BAKERSFIELD, California — As the 2012 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series championship heads into its final four races of the year, four drivers have set themselves apart in their bid for the 2012 series championship. Derek Thorn, Jim Pettit II, M.K. Kanke and Jason Gilbert have all built a cushion in the point standings (141 points) ahead of the other series competitors, with only 58 points separating the top four drivers with four races remaining.
Each of the four drivers has had, by any standards, an outstanding year so far. Thorn leads the foursome with a stellar performance through the first six events, with three wins (Las Vegas, Stockton and Rocky Mountain Raceways), two seconds and a ninth at Madera on April 21, when he was forced to pit late in the race for a flat tire.
“The season up to this point has been very rewarding for our Byron Campbell Motorsports team. We’ve been fortunate enough to have our bad luck stay to a minimum and have been able capitalize on some great finishes.” stated Thorn. “It’s been all about preparation. Mike Keen, Richard Watson and the entire team have been very dedicated to making our cars fast and bullet proof before they leave the shop each week and its really paid off up to race 6 of the season.”
“With these final four races coming up”, Thorn continued. “The pressure is on more than ever to keep the consistency alive for us. We are going to do our best to put ourselves in a position to win each week and hopefully luck will stay on our side.”
“I've been fortunate to run with Jim (Pettit) and Mike (Kanke) for the past two seasons. I've learned a lot from racing with both of them and they’re both capable of winning each race. You can never count them out, they both have two different driving styles, but both are very effective and that’s the reason they've had so much success for the past 30 plus years. (Jason) Gilbert has been great at consistency and not taking more than the car will give him. He seems to be a very smart racer and able to stay very consistent at each track we go to, and those are the kind of performances that lead to championships. These next four races will be a lot of fun.”
Defending series champion Jim Pettit II started the 2012 season with a new car and new program. After six of ten races, Pettit finds himself just 29 points behind Thorn in pursuit of his fifth all-time Southwest Tour championship. Pettit has one win (Madera) and only one finish outside the top three so far in 2012, when he pitted late due to a flat tire with just 9 laps to go at Stockton on April 7.
“We’re happy with how things are going this season. There’s been a learning curve with the new car, but I think we’re on top of that now. We had hoped for more wins by this point in the season, but the wins will come, as we now have a better understanding of what the car likes.”
“No doubt, racing is tough this season. Some guys, who we expected to run up front, have been struggling the first half, like Ross (Strmiska), Jacob (Gomes) and Jared (Vorse), but I expect these guys to have a better second half. As for the championship battle, I’ve never seen a better overall performance from four teams as we are seeing this year with the battle we are having between Derek, Mike, Jason and myself…it (the championship) will come down to final race in Vegas.”
“We’re really pleased with our new association with Quentin (Bammer) this year and how hard our whole team is working toward our goal of another championship”, continued Pettit. “I’m real proud of Duane and all our guys for the efforts they’ve put in to keep us competitive and in the championship hunt.”
2009 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series champion, M.K. Kanke has shown his trademark consistency up front with all six finishes in the top five, including a win at Madera on April 21.
“I’d say our season’s been pretty good so far, the competition level in this series is getting higher all the time, and it’s getting tougher. We’ve had a few failures on the car that has cost us some positions at the end, but we’ll overcome those and should be good for the rest of the races.” stated Kanke. “Derek’s doing an excellent job, he’s learned a lot in a year and driving smart. Jason Gilbert has shown that if you keep your car clean and have something at the end, you’ll finish up front and he’s doing that, he’s also driving very smart. It’s good to see Greg (Voigt) bounce back and show he can run upfront again. Pettit is Pettit. Always tough.”
Jason Gilbert may be the surprise of the season, as the former NASCAR State Champion has proven he has his place at the front of the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series field this season, with two thirds, three fourths and one sixth so far in 2012.
“We definitely can’t complain with how the season has gone for us. Each race our bottom line goal has just been to be competitive and finish in the top five. So we have been accomplishing our goal, only problem is Thorn, Pettit, and Kanke continue to be more consistent than we are. With everyone being so consistent, the championship battle is going to come down to the final race.”
“I personally have to thank Ken Benhamou for giving me this opportunity, the guys at HUR Performance Engines for helping us out, my Dad (Randy), and the entire crew. Without them, we aren’t even in this conversation.”
“With how well the Top 3 run every week and guys like Gomes (the “pre” season Championship favorite) likely to solve all their gremlins, we know we will have to step up our program for the final four races if we are going to battle for the championship or have a shot at breaking through for our first win. The rest of the season will be entertaining, for sure.”
The final four events of the 2012 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series championship will be at Stockton 99 on August 18th, The Bullring on September 8th, Roseville’s All-American Speedway October 13th and the finale at The Bullring on November 17th.