This weekend all the racing talk is going to be about championships, as some titles are handed out locally and the big national series get their playoffs started. Strap in folks, this column is a doozy (you’d think I was getting paid by the word instead of by the week … lol).
Let’s start locally, where Evergreen Speedway will have round 1 of its 2009 season championship and Skagit Speedway will have a special guest on hand to help hand out the hardware.
Saturday at Evergreen Speedway the season titles will be awarded for the Super Late Model and Mini-Stock divisions.
It will also mark the final race at the 56-year-old track for NASCAR Drive for Diversity driver Natalie Sather of Fargo, N.D. A former champion dirt-track sprint car driver, Sather joined the Total Velocity Motorsports team of Jeff Knight to get experience racing late-models on asphalt.
“I’ve had a phenomenal time with those guys (TVM),” Sather said earlier this week. “I could not have been chosen by a better group of guys to run with this year. As my mom said, ‘They’re a perfect fit for you for your first year (racing late-models).’”
Singled out for specific praise by Sather was Roger Habich, a veteran racer chosen by Knight to serve as her crew chief and mentor this season.
Sather enters the Season Championship race fourth in the standings, 92 points behind leader and defending champion Naima Lang. Knight is second, 56 points behind Lang, No. 3 Daniel Moore trails the leader by 68 points and No. 5 Tom Hughs is 132 points back.
With 11 feature wins this season, Lang doesn’t even need to start Saturday’s race to earn back-to-back NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and track championship titles, but the second through fourth positions could see some movement, depending on what happens on the track.
Moore has been impressive in his second season at Evergreen Speedway, and Knight is a former winner and strong competitor. Sather has a win this season — in a June 27 race shortened due to damage to the track surface — and she’s coming off a second-place finish in last weekend’s race on the big track, Evergreen Speedway’s five-eighths mile oval.
“It was a good night, to be able to battle one of the best drivers in the Northwest, (race winner) Jason Fraser, it was a lot of fun,” Sather said. “I have always liked bigger tracks, the speed, everything about them. I grew up on a half-mile in Fargo.”
Shortly after Saturday’s race Sather will return to North Dakota for a visit before heading to the East Coast for meetings and to take part in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine. The next year’s class of D4D drivers will be selected at the combine, but for Sather it will be a time to search for a ride for next year.
“Since I was chosen this year, I get an automatic invite back, but that doesn’t guarantee a team for next year,” she said. Asked if she was looking for a particular location — East Coast, West Coast — or race track, Sather said: “I’m trying to keep my options open, when I make the decision it will be the best for my career.”
Although Sather said leaving the area and her newly-made friends and fans would be difficult, she plans on returning for the speedway’s championship banquet, and possibly this winter to do some snowmobiling, hunting or fishing.
Just remember folks, in a few years when she’s drafting off Joey Logano at Daytona — you saw her NASCAR career start.
One title will be decided on the track on Saturday, Evergreen Speedway’s Mini-Stock division championship.
Entering the season championship race, former rookie of the year Kris Harriss holds a 19-point lead over three-time champion Scott LaCross. No. 3 Jon Roberts is mathematically alive at 47 points back, but would need both of the drivers in front of him to have catastrophic nights to lift the division trophy.
Although LaCross has three feature wins this season to Harriss’ one, both have risen to the top of the standings by consistently finishing near the front of the field each week.
Regardless of which driver prevails on Saturday, one person who should be able to celebrate is Mindy Harriss, the wife of Kris Harriss and the owner of the car driven by LaCross.
For those of you who prefer sprint cars to late models, dirt to asphalt and grizzled sea captains to Racy Raccoon, Skagit Speedway is the place to be on Saturday night.
Fireworks will light up the sky after the 410, 360 and Sportsman Sprints, and Outlaw Hornet champions are determined, and fans will also have the chance to meet Captain Harry Lewis of the Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch.”
Based on look at Skagit Speedway’s Web site, it looks like Jesse Whitney has a good lead on No. 2 Colton Heath for the 410 title and in the Sportsman division Kelsey Carpenter has a good margin over No. 2 Bill Rude.
But in the 360 division, Brock Lemley leads No. 2 Rod Perkins by just 54 points and Cory Swatzina’s lead in the Outlaw Hornets is slimmer than that: 40 points over No. 2 Freddie Vela and 51 ahead of No. 3 Wade Swatzina.
NASCAR and the NHRA are on the East Coast this weekend, with the Cup and Truck series racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the Full Throttle Series at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.
IndyCar is a bit farther to the east, making the series’ annual visit to Japan where Danica Patrick will defend her victory last season at Twin Rings Motegi (TV: Versus, Friday at 7:30 p.m.). Can she do it? Of course she can. Will she? Probably not, as the Andretti Green Racing team hasn’t show itself to be capable of competing with the Ganassi and Penske powerhouses on either ovals or road/street courses.
NASCAR’s Cup Sylvania 300 returns the series to its more familiar Sunday slot (TV: ABC/Ch. 4 at 11 a.m.) while Snohomish County racers Richard Harriman and Tayler Malsam will compete in the Heluva Good! 200 truck-series race on Saturday (TV: Speed at noon).
The NHRA Carolinas Nationals will feature a special four-car exhibition for both Funny Car and Top Fuel (TV: ESPN2 for Saturday’s qualifying at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday’s eliminations at 4 p.m.)
This is the first round of their respective playoffs — the Chase and Countdown — for both the Cupsters and dragsters. Because we have almost no secrets between us (Note to off-the-record sources, don’t worry, I said “almost”), I’m going to admit something to you: I’ve spent so much time this week looking at racing locally that I haven’t given a lot of thought toward either the Chasers or Countdowners.
I’m not so much a fan of playoffs in racing, but I don’t see either group making a change just because of me. A couple general thoughts:
— Teams that were struggling going into the playoffs will probably not get their ships righted in time to make a difference, even if they ended the season on a high note. Think Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Karen Stoffer and Robert Hight.
— On the opposite end, teams that were surging in the final half to third of the regular season are likely going to make some noise in the playoffs; they may not take the hardware home but should have impressive runs. Think Brian Vickers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Pedregon.
— Some teams just have “it” and will always be threats to win it all. Think Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Schumacher and Jeg Coughlin.
— And what about those early leaders? Tony Stewart and Antron Brown clinched early, but Brown has continued to be a force to be reckoned with while Smoke has struggled lately. Just making the Chase was a huge step for new owner-driver Stewart, but I don’t see him going easy now. I expect both to be contenders down the stretch.
So many choices, so many variables. So hard on my little brain. Despite not preparing at all, I’m going to make my weekly picks AND try to guess the champions for NASCAR and NHRA.
Let’s go with Tony Stewart to return to the top of standings with a win in the NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire, and Kyle Busch to win the truck race (sleeper pick: Kevin Harvick in the No. 2).
I’ll take Scott Dixon in the IndyCar race in Japan, and Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tony Pedregon (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in the NHRA Carolinas Nationals.
Making it to the Wheaties box (i.e., the Champions)
NASCAR Sprint Cup: Jimmie Johnson to 4-peat (although I would not be surprised — or unhappy — to see Mark Martin take it home).
NHRA Top Fuel: Antron Brown; Funny Car: Ashley Force Hood; Pro Stock: Jeg Coughlin; Pro Stock Motorcycle: Eddie Krawiec.