a disappointing 24th.
“A couple of the good guys struggled for some reason,” said Hoffman of the Midwest Series struggles. “ I did a lit better than last year. We are obviously missing some heavy hitters. When you are missing those guys and some of our top dogs struggle, that is about all you can say about it.”
MICHELS JUST MISSES AT HOME TRACK
Hometown hero and track favorite Rip Michels nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the night when he came just eight laps short of winning the Toyota All Star Showdown.
Amongst all the cars, the Midwest Series was in last place.
Michels led after the invert until just eight laps from the finish, when eventual race winner Eric Holmes made his way around the three-time Irwindale Speedway track champion (Michels was also the 2003 NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Sunbelt Region Champion).
Michels sat on the pole for the invert after a six was drawn. It was all Michels needed to get out in front and run away with things for 42 laps.
“It kinda felt right because this is my home track,” said Michels of sitting on the pole. “We were really tight in the first half. We made some adjustments and it just wasn't quite enough. I glanced up every couple of laps to see
Rip Michels is interviewed following his second-place run on Saturday.
where Eric was, but I told my spotter not to even tell me about him. If he gets under me, he gets under me. I was so tight, I needed the whole track to get the car to work right. (Eric) was just a little better than me tonight. He had a better car.
“Second it kind of bittersweet because we were so close to winning at my home track. To finish second is kind of a bummer, but to run second in the biggest race of my life is a huge thrill. All-in-all, it was some good, hard racing and that is what it's all about.
Texas racer Chris Davidson wrapped up his 2004 rookie Southeast Series season by representing the Southeast Series mighty proud in the second running of the Toyota All Star Showdown.
Davidson, who had to travel from Texas for every Southeast Series race this year, had his longest road trip of the year to round out the season at Irwindale.
Diercks struggled, but moved up 10 spots on Saturday night.
Davidson was fast all weekend long, and was the top finishing representative from the Southeast Series during Friday night's qualifiers, but a bump from another competitor during Saturday night's competition knocked him out early while running inside the top-10.
“I don't see any way we wouldn't have finished solidly in the top 10,” added Davidson. “That is part of racing. But it was a great experience. If anyone ever builds a race track and they don't duplicate this one, they need to have a talking to.”
“We had a good car but lost some spots. We were
gaining them back when the 19 car (the Southwest Series' Eddy McKean) got three wide with us. He squeezed me really tight into the wall about 20 laps before the break. The right front tire started going down. The car got tight, then the tire let go and we got into the wall and broke something on the front end.
“I had no complaints about the car up until then. The guys we were racing with, (Erik) Darnell and (Kevin) Prince, ended up there in the top-five and top-10. I don't see anyway we couldn't have finished in the top 10 as well. It is just one of those things.”
Chris Davidson pulls into the pits after his right front went flat as a result of contact with another car.