(04-27-2010) - Toyota Speedway will have a first time Super Late Model Champion in 2010 as the plug is pulled on 2 time defending champion, Nick Joanides’ Super Late Model program.

Just one week prior to the start of the 2010 racing season, the J&M Racing team had not secured sponsorship and it appeared they would not be racing. Team owner, Loyd McGhee, scraped together enough funding at the last minute to compete in three races.

After winning championships in both the ACDelco Super Late Model and Auto Club Late Model in 2009, they had to decide which series they wanted to focus on. Ultimately their real motivation for 2010 was to chase a National championship after falling just short last year, which would mean running the Super Late Model. Either way, more sponsorship had to be found to go beyond three races.

The National points are determined primarily based on overall car counts, so to win a National title, the track has to have at least 20 cars in each race, since points are scored based on the number of cars in the field. Anything less than 20 cars means a loss of points, regardless of finishing position.

With just 20 cars on opening night, uncertainty surrounded the Super Late Model series. Since car counts typically drop from opening night, the team opted to run the first two events in both divisions before making a final decision and hope that they could find sponsorship to continue.

McGhee succeeded in securing sponsorship last week. The funding would allow them to either compete in the entire Late Model Series or just over half of the Super Late Model series. If they chose they Super Late, they would have to hope more sponsorship could be found to finish out the year.

Joanides won the opening night Super Late Model race with a full 20-car field, scoring maximum national points. However the second race drew just 14 cars. While Joanides won that race too, he lost 12 points due to the lack of a full field. With this car count, a National title will not be possible. Car count was the only reason Joanides did not win the National title last year as his results of 13 wins and 6 second place finishes were by far the best in the nation. However due to smaller than full fields, he did not receive maximum points every week and ultimately ended up in third.

Last year, the maximum field was set at 23 cars, however Nascar realized that many tracks were suffering from the down economy and few were able to reach that number on a weekly basis. For 2010, the number was reduced to 20 cars. Nascar informed Joanides that if that figure been in place for 2009, he would have won the title.

With four races already in the books, three with 14 car fields, all drivers in the division have already lost a total of 36 national points due to the car count. With the national point race always extremely close, even if the field suddenly jumped back up to 20 cars by the next event, that loss is likely already too much to overcome.

After the second race had only 14 cars, the team decided to give it one more week to see if more would show up for the twin events. When only 14 showed up, they had to weigh the interests of the sponsors and where they would get their best bang for the buck. Ultimately they decided that would be in the Late Model division.

With 19 cars qualifying within 2/10ths of a second at the last Late Model event, the team determined that, with no chance at a National Championship, the Late Model division was the best way to go. Not only is it significantly cheaper to run, the competition level thus far has been outstanding. Furthermore, there are also more race dates for the sponsors to enjoy.

With the 2nd through 6th place and 11 (now 12) of the top 14 drivers in last year’s final Super Late Model standings not returning full time in 2010, it was unanimously agreed upon that the sponsors would much rather see tight racing in a 20+ car field and for less money.

“The Super Lates appear to have taken the biggest hit in this economy, so the Late Models are putting on a better show right now for our sponsors. Plus we have no way of knowing where the car count will settle in the Super Lates, so with no chance at a National title, we feel we’re better off with a guarantee to run an entire Late Model season than just a partial season in the Super Lates and no guarantee that we could make it the entire season with the funding we currently have”.

Joanides commented that with he and Rip (Michels) out for the year, it leaves the division wide open to the new young talent that has joined the series this year. “There are some great young drivers that can really make the division exciting this year and probably any one of six drivers could win the championship. Just like everyone hates Jimmie Johnson dominating the Cup series, the track probably is tired of Rip and I winning most of the races over the past six years, so this may be a good thing and breath new life into the division. Of the remaining top six drivers in the current standings, none had won a race prior to the start of the season and none of the remaining drivers have ever won a SLM championship, so there are going to be a lot of first time winners this year and a first time champion crowned, which has to be exciting”

The team will head to Toyota Speedway for race number three in the Auto Club Late Model this Saturday. A flat tire with six laps remaining in the opening night event relegated Joanides to a 19th place finish. The team quickly rebounded by winning the next race. They currently sit eighth in points after just two of eighteen races.

“I hate that we won’t be able to run the Super Late, I really love driving those cars, but with the economy the way it is, we are fortunate to have the sponsors we do and to be racing anything at all. The late model is a great division that always puts on great races, so we should be able to give our sponsors a great show this year” said Joanides.