IRWINDALE, California -- When Dale Quarterley left Irwindale (Cal.) Speedway after last year's Toyota NASCAR All-Star Showdown, he brought home a car that was bruised, battered, and not as competitive as he'd have liked. Preparations for this year's edition of the Showdown began well beforehand, though, as he towed out two weeks early to race in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series event there last Saturday night, finishing second and improving his outlook for the Showdown.
Following the cancellation of the season's final NASCAR Busch North Series race, Quarterley crossed the country, his new EDART truck getting him there in 52 hours compared to 65 last year. At the track, he and his 1/4 LEY Racing crew set up and prepared to dial in the No. 31 EDART/Van Dyk Baler Chevrolet for the race, with an eye towards getting a jump on preparing for the Showdown.
"We started practice out third quickest right off the bat," he said. "But we couldn't fix one problem with the car. We chased it the whole time we were there and we just couldn't get the handle on that one setup problem we had. But we were still fast, and we were consistently fast. Every time I drove out of the pits I was within a tenth of what I was going, and we were practicing on old tires left over from Wall.
"We qualified eighth, and I think we went four tenths faster than my best practice time," the Westfield, Massachusetts driver continued. "But the polesitter went six and a half tenths quicker, and we got nervous. I told the crew that they had done a great job, we had tried everything that we wanted to try, putting fifteen different setups in the car, and that this was as fast as we could make it, so let's not second-guess ourselves. It's good, just leave it alone."
At the start of the race, Quarterley tried to settle into a rhythm on the multi-groove track and found himself involved in a long battle with Mike David's No. 2 car.
"I was struggling the first part of the race finding a happy medium between everyone else and me," he said. "I had to let a couple guys go because I didn't want to go as fast as they were going. But there was Mike David, he must have been under me five, six, seven times working me hard. Every time he got under me I was thinking 'will he just leave me alone', but I didn't want to just let him go because I had already let a couple guys go. He raced me clean, he muscled me a couple of times but I didn't give in. I'd speed up a little and he'd fall back in behind me, but five or six laps later he'd launch another attack on me. I kept thinking to myself 'relax, we're only thirty laps into the race'. I didn't want to let him go because he had guys behind him and I didn't want to give up a bunch of positions. I didn't want to fall that far down the field. We soldiered on into eighth until lap 40 and then I started moving up a little, getting up to fifth at the lap 75 stop."
At the race's halfway break, teams were allowed to change anything they could on the cars in the allotted time, except for engines and tires. Quarterley's crew made a minor change, removing a spring rubber, and sent him back out to do battle for the rest of the race. The adjustment, made with the theory that it would loosen up the car, went in the opposite direction and tightened the car up further. But that didn't hold him back, as he eventually worked his way up to third place, behind Brett Thompson.
"I was working him and working him, but I couldn't clear him and wound up getting back in line and following him," he explained. "A couple laps later, I'd start working on him again but I couldn't get by him so I'd fall back in line again. That's when I figured I must have known how Mike David felt earlier in the race. Finally I decided I couldn't ride around in third anymore if I was going to make a run at the leader, I had to get by second place. So the last charge I made, I really was working him hard, and we got into one and two and I was completely up beside him coming off of four, and I completely let up on the brake pedal and, for whatever reason, the car just took off. I ended up bumping into him, we both wiggled, and we both kept on going with me getting by him. It was a racing deal, even though I was being aggressive. Luckily I just kept right on trucking and started running down Austin Cameron in the lead."
With a tight race car, a late caution was not what Quarterley wanted to see. He weaved aggressively under caution trying to keep heat in the car's tires, but still fell behind Cameron when the green came out. He thought he was destined to finish second without even taking a shot at the lead, but another caution set up a green-white-checker finish that gave the third-place Busch North driver the opportunity he needed.
"We went green and Cameron only gapped me three car lengths," Quarterley said. "Coming off of two on the last lap, I was just one car length behind him, in a full four-wheel drift driving as hard as I could possibly drive the thing. We came into three and four and I was thinking he's going to go in and almost stop in the middle, so if I'm being aggressive he can handle it. I didn't want to muscle him, I wanted to beat him. So I drove the thing all the way down to the bottom of the track, all the way to the white line, and I was going to slide up in front of him like the sprint car guys do. I got down there and got on the gas, but I could see that I just wasn't quite going to clear him, and I had to pedal it for a second to make sure I stayed down in my groove. He rocketed by me on the outside and he wins; I finished second."
While second place was one spot shy of what Quarterley was shooting for, he gained valuable experience and knowledge that'll help him when he returns for the Showdown, which will hold qualifying races on Friday, Nov. 10 and feature races on Saturday, Nov. 11 - both night broadcast live on SpeedTV.
"I'm glad I went, and I know I've got something to work on," he said. "Team-wise, we left Irwindale last year with our tails between our legs, just completely devastated that we were that bad. We knew we were off, but we didn't think we were off that much. The race car is the same one we just got second with, but the team has completely regrouped for this season and everything about this team has been better. The crew guys are working better with themselves, with new guys making a big difference with the team. I had to take a step back myself and realize that I wasn't getting the job done the way I was doing things for the last year, so I had to regroup myself. Now there's not a single race where, if I don't get a flat or something, where I can't run with the leaders. We've been right there every single race. Between last year at Irwindale and this year, we've gone from seventh in points to third, and we've gone from winning just at road courses to winning at two of the biggest circle track races of the year."
The winner of Busch North Series events at New Hampshire International Speedway and Dover International Speedway has left his truck and trailer at the track, and will fly out with his crew to begin preparing for the Showdown during the week approaching the event, with high hopes that the extra time spent at Irwindale Speedway will prove to be time well spent for when the biggest race of the year goes green in front of a live television audience.