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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Matt Kobyluck is used to heading to California being the one everybody is gunning for. After all, the Uncasville, Conn., driver hasn’t finished worse than fourth in the last four editions of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
But when Kobyluck brings the No. 40 Mohegan Sun Resort Chevrolet to the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale for the event – scheduled for Jan. 23-24, 2009 – he’ll have another reason to be among the early favorites.
“This is the first year we get to go out as champions – which is huge,” said Kobyluck, who pointed at one of the perks being the parking spot for his hauler right at the front of the line. “It’s a coveted spot that everybody wants to be in. Everybody knows you won the championship and everybody knows how hard it is to win a championship. That’s a sense of accomplishment.
“You have a target because of that, but it’s a fun target to have.”
Thursday, Kobyluck became the first driver to officially commit to running in the upcoming NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
The 38-year-old Kobyluck wrapped up the NASCAR Camping World Series East championship this past weekend in the season’s last race at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway. Kobyluck’s season was so successful that he was able to clinch the title with one race remaining, following his third-place finish Sept. 19 at Dover International Speedway.
Next up is the 2008 NASCAR Camping World Series Awards Banquet at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The awards banquet is Friday, Dec. 12.
After that, it’s a chance to concentrate on the upcoming NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. The race was moved from its original fall date, where the first five were run, to January. The change offers drivers a chance to break out of those winter doldrums with some high-stakes racing. With no points at stake, the ‘Daytona 500 of short-track racing’ is all about the money and the bragging rights.
It also gives teams a chance to recover from the long race season and gives them time to turn their focus on the upcoming event.
“It makes it a true all-star race,” Kobyluck said. “It gives people an opportunity to find some sponsorship dollars or put a deal together with a team that has a chance to succeed, because you have ample time to prepare.”
Kobyluck earned a secured spot in the starting lineup for the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown by virtue of his win at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in June.
Race winners of NASCAR Camping World Series events and champions of each of NASCAR’s seven developmental series earn secured spots in the race.
To date, Kobyluck, Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Eddie MacDonald, Peyton Sellers, Brian Ickler, Aric Almirola, Eric Holmes, Jason Bowles, Jeff Barkshire, Mike David, Todd Souza, and Jason Fensler have won NASCAR Camping World Series races. The NASCAR Camping World Series West concludes Saturday, Oct. 25 at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif.
In addition, Philip Morris (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Scott Steckly (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series) and Brian Loftin (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour) have clinched championships.
Kobyluck is the first to throw his hat in the ring for the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
And why not? After a 12th-place finish in the inaugural event in 2003, Kobyluck was twice a runner-up before earning that breakthrough victory in 2006. A fourth-place finish last year could be considered an “off night” by the impossibly high standards Kobyluck has set at the .500-mile track, which showcases multiple racing grooves on its graduated banking.
“I don’t mind being the guy everybody wants to knock off,” Kobyluck said. “It’s a fun race and a fun race track. I just look forward to going out there, and it’s even more fun when you know you’re going to be one of the front runners.”
Kobyluck was the guy to beat all of 2008, with a series-high four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 13 races.
“It would be a really fitting way to wrap up a championship and an All-Star win all in the same season,” Kobyluck said. “The success we’ve had out there is a testament to the effort from my team and their commitment to bringing cars capable of winning to the track. There’s a huge effort that goes into it by my guys.”
Now they’ve got three months to prepare to do it again – and this time for the biggest race of the season.