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Posted: 7:18 PM- TOOELE - NASCAR makes its first visit to the Miller Motorsports Park road course this weekend with its Big O Tires Grand National West Series event.
But at least one driver will be thinking about a track on the other side of the Oquirrh Mountains.
Idaho's Brett Thompson, who is scheduled to drive the No. 61 Pet Best Insurance Chevy in Saturday's 6:15 p.m. race, made his first NASCAR West Series start at West Valley City's Rocky Mountain Raceways. Thompson, from Jerome, a small town 15 miles north of Twin Falls, started that Sept. 4, 2000 race in last place due to a mishap in the qualifying round, but still managed to finish seventh.
"Utah has always been good to me," he said.
With no drivers from Utah among the regulars on the West Series circuit, Thompson will be the "local favorite" in the 150-mile race, although he will see the 3.0-mile course for the first time on Friday when practicing begins. Thompson is currently eighth in the driver standings with 1,195 points, but is just 79 points out of third place.
The 30-year-old was sixth at last week's King Taco 200 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, a race won by Brian Ickler of San Diego, Calif.
"We took a 10th-place car and finished sixth," he said. "The car was really tight. We had to work pretty hard to get up to sixth. We've been running decent, we just haven't had the finishes. We've been running top-five every night, but the finishes haven't been there."
For instance, Thompson was third going into the last lap at a race in Oregon two weeks ago, but spun out and finished 12th.
The regular at Idaho's Magic Valley Speedway hopes a good run at MMP propels him to bigger and better things. At least, he's seemingly on his way.
Thompson will make his debut in NASCAR's third-tier series, the Craftsman Truck Series, on July 27 in Indianapolis. He's also going to run a truck in Las Vegas' race in September. Although he races Chevy cars, Thompson will use a Dodge in the truck races.
"Right now, we just have enough sponsorship [money] to do a few Truck races this year," he said. "If we are going to do something next year, it will take a big commitment from our sponsor. Right now, we are just going to get our feet wet and see what they think about it."
Craftsman Truck and Nextel Cup drivers such as Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday began racing when they were barely teenagers and got their starts in NASCAR's Grand National West Series.
However, Thompson has not followed a similar route.
He didn't start racing until he was 19. He bought a late '70s Camaro from one of his father's employees and raced it the first day he saw the track at Magic Valley. He won two times in 1997 before moving on to Grand American Modifieds in 1998 and won 10 times in that class before joining the West Series in 2000 and racing at RMR.
He hopes Utah racing fans remember him.
"I think I have a pretty good fan base down there," he said. "It will be interesting to see how many people show up for the race. I know I will have a lot of family and friends there, because this will be the closest race we have all season."
The series made a stop at a road course last month in Sonoma, Calif., so this type of racing won't be totally new to the drivers. However, Thompson said nobody will have an experience edge.
"I have only ran one road course before, and that was Sonoma," he said. "We finished 18th after starting higher than 30th. I learned a lot from that race, and am looking forward to this race."