DAYTONA BEACH, FloridaSince it opened in 1999, Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway has hosted 14 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series events. At the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, Nov. 11-13 at the half-mile track near Los Angeles, the top 10 Southwest Series drivers will be banking on that experience when they face off against the top 10 drivers from the other three series (Midwest, Northwest and Southeast) that comprise the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division.
Leading the charge is 2004 Southwest Series championship hopeful Jim Pettit II, of Prunedale, Calif. Pettit earned an invitation to the inaugural 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown by finishing third in the Southwest Series standings. Pettit finished second to Elite Division race winner Ron Breese Jr., from the Midwest Series, in the main event.
Today, Pettit now leads the point standings – by 10 points over 2001 Southwest Series champion Craig Raudman – and is headed to Irwindale with a lot to prove.
“We were so close last year, we feel the only place we can go is forward,” said Pettit. “That would only make the event more satisfying for us. If the season keeps going the way we hope it does, with a championship, winning the Toyota All-Star Showdown would be the icing on the cake. It’s really important to us.”
Many observers predicted the Southwest Series teams would dominate the inaugural event, given their experience on the host track. Led by Breese, Midwest Series drivers put in the best overall performance and just two Southwest Series drivers – Pettit and David Gilliland – finished in the top five.
According to Eric Holmes, the Southwest Series’ most recent race winner at Phoenix International Raceway, the track itself is an equalizer – it’s a challenge for any driver, with or without experience on the track.
“Irwindale is a tough place,” said Holmes, a resident of Salida, Calif. “I’ve been there five times and I’ve either been super fast – or I’ve just been lost. It’s one of the tracks where if you hit your setup you hit it, and if you don’t you won’t. Ron Breese was just super fast. He figured it out so he had a fast car.
“This year might be even tougher because a lot of these guys have now been there,” said Holmes. “I think it’s going to be even more competitive, especially among the guys who are coming back for second year.”
The Southwest Series last visited Irwindale on May 29, with Burney Lamar taking the victory ahead of Raudman. Pettit finished fifth in that race, proving he still has what it takes to be successful at Irwindale. On November 13, Pettit and the rest of the Southwest Series top 10 drivers will put that to the test one more time, against a field of the best short track racers NASCAR has to offer.
“Second place is nothing to hang your head low about,” said Pettit. “But, there’s nothing like being the winner.”
What: NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown
Where: Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway
When: Nov. 11-13, 2004
Who: Top 10 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division drivers from four series – Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. … Top 15 NASCAR Grand National Division drivers from two series – Busch North Series and West Series
TV: SPEED Channel
Posted awards: $500,000
Track layout: Half-mile oval
Track contact: Doug Stokes, (626) 358-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org