Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bowles Endures Brawling at Irwindale to Win Toyota All-Star Showdown

Photo Credit: Tood Warshaw

Since 2003, the Toyota All-Star Showdown has provided an ideal opportunity for up and coming drivers for NASCAR's lower touring series to show off their skills on a larger stage. With national television, big prize money and the chance to attract notoriety makes the half-mile oval of Toyota Speedway at Irwindale a popular race that any aspiring stock car racer would want to win. Prevailing in the 2011 edition of the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale's major showcase, California native Jason Bowles positioned himself in the right place at the right time to take victory in the Toyota All-Star Showdown in a race that challenged the survival of the fittest cars and drivers. Divided into three-stages (two 100-lap and a final 25-lap stint), 40 NASCAR K&N Series Tour cars would wage war in one of the more physical runnings of the Toyota All-Star Showdown.

With the pole sitting #44 Chevrolet of Derek Thorn taking the field to green, the first caution in the 225-lap event flew only 4 laps into the event when fire erupted from the #11 Chevrolet of Auggie Vidovich leaving an oily slick on the race track surface. Vidovich would be joined by several driver behind the wall early in Toyota All-Star Showdown with runner-up of last year's race Sergio Pena forced to park his Ford. Totaling 6 cautions falling in the first race segment, Thorn led unchallenged for the lead around the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.

Photo Credit: Tood Warshaw

Of the 40 cars that started the event, 16 were declared out of the race largely for accidents. This list included the reigning 2010 NASCAR K&N Series West champion Eric Holmes who was caught within a multi-car wreck on lap 27 including 8 competitors. Eric Holmes' NAPA Toyota, a former winner of the Super Late Model event during the Toyota All-Star Showdown weekend, settled into a finish of 35th position in the final results. A red flag was needed to clean the wreckage on the Irwindale oval.

After a pit stop under a competition caution, Andrew Myers' #77 Ford flew to the lead for what would be a drastically different second segment. Green flag racing for 92 laps, the stint ended with Travis Milburn backstretch spin on lap 195. Suffering a tire puncture leading, Andrew Myers was forced to pit road under the caution flag which also contained a 10-minute break. Ending of the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown second 100-lap segment, the caution is a stage for race's final run. It was within this 25-lap sprint that some major firework ignited at the front.

The #12 Toyota of Paulie Harraka took the lead as the third segment. However, Harraka would be rudely unseated on lap 206 when polesitter Derek Thorn skated up the race track through the turn 3-4 complex as the #44 Chevrolet spun out the #12 car. The incident involving 6 cars also consisted #32 Chevrolet of Dale Quarterly and the #66 Toyota of Steven Wallace resulted in carnage that netted a second red flag race stoppage. Citing Thorn for making avoidable contact, NASCAR ordered the #44 car of Derek Thorn to the back of the pack. Piloting a Rusty Wallace Racing-built #75 Toyota Camry, Jason Bowles was rewarded with the lead by result of Thorn being penalized by NASCAR.

While Bowles restarted out front, Greg Purlsey shot to the lead on lap 211 surging his #26 Ford to the first place spot. A 11th caution once again slowed the Toyota All-Star Showdown three lap later for a 3-car accident. With caution falling 11 laps to the end, NASCAR elected to save green flag laps by calling a third and final red flag period. With 8 laps remaining, Purlsey's chance of victory was upsetted he reported a flat tire on his #26 Ford. Dropping off the pace on the restart, Purlsey surrendered the lead with Jason Bowles surging to the top spot with the #75 Toyota going on to win the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown.

Fresh off the Toyota All-Star Showdown win, I have to admit that I was sort of put off by the first question asked by Speed TV race reporter Dick Berggren after Jason Bowles exited victorious from his #75 Toyota. "Are you surprised you won this when so many of the good guys didn't?". I know you can't say the right thing all the time but the last thing a race winner would is their emotional high to be buzz-killed by even accidental implication that a victory was some-how hollow.

As Jason Bowles piloted his #75 Toyota to victory for Canadian owner Marty Gaunt, the runner-up to the Toyota All-Star Showdown is Canadian driver DJ Kennington. A mainstay of the CASCAR Super Series and later the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, Kennington started off in 15th place where he consistently climbed into the top-10 and skillfully avoided trouble. Having made several starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, this run at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale is DJ Kennington's best NASCAR finish south of the Canadian border. Through the closing 9 laps, Kennington tested the bottom of the progressive-banked oval but was unable to gain the momentum to pass Bowles' #75 car. Rounding out the top-5 of the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown was Jonathon Gomez, Luis Martinez, Jr. and Johnny Borneman.

One of the more profiled acts making a first-ever endeavour into NASCAR stock car racing in the Toyota All-Star Showdown was motocross and rally car driver Travis Pastrana. Announcing he was stepping into NASCAR late last year with team owner Michael Waltrip, Pastrana's planned entrance into the NASCAR Nationwide Series for 7 races in 2011 requires the 27-year old to gain stock car seat time to satisfy NASCAR as well as himself and future team that his debut at the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis is appropriate. Driving a Boost Mobile-sponsored Toyota for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing, he recorded a 6th place finish at Irwindale surviving what was a treacherous half-mile.

Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw

A 2009 champion of the Camping World (now K&N Series) West Series, the 2011 Toyota All-Star race winner Jason Bowles spent a good deal of 2010 gaining seat time in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. As a highlight of his 2010 season Jason Bowles finished second at the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race during the Honda Indy of Toronto weekend and almost won the 100-mile event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve if foiled by Andrew Ranger on the race's final lap. With 2010 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington pulling off a magnificent 2nd place run at the checkered flag, the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown has easily provided some credence to the North-most stock car tour.

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