West Leading Out West... Hoppe Lost... Numbers & More
The two Elite Division practices were lead by two different Southwest Series drivers.   Burney Lamar led the first session with a time of 18.092 seconds, while SWS Rookie of the Year Rip Michels led the second session, turning a lap of 18.021 seconds.

The Elite Division practices were Southwest drivers, with a couple Northwest and Midwest drivers dotting the top-10 in each session.  MWS Champion Justin Diercks, nine-time champ Steve Carlson and Eddie Hoffman found themselves in the top-10 during each session.  The Northwest Series was led by Jeff Jefferson and Brandon Riehl, who were in the top -10 in each session.


Drivers from the West Coast showed they know what it takes to get around Irwindale Speedway on Thursday.
The top Southeast Series drivers in each session were JR Norris, who clocked in 12th quick in the first session and Erik Darnell, who was 11th in the second session.

David Gilliland, the West Series Rookie of the Year, showed his home track expertise by setting fastest time in the Grand National Division.  He was so quick he didn’t even compete in the second practice session.
Burney Lamar was the fastest in the Elite Division the first time around. (51 Photos)
The second session was led by Busch North star Ryan Moore.

The Busch North cars look to be dominating the Grand National division again this year, with seven drivers in the top-10 in the first and second sessions.

Defending Showdown winner Austin Cameron was fifth fastest in the later practice.  Three-time Busch North Series champ Andy Santerre ran fourth fastest in the early session. 

Surprises included Jeff Fultz, the Southeast Champion,
who was just 26th quick and Jim Pettit (SWS Champion), who was just 23rd quick. 

“I do feel like the guys that get to race out here a couple of times during their seasons have a little bit of an advantage because they have track time,” said Fultz.  “Hopefully the Southeast Series will be able to fare a little bit better this year than we did last season.”


After running a limited schedule in 2003 and missing out on an invite to the inaugural Toyota All-Star Showdown, Mike David is excited to be representing the West Series in this year’s event.
Ryan Moore (#74) and his father Kelly have both been in the top-10 in practice.

Both the Elite Division and Grand National Division races are longer in 2004.

Last year, the Elite Division race was 100 laps and the Grand National’s raced for 125 laps.

This year, the Elite Division race has been uped to 125 laps (with a break at lap 75) and the Grand National race will be 150 laps (with a break at lap 100).


The NASCAR Midwest Series Rookie of the Year Russ Blakeley had a big problem on Thursday.
“It’s tough. There are 30 good cars,” David said. “It’s a fun deal, to stack yourself up against the best and see where you fall.

“We’re still chasing it a little bit.  We’ve got another hour of practice tomorrow. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find it and run up there. We were seventh in practice, but we’re still missing just a little bit.” David was optimistic, meanwhile, that he would race even better. “We always seem to race a little better than I qualify. I think we’ll do fine.”

David scored his first career series win earlier this season at Stockton 99 Speedway (CA) and was the 2002 West Series Rookie of the Year. 
“Something is wrong with the front of the car,” said Blakeley.  “The car wants to turn hard to the left on its own.  If I let go of the steering wheel, it just wants to turn to the left.  I think there is something wrong with the geometry on the front of the car.

“We found that the traveling shock on the right front was broken when we unloaded the car, so I’m not sure if something is wrong in there because the car was bouncing around on the frame.  We’ll do some work on it on Friday.”

Blakeley was 33rd and 32nd in the two practice sessions on Thursday.

David Gilliland was at Irwindale Speedway last year for the inaugural Toyota All Star Showdown  in the Southwest Series.  But this season, the California native will be doing battle in the Grand National race.

“I expect some really good racing and I’m really looking forward to running with the Busch North Series drivers,” Gilliland said. “There’s a lot of good competition out here. I’m glad they added the extra 25 laps to the race. I think that’s going to make for a better race for the fans. We can’t let our guard down and be ready for anything that comes our way. Last time we were here, I had the best car I’ve ever had so we haven’t made a lot of changes to the car other than just going over everything.”
Russ Blakeley (#22) races underneath the Southeast Series' Chris Davidson.
Mike David made it to Irwindale Speedway this season.
going to slow down, take one step back so we can hopefully take two forward.

“We’ve got to get this figured out.”


Kerry Earnhardt was suppose to race out at Darlington Speedway in South Carolina this weekend, but he changed his plans when he was able to come and compete with the West Series after a couple of drivers declined the invitations.

“It was a long trip for us, but I’m very grateful that NASCAR and Toyota invited us to come race here at Irwindale,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve raced here twice this year but struggled in both those races. This series has been great to me and given me a lot of seat time and experience. I’ve learned a lot more about patience and the set-ups on these cars. It’s been a lot of fun.”


Austin Cameron, last year’s Grand National division winner at the Showdown, will be making his last appearance for Bill McAnally Racing this weekend.  He will leave the team after the race to pursue opportunities in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.

“Leaving BMR has not been an easy decision to make” said Cameron. “I have had a great relationship with Bill McAnally but we both know my potential to achieve higher goals. I want to thank Bill McAnally Racing and NAPA. They have given me the opportunity to work with a great team. I want to thank all the fans, my family and friends. With their support, I have beaten cancer.

“I am excited about what tomorrow holds as I continue to pursue my career in racing.”

Cameron has an impressive set of West Series credentials.  He was the series’ Rookie of the Year and has 13 career West wins, including the 2003 Toyota All Star Showdown.

Brian Hoppe, the former Midwest Series champion who finished third in points in 2004, was just 24th quick after Thursday’s first practice session and was just 32nd in the second session.  He and crew chief Joe Wood were so unsure of the direction the cars set up was going that afterwards they hauled out the scales and started adjusting.

“We thrown about everything we could at these cars today,” said Hoppe.  “We’ve changed so much, we don’t know where we’re at and what is working and what is not.  So, we’re just
Brian Hoppe was at a lose after struggling on Thursday afternoon.

- Two Elite Division drivers had motor problems in the opening practice session. Gary Lewis was the first victim when he blew two head gaskets. Lewis’ crew was able to take the engine out and make the needed repairs. Southeast Series driver Justin Wakefield was not as lucky as he blew up only half a lap into his very first lap on the Irwindale half-mile and will be forced to go to a backup.
- Andy Santerre is driving ‘Faith,’ the chassis for all five of his 2004 race wins, named after singer Faith Hill.

10 - The number of in-car cameras that will help Speed Channel cover all the action.  The Grand National drivers who will have cameras include Mike Duncan, Jamie Aube, Austin Cameron and Nick DeFazio. The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers carrying cameras include Robert Richardson, Justin Diercks, Jeff Jefferson, A.J. Rhoads and Jason Jefferson.

13, 12 – The number of states represented by drivers in the Grand National and Elite Divisions respectively.

3 – The sections of North American represented by drivers in the Grand National Division (United States, Canada and Mexico)

0.668 – The seconds between the fastest and slowest Grand National Divisions drivers, David Gilliland and Carl Harr.

0.900 – The seconds between the fastest and slowest Elite Divisions drivers, Rip Michels and Allen Karnes.

0.399 – The number of seconds the Elite Division is faster than the Grand National Division at Irwindale.