The history of the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale is interesting for fans and financially rewarding ($500,000) for racers. An impressive field of drivers entered this year, proving the premier NASCAR short-track event has grown in prestige and attendance since the first Showdown in 2003. That year the top 15 drivers in what is now known as the K & N Pro Series East and West were invited to compete in the 30 car field. The Showdown is known as “the Daytona 500 of short-track racing”. It features three and four-wide racing on the progressively banked 6, 9 and 12 degree half-mile. It is a showcase for upcoming ambitious, talented drivers seeking NASCAR racing careers. Drivers trying to impress national series car owners covet a victory in the Showdown to help open doors for them in one of NASCAR's three national series—Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.
NASCAR statistics show that 68 of 119 Showdown drivers also have started a NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Truck race. The Showdown is a non-point, stand alone event that occurs annually after the conclusion of point seasons for all drivers. Drivers from NASCAR touring series just below NASCAR's top three national series chase victory in the Showdown. The original weekend was in October. NASCAR switched it to the last weekend of January in 2009. The event is still considered the concluding race of the season, just as the NFL Super Bowl is the concluding NFL event of the season. It culminates the preceding racing season and whets the appetite for the upcoming season for fans and competitors alike. The event is officiated by NASCAR national short-track officials assigned by NASCAR headquarters.
Highlights from past Showdowns include:
> The emotional 2003 victory by Californian Austin Cameron. He had missed most of the season while undergoing cancer treatment.
> The first January Showdown had Sprint Cup rookie Joey Logano cross the finish line first in an orange Home Depot car after his final lap contact in turn four sent leader Peyton Sellers into the wall. NASCAR officials placed Logano 40th (last). Matt Kobyluck, a K & N East champion, became the first two-time Showdown winner. He also won in 2006.
> Logano won the January 2010 event legally in a thrilling two-man, race-long position-swapping duel with 17-year old Sergio Pena to bookend his 2007 victory and become the second two-time champion. Pena, a Columbian residing in Virginia, proved a talented, unknown young driver could still become an overnight sensation at the Showdown during the oval-track racing-starved month of January.
> Other winners were K & N East veteran Mike Johnson (2004) and Californian David Gilliland in 2005 after K & N East driver Mike Olsen was disqualified for using illegal right side wheels. Gilliland's success earned a Nationwide ride and he won a Nationwide race. That caught Robert Yates eye and resulted in a Yates Ford Cup season-long ride for David. He has raced in Cup ever since and was part of the three-car Front Row Motorsports team in recent seasons with a national sponsor (Taco Bell) for his No. 37 Ford.
The 2011 Showdown features top drivers from the K & N Pro Series East and West, (2010 champions Ryan Truex and Eric Holmes), plus international flavor with champions of NASCAR series in Canada (5-time 2010 winner D. J. Kennington and 3-time 2010 winner Andrew Ranger) and Mexico (German Quiroga), plus Mexican drivers Ruben Rovelo and Daniel Suarez. Miguel Paludo, a two-time Porsche Cup champion in his native Brazil, will race as a teammate to Pena. RACECAR Euro Series champion Lucas Lasserre, from France, also will compete for the first time at Irwindale. NASCAR's Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series National Champion Keith Rocco is another first-time Showdown entrant. The 25-year old driver from Connecticut had 21 victories, 39 top fives and 50 top tens in 53 starts. He won the Waterford Speedbowl modified division championship. NASCAR national series drivers such as Ron Hornaday, Jr., Matt Crafton, Trevor Bayne, Brian Ickler, Justin Lofton, Auggie Vidovich, and Ricky Carmichael have competed in past Showdowns. X-Games/Rally America rally driver Travis Pestrana entered the 2011 Showdown in the No. 99 Michael Waltrip Toyota Camry prior to making his Nationwide debut this year for Waltrip. Greg Pursley, the 2004 TS@I champion and 26 feature winner at Irwindale, 2004 California State and NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Whelen All-American National Champion will compete.
The importance and growth of the Showdown is shown by some of the 2011 entrants. Steven Wallace, a top ten Nationwide driver and son of 1989 Cup champion Rusty Wallace, is a first-time entrant. “It's a race we always watch during the off-season and is one I've always thought would be a lot of fun to drive.” K & N East and West 2010 race winners have guaranteed starting positions. They are: (East) - Ryan Truex, Brett Moffitt, Darrell Wallace, Jr, Ty Dillon. (West) – Paulie Harraka, Holmes, Vidovich, Patrick Long and Pursley. Max Gresham and Ranger won in both series. Open-wheel racers Chad Boat, Cole Whitt (P. 4 in East 2010 points), and Kevin Swindell (P. 7 in East 2010 points) are likely entrants. The Friday-Saturday Showdown has been televised live nationally from start to finish each year by SPEED TV coverage again has anchors Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth, with Dick Berggren and Jim Tretow the pit reporters. The Showdown format, a 225-lap race with breaks at the 100 and 200-lap marks, offers an exciting 25-lap sprint to the checkered flag. That is when fans have become accustomed to seeing daring passes and wild action by drivers vying for a prestigious Showdown victory.