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Bendele optimistic about SE Series return to Houston Motorsports Park Saturday


by: Jason Mitchell


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brandon Bendele is hoping to have a little home track advantage on Saturday night in the Houston 150 as the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series makes a return visit to Houston Motorsports Park for the second race of the 2005 season.


A two-time NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series regional champion from San Antonio, Bendele is hoping to move his finishing position up a couple of places from last year at Houston, when he led the first half of the race before getting passed by eventual race winner Jason Hogan, en route to a third-place finish in his Southeast Series debut.


“I’ve won at Houston Motorsports Park before so I think I’m going to have a little bit of a home field advantage, at least I hope that’s the case,” Bendele says. “The touring series that I’m racing in now races at Houston like three times a year. We’ve always seemed to run up front at Houston. Then again, I have to be realistic because I know how hard it’s going to be to beat guys like Fultz, Hogan as well as every driver in the field because all those guys are so tough.


“Anybody that starts a Southeast Series race has a legitimate chance of winning. If you can win a Southeast Series race, you’ve really done something special. If we catch some luck Saturday night, qualify up towards the front and save our tires for the end of the race I think we’re going to have a shot at the win.”


Bendele’s first taste of Southeast Series action last year included a heated contest with Jeff Fultz for the runner-up position in the closing laps.


“I got by Jeff on the white flag lap last year and I think he thought I’d got into him a little more than I should have and he gave me a pretty good bump on the last lap and got by me,” Bendele says. “It’s going to be tough because he’s so good everywhere he goes. Having said that, there’s no rivalry or bad feelings between me and Jeff.


“It was just good and hard racing. Everybody raced each other very cleanly and that’s what I liked the best about racing in the Southeast Series.”


Bendele is one of four Texas drivers who will be competing in Saturday night’s race, joining Southeast Series regulars Robert Richardson II and Chris Davidson. Houston native Michael Crofford will be one of the hometown favorites as he makes his Southeast Series debut.


“I can tell you from experience that the Southeast Series is super competitive and they have a lot of talented drivers,” Bendele says. “I’ve heard from a couple of the guys that raced last weekend in the season-opener at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway and they have told me to expect it to be even more competitive this year. I was elated to finish third last year at Houston considering that was my first start in the Southeast Series.


“Hopefully we’ll have a good race Saturday night and be right up there in contention for the victory.”


Bendele, the driver of the No. 08 Premier Minerals/Dodson House Moving Chevrolet, most definitely has the most laps under his belt at Houston because of his past and current racing experience in a local Super Late Model touring series.


“The crowds that come out to watch the races at Houston are unbelievable and they really get into it,” Bendele says. “Last year’s race was unreal because we ran a lot of green flag laps despite the fact it was side-by-side racing all night long. It was exciting. Plus the facility at Houston is just amazing. It’s a first-class track and I know everybody who saw the Southeast Series race last year can’t wait for Saturday night. It should be a nice evening of great racing action.”


Despite his third-place finish last year at Houston, Bendele believes he is going to much more prepared than he was last season.


“I think we’re going to have a lot better car than we had last year because we’re using a different suspension package,” Bendele says. “Hopefully we’re also going to have a little more horsepower with the engine we’re going to be using this weekend. The main thing that hurt us last year was we missed almost an hour of practice. We put an old set of tires on for about the last 30 minutes of practice and we were last on the speed charts. For qualifying we put on four fresh tires and ended up towards the front.


“We just didn’t get the chance to spend as much time getting last year’s car ready as we would have liked even though it turned out to be a good night. We’re going to be a lot more prepared on Saturday night than we were last year.”


Bendele is a testament of the various drivers who have worked their way up the racing ladder through NASCAR’s short track support across the country. A regular competitor at San Antonio Speedway, Bendele won the 1999 and the 2001 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Regional championships.


“I got my career really started off when I ran at San Antonio (Tex.) Speedway which is a half-mile NASCAR-sanctioned track,” Bendele says. “I kind of feel like I’ve done all I can do in the state of Texas. I’d just love to move up to the Southeast Series level if a sponsor wanted to step up to the plate.


“[A win on Saturday] would be huge,” Bendele answers. “I don’t know if it’d be the greatest win of my career, but it would surely rank right up there.”


AUTOZONE DRIVER APPEARANCE: For race fans in the Houston area who want to get the chance to see a couple of Southeast Series cars and get a few autographs, the AutoZone store in Pasadena is scheduled to have drivers Chris Davidson and Dusty Williams on hand Friday evening from 6:00-8:00 p.m. The store’s address is 3601 Spencer Highway, Pasadena, Tex.




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