Caisse taking his best shot

Sean Caisse spent the last couple of months waging internal war with his own confidence.

While the youngsters in the NASCAR Busch East Series are wooed by Nextel Cup Series organizations, put in cars that were once Cup rides and lavished with press clippings, Caisse has found himself in sort of a racing purgatory. Coupled with 4 straight poor finishes after a win at Elko Speedway in Minnesota, the 21-year-old driver from Pelham, N.H., was beginning to let frustration set in.

Some of that was alleviated with Saturday night's win in the Pepsi Racing 100 at Thompson International Speedway.

"Maybe this is just a lesson for me to stay grounded. I don't know what it is," Caisse said. "It sometimes is a little frustrating. ... We need to figure out something to do to get to the next level, because I'm ready and I think I'll be competitive."

How to make that leap to a Busch Series ride or into a Nextel Cup development contract is the puzzling part. Does Caisse need to win championships or does he just need to win a bunch of races in order to get noticed?

"I think there's two ways to look at it," Caisse said. "We only have a 13-race season. I think what teams are really looking for is consistency in finishing races, winning poles, things like that. How do you stand out? You've got to get poles. You've got to lead laps. You've got to run out front."

While the rookies were tearing up race cars behind him one after another to the tune of 9 caution periods, Caisse led all but 2 of the 108 laps in the event. Matt Kobyluck finished 2nd and defending series champion Mike Olsen was third.

Busch East Series: Pepsi Racing 100

Unofficial top-5 in the Pepsi Racing 100 at Thompson International Speedway:

1. Sean Caisse, Pelham, N.H.; 2. Matt Kobyluck, Uncasville, Conn.; 3. Mike Olsen, North Haverhill, N.H.; 4. Joey Logano, Middletown, Conn.; 5. Brad Leighton, Center Harbor, N.H.

Story to follow...

1st time for everything

Ben Rowe thought this day would never come.

Four times the bridesmaid, four times finishing 2nd to someone else. On Saturday night, the 3-time PASS North Series champion finally broke through at Thompson International Speedway.

"I've finished second to everybody -- Ted Christopher, Rick Martin, a lot of people," Rowe said after winning the Pepsi Racing 75 ahead of rookie Trevor Sanborn and his father, Mike Rowe. "I didn't know what I'd have to do to get out of here with a win. It was always second-best. But this is one of my favorite tracks, so this means a lot."

Ben Rowe led the first 38 laps before Rick Martin took over on a restart. Six laps later, Rowe was back out front and long gone in the same car he will take to the IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway in Antigonish, N.S. next weekend.

"We went to Halifax with this car and finished second, so we're heading in the right direction," Rowe said. "This was not really even the car we wanted to bring here, but we think we found something with it."

Rowe padded his points lead with his 1st North Series win of the season. Johnny Clark entered the night 2nd in the standings, but he fell to 3rd after cutting a right front tire under speed and hitting the turn one wall hard. Clark ended up 16th, 18 laps down to the winner.

Richie Dearborn and Adam Bates rounded out the top five. Derek Ramstrom, who drove through the infield grass while running in the top-5 just 7 laps in, rallied back to finish 6th. Bill Penfold, Larry Gelinas, Les Rose Jr. and Gary Bellefleur ran 7th through 10th at the checkered flag.

PASS North Series: Pepsi Racing 75

Unofficial PASS North Series top-5 from Thompson International Speedway:

1. Ben Rowe, Turner; 2. Trevor Sanborn, Parsonsfield; 3. Mike Rowe, Turner; 4. Richie Dearborn, Hollis; 5. Adam Bates, Warner, N.H.

Story to follow...

Making quick work with Craven, Smith

Plenty of credit should be given to Riverside Speedway, which, despite nearly letting the Bill Elliott fiasco ruin their marquee event, has rebounded incredibly well in short order.

For a while there last week, it looked as though the Atlantic Canada track was going to spout off and taint its own good name by getting into a war of he said-she said with the Cup Series driver Elliott. Instead, they got to work and landed 2 drivers that will help to erase that bitter scene.

Driver of the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet Regan Smith is in -- and so, too, is one of the local heroes who can generate fan interest in these parts with the best of them, Ricky Craven.

There are 2 phenomenal aspects to this story. First, they put this together in a matter of a couple of days, when these things often drag on for months on end. Secondly, they get a guy in Smith that they need not defend to fans. He's a legitimate rising star in the NASCAR game.


Cassius at home; readying for Riverside

Ultimately, Cassius Clark just decided he wouldn't be competitive enough to warrant the trip to Thompson, Conn.

Clark is at home in Farmington while the PASS North Series cars are lining up for the Pepsi Racing 75 at Thompson International Speedway. Because of the way his No. 8 Ford is built, he could not fit a dry sump engine in the car -- and, without PASS allowing the usual 100-pound weight break at Thompson for that engine option, he figured he would not be a factor.

Already just 11th in the standings after being stripped of a win and the points at Speedway 95 in May, he decided just to stay home.

Clark will be back next weekend for the IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway in Antigonish, and he will be there in a car fielded by Scotia Speedworld.

Features, dead ahead

Qualifying is in the books for the Busch East Series Pepsi Racing 100 at Thompson International Speedway. Ditto for the Pepsi Racing 75 for the PASS North Series.

Sean Caisse, who drives for Andy Santerre Motorsports, will lead the 30-car BES grid to the green flag, with Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Marc Davis starting second. Part-time series competitor Eddie MacDonald starts third, with Joey Logano and Peyton Sellers rounding out the top-5.

Caisse toured the .625-mile high-banked oval in 20.382 seconds -- good for an average lap speed of 109.508 mph. He won the Bud Pole by just .002 seconds over Davis.
Ben Rowe of Turner won the first of 3 PASS North heats, with Steven Berry of Gorham and
Derek Ramstrom of West Boylston, Mass., taking heat wins, too. As they line up for the feature, Rowe owns a 28-point lead over Johnny Clark, who finished third in the final heat.

Noticeable among the PASS absentees is Cassius Clark. He was pre-entered for the event, but is not here despite being the defending race winner.

It's all about the timing

Nothing saps the energy out of a race program faster than 3/4 of an hour of time trials.

I'm not a hardcore "heat races are better than time trials" kind of guy. Truthfully, I see both sides of the argument pretty clearly. What I don't understand is why tracks schedule time trials smack in the middle of the show.

Heat races for the PASS North Series, followed by heat races for the Thompson International Speedway's NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions. The program makes the natural progression from heat racing, building that crescendo as it approaches feature time....

Then the red/black flag flies on the whole thing, because "NASCAR" is in town and they've got to time trial when they want to time trial. Fantastic.

We'll all just sit here and wait it out...

If you want to time trial, it's all well and good. But start the program with it and run the heat races afterward. That's all we're asking. Give us the choice of avoiding it.

Where's the love, man?

As the second of 2 qualifying heats for Thompson International Speedway's Limited Sportsman division circled the track on its pace laps, a member of the HDNET television crew asked an innocent question.

"Are these the PASS Series cars?"

Look, PASS is known across North America -- from Nova Scotia to Florida, from Connecticut to Texas. Hey, you may never have seen them race, but is it unrealistic to expect that someone with a racing pedigree would be able to tell the difference between a 1980 Pontiac and a purpose-built Super Late Model chassis?

I mean, click on the Internet and look around. You'll see that while they may not have "NASCAR Race Car" stickers affixed to them, but PASS North Series cars are typically professional in their appearance and their product.

A Busch-league feel

How far has the NASCAR Busch East Series grown in the last calendar year?

Try this: There are 31 BES cars at Thompson International Speedway for their Pepsi Racing 100 tonight. By contrast, there are only 24 Super Late Models -- including a chunk of the track's weekly regulars -- in the pit area for a 75-lap feature.

Still, the sun is shining and the weather is perfect for a midsummer day of racing. Apparently, the fans here in Connecticut never got the memo.

Someone daring enough could walk through the grandstand and introduce themselves to everyone sitting there.

The first of 3 PASS North Series heats are hitting the track right now. The feature is set for sometime after 7 p.m., with the BES main around 8:30. We'll keep you posted.


Aside from those among us who have to shave the No. 8 out of our hair-do or get a little surgery to replace the "Bud" tattoo we have on our shoulder, we'll all forget in short order about how Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Budweiser seem to go hand-in-hand.

Maybe I mean can-in-hand.

And shame on you for believing anything lasts forever in NASCAR.

Remember when we couldn't imagine anything other than Winston as the Cup Series' title sponsor? Remember when we couldn't imagine Mark Martin driving anything other than a Ford? Remember when the Busch Series was just the Busch Series, without the need for a new (sponsorship) name and not a 2-hour Cup final practice session?

No matter what colors Earnhardt Jr. ends up carrying in 2008, this much is certain: the sport's marketing machine will ensure that, come Daytona in February, you'll equate Little E with a new sponsor and likely new number.
"I'm a race car driver," Earnhardt said. "All I can do is drive as hard as I can for my fans and sponsorship partners, and give my best effort each weekend."
It will be like things never changed -- even if he's walking around the motorhome lot with a bowl full of corn flakes and not a case of Budweiser.

Home sweet home

The application for media credentials was returned with the subject line: "WELCOME HOME." Seems the good folks at Thompson International Speedway haven't forgotten me.

I got my start covering weekly racing at Thompson, back before I returned home to Maine. I can't wait to go back on Saturday for the PASS North Series/Busch East Series doubleheader. I haven't been back to the track in 2 years.
See, Thompson is the place where the Connecticut 3M was born, hatched as an evil plan between Shawn Courchesne and myself. Now, I run the Maine chapter for the family.

I never got used to the idea of short-track weekly racing on a .625-mile, high-banked oval, but the place still holds a lot of memories for me. I can't wait to go back and see some of my old friends and the teams I used to cover. I'm also looking forward to seeing PASS and the Busch cars in the same place at the same time. Kind of a little middleweight battle right there in Connecticut, and it will be fun to see who shines brightest.
Not that this is a competition.
Then again, racing is all about competition. There's a reason they refer to these things as "shows."


Pro Stocks: Full speed ahead

At a time when racetracks across the country are axing the Pro Stock division from their weekly lineups, Farmingdale's Doug White is adding the class.

After 22 race teams turned out for an informational meeting on Wednesday night, White officially stamped Aug. 4 as the return of the Pro Stocks to Wiscasset Raceway. The division -- which will be sponsored by the father of two-time PASS North Series champion Johnny Clark, John Clark -- will race an undetermined distance each week for a winner's purse of $1,200 under PASS rules.

There will be eight Pro Stock features this season, including a 100-lap event on Sept. 8., and a full season-long schedule in 2008. Additionally, the PASS North Series has a 150-lap race scheduled for Aug. 19 at the track.

Read the rest of the story in today's Kennebec Journal.


Spud's opening on hold

Spud Speedway won't open this weekend, as previously planned.

New track owner Greg Veinote confirmed Thursday that state inspectors have yet to check the place out and give it the OK. In fact, Veinote said in a phone message, they were supposed to have arrived on Monday.

Greg's still waiting for them to show.

In the meantime, the tentative plan is for Spud to open on Sunday, July 22. We all know what day that is -- maybe Spud's opening is the big event we kept hearing would rival the Oxford 250 this year.


Meeting of the (like) minds

I'm not sure what to make of the Pro Stock meeting that's going to take place at Wiscasset Raceway on Wednesday.

On one hand, we're led to believe there will easily be 15-18 teams showing up to express interest in running the division at the track. On the other, it's hard to imagine more than 10-12 actually commit to the weekly series.

It was supposed to be a meeting that would gauge interest from area competitors regarding the return of Pro Stock racing to the track. Instead, given new owner Doug White's gung-ho attitude regarding all things Wiscasset Raceway, the meeting seems to be nothing more than a marketing tool aimed at selling the division to the track's competitors.

After all, White already has a sponsor for the division in Clark's Car Crushing and a date for the first race (Aug. 4). What's left? How many laps to run?

I won't be at the meeting -- I'm fishing out of a tent site on Rangeley Lake for a couple of days...

I'll be interested to see who was there and how real the commitments are. Even still, the people who do show up are the ones that are for the division's reinstatement -- what about the voice of the opposition. Believe it or not, I've already heard from those who are against the Pro Stocks' imminent return.

All this ... for 50 bucks?

Clearly, Riverside Speedway is struggling to legitimize its upcoming PASS IWK 250 on July 21, at least to its fans.

On the heels of the announcment that former Cup Series champ Bill Elliott is passing on this race, came a press release from the track in Antigonish, N.S., telling fans that just because Elliott wasn't coming didn't mean the ticket prices for the event would drop.

In fact, in justifying its $50 reserved ticket price, the track claimed that there would still be 3 divisions of racing on that Saturday — including the PASS main event which would feature "30 Pro Stocks."

Stop me in my shoes.

Isn't that, like, a $20 ticket most anywhere else -- $30 tops, for a 250-lap show, if you really want to squeeze it out of the fans?

But Riverside hasn't stopped there. In fact, later today it posted on its Web site that it had conducted a "phone poll" of teams, reporting 14 Maritime race teams were planning on attending, as were 14-16 PASS North teams. With that it said there were still a couple of other teams on the fence, and a plea to other teams interested to call the speedway.

All this from the race that was supposed to rival the TD Banknorth 250 when it was announced that something was in the works last summer...

No matter what the final number of Late Models to make the trip to Oxford in less than 2 weeks will be, I'll guarantee it will be more than 30. Terry Labonte and Kevin Lepage will still be there, and the ticket price won't have to be justified to the fans who've already paid the admission price.


Awesome Bill PASSes on Riverside

People making the 9-hour trek to Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the PASS North Series race there on July 21st won't see former Cup champion Bill Elliott when they get there.

According to Riverside Speedway, Elliott canceled his appearance there on Friday and then told the track, "Now stop bugging me."

Word first came that Elliott would be racing in the IWK 250 in late-April, after Riverside Speedway secured an agreement to have Elliott drive a car provided by a local race team. Of course, that was also before Elliott had agreed upon a part-time return to Nextel Cup racing this season in the No. 21 Fords owned by the Wood Brothers.

Riverside management released a pointed statement, roundly criticizing Elliott's decision.

Here are some of the highlights from that release:

* “We received notice in writing that Bill Elliott has backed out of his commitment. He stated that, ‘There is no way I am going to Nova Scotia to race that weekend. Now stop bugging me.’”

* “So much for Elliott’s southern gentleman persona. He has proven to us that he is not a man of his word, and his cavalier attitude shows he is nothing more than a prima dona.”

* “If we had any idea Elliott was that kind of person, we would never have approached him, but instead chosen a Cup driver that understands a deal and the seriousness of his actions.”

* “The credibility of the track and promoters has been compromised by these uncontrollable circumstances.”

Uh, wow.

Actually, the credibility of the track and promoters is taking a greater hit with all of the grade-school accusations and carrying-ons in their statement. Cup drivers, like all of us, need to be held accountable, but expecting us to understand your predicament while giving no consideration to his is out of bounds.

Besides, maybe Michael Waltrip's looking for a competitive ride that night.

That's a wrap IV

Rain dominated the slate in Maine over the weekend. Nonetheless, here's a recap of what did take place.

Gear jammin': Daytona

Top 4 stories from the Pepsi 400 weekend:

1st gear -- Sprint the new title sponsor: When NASCAR made the big move to rename the Cup series and sell its television rights years ago, the buzzword was all about continuity. They wanted fans to be able to recognize the brand easily, and they wanted fans to be able to find the racing on the tube. It's more difficult than ever to locate NASCAR on television, and now it's becoming nearly as difficult to keep up with the name changes. Starting Jan. 1, it'll be the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Like when Nextel was unveiled, it will take some getting used to the change. Expect to be blitzed with marketing programs over the winter, ones aimed at getting you used to the change.

2nd gear -- Handling the track: For most of the Pepsi 400, the race looked like one at any of the D-shaped quad-ovals the Cup Series competes at week in and week out. Cars were strung out, and passing was difficult deep in the field as drivers complained about handling issues. The summer Daytona race has always been about getting the cars to turn, though it seemed to be even more so this time around. A late-race restart changed all of it, however, and made it look like just another wild restrictor-plate race.

3rd gear -- McMurray takes trip to VL: There's been a string of different winners over the last 6 weeks or so, with Jamie McMurray joining the likes of Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr. as drivers positioning themselves to make the next step. The best thing about McMurray's win was that he both overcame an early penalty for passing under the yellow out-of-bounds line and he capitalized in being in position to win on the last lap. It appeared to be a big step forward in the driver's on-track maturation proccess.

4th gear -- Battling bunkmates: Whats the No. 1 rule for teammates? Race each other hard, but don't wreck one another. Uh, hello, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, who not only crashed but did so very, very early in the Pepsi 400. Stewart, per usual, was pointed in his criticism of Hamlin -- teammate or not. Meanwhile, Roush Fenway Racing mates McMurray and Carl Edwards worked together to get McMurray the victory. It's still a team sport, especially in the restrictor-plate game.