Jason Bowles’ 2011 schedule may still be up in the air, but that didn’t stop NASCAR observers from tabbing him as the driver with the most momentum heading into the season.
Bowles’ win at the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in January earned him six first-place votes among the 14 panelists and a one-point edge over defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Keith Rocco for the top spot in the preseason edition of the Hunter Index.
“After a huge win at the All-Star Showdown and a top-five in the 2011 ARCA Series Opener, things have never looked brighter for Bowles,” said voter Spencer Lewis, representing the Canadian publication Inside Track Motorsports News. “Add to that the fact that the California native plans on racing all across the continent this season, and you have a driver with momentum behind him, and pressure and attention on him.”
The Hunter Index, which was launched in 2010 on NASCARHomeTracks.com, is a monthly power poll designed to highlight the standout performances in the NASCAR developmental series.
Drivers are ranked on their performance over the previous month. The rankings are compiled by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives. This season, the panel was expanded to 12 media members from across North American with experience covering NASCAR’s touring and weekly series, along with two voters from NASCAR.
The resulting preseason poll had 43 different drivers receive at least one vote, with six different drivers receiving a first-place vote. While Bowles led the way, Rocco, defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Bobby Santos (third overall) and Ted Christopher (seventh overall) each received two apiece.
"What's not to like about Bobby Santos going into the 2011 season?” said Shawn Courchesne of the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. “The defending champion of one of the most competitive developmental divisions in NASCAR returns to the seat for the most successful team on the Whelen Modified Tour over the last four seasons. And he kicks off the season with events at two tracks where he's historically been dominant.”
DJ Kennington and Burt Myers received one first-place vote each.
Kennington, the defending NASCAR Candian Tire Series champion and NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown runner-up, finished fourth in the preseason voting, followed by Myers. Myers finished the 2010 season with back-to-back wins to claim his first NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour title.
Brett Moffitt (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), Christopher, Eric Holmes (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West), Philip Morris (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Matt Hirschman (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour) rounded out the top 10.
Panelists rank their top 15, with first place receiving 15 points, second 14, third 13 and so on.
The Hunter Index is named for the late Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications and a longtime supporter of the weekly and touring series that make up the NASCAR Developmental Series.
The Index was designed as an opportunity to compare the top drivers from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series all the way up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. It will also encompass drivers from the NASCAR Mexico Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West opens Thursday at Phoenix International Raceway. Openers for the other touring series are: NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Sunday, March 13 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C.; NASCAR Mexico Series, Sunday, March 20 in Monterrey; NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Saturday, March 26 at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway; NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Sunday, April 10 at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway; and NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, Sunday, May 28 at Mosport Speedway, Bowmanville, Ont. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series opens at sanctioned tracks across North American throughout the spring.
The Hunter Index will come out the first Thursday of each month, beginning in April and running through November.
The panel also included media members: J.A. Ackley, Dick Berggren’s Speedway Illustrated; Shawn Courchesne, Hartford (Conn.) Courant; Bob Dillner, SPEED; Adam Fenwick, National Speed Sport News; Tim Haddock, haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com; Keith Lair, Los Angeles Newspaper Group; Spencer Lewis, Inside Track Motorsports News; Jorge Mondaca, FOXSports.com; Pat Patterson, SIRIUS NASCAR Ch. 128/ESPN Radio; Len Sammons, Area Auto Racing News; David Smith, DavidSmithMotorsports.com; and Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com. They are joined by Brett Bodine, who is the chairman of the NASCAR Resumé Committee and represents the NASCAR competition side on the panel, and Jason Christley, a NASCAR public relations representative.
PRESEASON HUNTER INDEX
1. JASON BOWLES
NASCAR K&N Pro Series/NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
Why he’s here: The Ontario, Calif., native and 2009 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion won the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in January and plans to run a handful of NASCAR K&N Pro Series and NASCAR Canadian Tire Series races.
2. KEITH ROCCO
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Why He’s Here: The Wallingford, Conn. driver will look to celebrate the 30th year running of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series by becoming just the third driver to win back-to-back national championships.
3. BOBBY SANTOS
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Why He’s Here: In addition to returning to the Bob Garbarino-owner Mystic Missile, he’s currently 10th in NASCAR Nationwide Series points after a solid run at Daytona.
4. DJ KENNINGTON
NASCAR Canadian Tire Series/NASCAR K&N Pro Series
Why He’s Here: Defending Candian Tire Series champion plans on running a handful of K&N Pro Series races, starting Thursday at Phoenix.
5. BURT MYERS
NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour
Why He’s Here: Finished last year with back-to-back wins and eyes defense of his tour title and Modified Division track title at Bowman Gray Stadium.
6. BRETT MOFFITT
NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
Why He’s Here: Capped season with second straight win at Dover, and now jumps to championship ride in No. 00 for Michael Waltrip Racing.
7. TED CHRISTOPHER
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Why He’s Here: Ended the 2010 season in Victory Lane at Thompson in the Whelen Modified Tour race, and hopes to open 2011 in the same place.
8. ERIC HOLMES
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
Why He’s Here: Quest for fourth K&N West title begins the same place he won at to get rolling last spring and where he lifted the championship trophy last fall.
9. PHILIP MORRIS
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Why He’s Here: Three-time national champion finished last year strong with extra-distance wins at Martinsville and South Boston.
10. MATT HIRSCHMAN
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Why He’s Here: Finished second in points last time he ran the tour full-time (2008) and takes over the seat in the historic Ol’ Blue No. 3 to challenge Santos.
HONORABLE MENTION: Craig Preble (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Jonathon Gomez (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West), Darrell Wallace Jr. (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), Travis Pastrana (NASCAR K&N Pro Series), and Mike Stefanik (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour).