DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, set for Nov. 11-13 at California’s Irwindale Speedway, will include 40 drivers from the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, which includes the Midwest Series, Northwest Series, Southeast Series and Southwest Series. The top 10 drivers from each series are invited, based on the final point standings for each group.
This week, three-quarters of that lineup is set as the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series concluded its season and crowned a new champion Oct. 10 at LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway. The Northwest Series and Southeast Series have both concluded their seasons as well.
The Midwest Series was the top-performing series at the inaugural 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown, recording three of the top-five finishing positions and sending Ron Breese Jr. to victory lane in the Elite Division portion of the event.
Here’s a preview of the 10 Midwest Series representatives who are headed to Irwindale:
1. Justin Diercks, Davenport, Iowa – Diercks, the 1998 Midwest Series rookie of the year, won the title after a career season: six wins and 11 top-five finishes in 13 starts. Diercks’ title broke Steve Carlson’s streak of four consecutive championships.
2. Steve Carlson, West Salem, Wis. – Carlson entered the year as a favorite to win his fifth consecutive and ninth overall championship, but could not match the pace set by the youthful Diercks. Carlson settled for second for the first time since 1999 but will once again be a driver to watch at the Toyota All-Star Showdown.
3. Brian Hoppe, Madison, Wis. – Hoppe, the 1999 Midwest Series champion, has finished fourth or better in the Midwest Series point standings for each of the past seven seasons. Hoppe punched his second Showdown ticket with two wins and eight top-five finishes in 2004. In what may have been a preview of the Midwest Series’ success vs. the other series, Hoppe traveled to Nashville in April and won the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series opener at Music City Motorplex.
4. Tim Schendel, Sparta, Wis. – This NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series hopeful followed Carlson while growing up and racing at nearby LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway. Schendel has not reached the Midwest Series winner’s circle since Oct. 2003, but recorded runner-up finishes on three occasions this season.
5. Eddie Hoffman, Wheaton, Ill. – Hoffman has plenty of experience winning big races outside his home series. He’s won at Nashville Superspeedway and many other Chicagoland short tracks. His adaptability on the road will be a big asset at Irwindale.
6. Ryan Hanson, Beloit, Wis. – Hanson’s racing, and family, was dealt a terrible blow when his father, Butch, passed away just before the season opening race at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway. To honor his dad, Hanson kept his team on track and ran strong throughout the season. Along with Breese and Carlson, Hanson was a top-five finisher at the 2003 Toyota All-Star Showdown.
7. AJ Rhoads II, Hastings, Minn. – In his second full season in the Midwest Series, Rhoads recorded a career-best fifth-place finish at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway in August. Rhoads will be making his first appearance in the Toyota All-Star Showdown lineup.
8. Bryan Roach, Becker, Minn. – Along with his racing activities, Roach as an active member of his Native American community. On the track, Roach recorded four top-10 finishes to earn his first invitation to Irwindale.
9. Russ Blakeley, Palmyra, Wis. – This former crew chief has also raced a hill climb car up Pikes Peak, Colo. and was known as "Captain Spectacular" for his participation in other events that included, among other things, jumping a flaming school bus in a Lake Geneva (Wis.) Raceway thrill show.
10. Justin Hirt, Tigerton, Wis. – One of the Midwest Series top Auto Meter rookie contenders, Hirt logged four top-10 finishes this season. Hirt is a close friend of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Scott Wimmer and hopes to follow Wimmer’s career path into NASCAR’s national series.
TOYOTA ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN NOTES
· Southeast Series Update, Hogan Changes Plans… Jason Hogan finished fifth in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series point standings and was invited to the Toyota All-Star Showdown. Hogan, of Cleveland, Ga., has changed his plans and declined the invitation. Taking his place on the Southeast Series roster will be Dusty Williams, of Garden City, Ga. Williams finished 11th in the standings with one top-five and three top-10 finishes.
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, or(626) 358-1100