Joanides Shatters Records in History Making Season

In 2008, driver Nick Joanides with his J&M Racing/Jackson Race Cars team posted incredible numbers in winning their first championship together. Along the way, they nearly captured an historical championship double, missing the late model title by just 8 points after two separate electrical failures led to finishes of 21st and 18th respectively. Those finishes cost them over 70 points. In the Super Late Model Division, Joanides posted a record setting 14 fast qualifying times, 17 consecutive top 3 finishes and 19 consecutive top 10 finishes on his way to the championship. Joanides’ 936 points were the most points ever scored in a single season to that point.

In 2008, many said that Joanides had no competition since former three-time Champion and all time win leader, Rip Michels, did not compete. Joanides’ nearest competitor was Travis Thirkettle, a former Late Model champion. Thirkettle put up a good fight as he remained within 40 points of Joanides until the second to last weekend.

In 2009, the team did not have the sponsorship to field cars in two separate divisions again. It was therefore decided that the team would sell the Late Model and just compete in the Super Late Model division and attempt to become only the second driver in track history to win back to back championships. A week before the season started, the Late Model had not sold. After still feeling the sting of losing the title the year before, the team asked owner Loyd McGhee if he would put up $10,000 for the Late Model. This was a very limited budget that the team expected would only get them through the first few races while hoping that additional sponsorship dollars would come as the season progressed.

Rip Michels announced he was returning to the Super Late Model division in 2009. Word quickly spread that Joanides’ fairytale run had come to an end as they expected Michels to once again dominate the division. With no Late Model budget, the perception was that Joanides would not be in contention for a championship this year in either division.

Opening night for the Super Late Model was a 100 lap main event. Joanides led 99 of the 100 laps to take the win, starting out the season first in points and giving him the opportunity to extend his consecutive number of weeks on top of the standings. Rip Michels, who has historically had slow starts to the season, finished 7th.

A week later was the opening night event for the Late Models. Joanides started 5th, took the third position on lap 3 and second on lap 20. At lap 40, he trailed last years win leader, Andrew Myers by more than 2 seconds. He however, quickly closed the gap, took the lead with 7 laps remaining and went on to win the season opener over three time champion Tim Huddleston. Joanides was once again back on top of the standings in two separate divisions.

In the Super Late Models, Joanides would go on to win three of the first four races of the season and opened up a 26 point advantage over Rip Michels. Everyone was expecting Rip to hit is groove and begin making a run at Joanides. It was not to be. Little did they know that the 26 point lead Joanides enjoyed would actually be enough. It was not until the 12th race of the season that Michels finally finished ahead of Joanides and scored his first win of the year. By this time, Joanides had already racked up 8 wins in the first 11 races and was 64 points ahead.

Joanides never slowed down throughout the rest of the season as he went on to post 13 regular season wins in the 21 race schedule to go along with 19 top 2 finishes and his worst finishes of the season were a 3rd and a 5th place. In total, Joanides racked up an amazing 1,026 points, giving up just 24 points over the course of the entire season. His final margin of victory over Michels was 88 points. 

The teams last 42 races over the past two seasons in the premier Super Late Model division has resulted in 24 wins, an amazing 36 top two and 40 top three finishes, to go along with 41 top five and 42 top ten finishes.

To put an exclamation point on the end of the season, the team entered the Eibach Springs 100 Lap Open Comp Super Late Model season finale. With a fresh engine and setup, they completely dominated the weekend by posting the fastest time in practice, then backing that up with the fastest qualifying time. They went on to lead 99 of the 100 laps to easily win the race. Their fastest race lap time was more than 2/10ths of second faster than the next fastest car.

In the Late Model division, things continued smoothly through the first ten races of the season as Joanides picked up another win and posted 8 podium finishes to go along with a 9th place finish in the second race where they ran old tires due to the tracks tire rule and a 6th place finish in the seventh race of the season when Joanides had to start last due to attending a wedding earlier in the day.

After the 10th race however, things began looking bleak. With the lack of funding, the car was beginning to suffer from wear and tear that the team could not afford to remedy. They would post only one podium finish (3rd) over the next four races. With Huddleston on fire and winning five of six races at one point, Joanides lost the point lead. He trailed by 16 points and the team considered parking the car as it was apparent they no longer had enough to be competitive and get back into the championship race.

My how fortunes change!!! Last season, Joanides lost a sizable point lead when the second electrical failure occurred. This season, Huddleston was caught up in an accident that allowed Joanides to retake the point lead. Joanides finished off the season with four consecutive top 5 finishes and managed to extend the point lead each race. To the surprise of many, including Joanides himself, he pulled off a Victory in the season finale with a worn out car he felt would be fortunate just to make it to the finish line. The win  gave him the championship by 38 points over Huddleston.

Joanides became the first driver in track history to win Championships in the top two divisions, let alone in the same season! He easily ended any doubt about the strength of the team and that 2008 was not a fluke as he took down the two winningest drivers at the track as well as two separate three time champions. Rip Michels, is the winningest driver in track history with 60 wins and is the 2002, 2003 and 2007 Super Late Model Champion. Tim Huddleston is the second winningest driver with 43 wins and is the 2005, 2007 and 2008 Late Model Champion.

Joanides has posted an amazing 34 wins in just three years of racing at the track, easily the shortest amount of time to reach that figure. The total moved Joanides to fifth on the all time win list at the track. One would think it can’t get any better than this, but the accolades didn’t end there.

Lucas Oil decided to add a championship season within a season with the Lucas Oil Slick Mist Series. The series consisted of 6 selected Super Late Model events to be counted toward the final point standings. Joanides went on to win four of the six races and finished second in the other two races to easily win the title over Danny Gay.

West Coast tracks typically do not stand a chance in the Nascar Whelen All-American Series National Standings as they do not compete in enough races when compared to teams back east that have multiple tracks in a small radius to increase their race total to 30, 40 or more races. Toyota Speedway at Irwindale is the only track within a 300 mile radius to utilize the same Super Late Model cars, therefore the team is realistically limited to the 21 race schedule at the home track. The series takes a drivers best 18 finishes throughout the year, so drivers that compete in 30 or 40 races obviously stand a much better chance at posting 18 strong finishes toward their point total.

With Joanides’ incredible numbers throughout the year, he remained in contention all season long for the National title and in fact led the points per race average for most of the year. In the National race, car count is the most significant factor as points are scored in reverse order at 2 points per car. Joanides reached his final point total faster than any other driver in the series and actually posted the most wins in the series, despite competing in 20 fewer races. His top 5 percentage was also the best in the nation. The title was appearing to be a real possibility late in the season. However as the top 2 drivers exceeded their 18 race total, they were able to drop off their bad races and pad their points. Joanides ultimately lost the championship by just 28 points. Through the middle portion of the season, Toyota Speedway suffered from the down economy, resulting in lower car counts than tracks back east located in the hub of racing. The 28 point deficit means that if just one additional car had shown up throughout the season, Joanides would have gained an additional 36 points (2 points for that car multiplied by 18 races). The eventual National Champion competed in 28 races (7 more than Joanides), however won only 9 times and posted only 20 top five finishes (1 less than Joanides’ 21). Car count proved to be the difference. The second place finisher competed in a whopping 45 races. With 24 more races than Joanides, he equaled Joanides’ win total and top 5 finishes, allowing him to edge Joanides by just 3 points for the runner up position. An interesting note: Joanides scored 813 points in his 21 races. Champion Phillp Morris’ point total after his first 21 races was 779 and runner up Keith Rocco had scored just 706 points after 21 races. Joanides easily scored the most points per race average throughout the season when taking all races into account. Joanides was honored at the National Whelen All-American Series banquet in Charlotte for the team's accomplishments.

Joanides was however able to capture the California State Championship. Like the National Standings, point totals for a drivers best 18 races are compared to drivers from four other tracks in the state. While the second place driver competed in 8 more events, Joanides was able to easily capture the State title with a 90 point margin of victory. The State title gave Joanides four championships in 2009. 

In total, Joanides competed in 43 events between the two divisions, posting 17 wins, 34 top 3, 38 top 5 and 42 top 10 finishes. In the Super Late Model division, he shattered nearly every statistical record with the exceptions being only the number of consecutive wins, still held by Rip Michels at 7 and total wins during the season, which he tied with former national champion, Greg Pursley, at 14.

Records broken include: Item, record number, year broken and in parenthesis, (the prior record holders number, name and year).

Most fast times in a single season – 14 - 2008 (13 – R.Michels, 2009)

Most consecutive fast times – 12 - 2008 (9 – R.Michels, 2007)

Most top 10 finishes in a single season – 23 - 2009 (19 – NJ, 2008) (17 - G.Pursley, 2004)

Most consecutive top 10 finishes – 42 - 2008/2009 (still counting) (13 – R.Michels, 2003)

Most top 5 finishes single season – 23 – 2009 (17 – NJ, 2008) (15 – G.Pursley, 2004)

Most consecutive top 5 finishes – 23 – 2009 (still counting) (17 – NJ, 2008) (10 – T.Bruncatti, 2004)

Most top 3 finishes in a single season – 22 - 2009 (17 – NJ, 2008) (15- G.Pursley, 2004)

Most consecutive top 3 finishes – 20 - 2009 (17 – NJ, 2008) (10- T.Bruncatti, 2004)

Most points in a single season – 1026 - 2009 (936 – NJ, 2008) (828 – G.Pursley, 2004)

Highest Average Finish in a single season – 1.57 - 2009 (3.00 – G. Pursley, 2004)

Most points per race average in a single season – 48.86 – 2009 (46.00 – G.Pursley, 2004)

Most point race wins in a single season – 13 - 2009 (Tied with G.Pursley, 2004)

Most race wins in a single season, including season ending open comp event – 14 – 2009 (Tied with G.Pursley, 2004)

Most consecutive races with point lead – 33 – (Began Race #9, 06-14-08 and still counting)