"The Toyota All-Star Showdown is definitely one of the biggest wins on my resum," Gilliland says. "It helped me get my ride with Clay Andrews Racing and the opportunity to compete in the NASCAR Busch Series. It gives drivers in the Grand National Division and the AutoZone Elite Division an opportunity to showcase their talent and get their names out there. Toyota has put a lot into it. NASCAR has put a lot into it. I think they have done a great job. To win it was unbelievable."
Past winners of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division portion of the Toyota All-Star Showdown include Ron Breese Jr. (2003), Eric Holmes (2004), and Auggie Vidovich (2005). Vidovich has competed in several Craftsman Truck Series races for Roush Racing and also runs in the Busch Series for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.
Darnell is currently leading the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year battle in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as the driver of the No. 99 Roush Racing Ford. Other Craftsman Truck drivers who have competed in the Toyota All-Star Showdown are Ryan Moore and Robert Richardson II.
The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown is actually two different races with 70 slots available. Invitations go to the top 15 drivers in the NASCAR Grand National Division Busch East and AutoZone West Series, and the top 10 drivers in each of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division's four different tours-the Northwest Series, the Midwest Series, the Southeast Series, and the Southwest Series.
Sellers is part of a driver development program spearheaded by Richard Childress Racing.
Over the past three years, defending Dodge Weekly Racing Series champion Peyton Sellers has been a fan of the prestigious NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway. Even though he won the 2005 Dodge Weekly Series championship and proved he was one of the top Late Model drivers in the country, that wasn't enough to earn an invitation to compete in last year's Toyota All-Star Showdown.Instead of trading paint against the best of the best last year at Irwindale, Sellers had to watch the race on television from his hometown of Danville, Virginia.
"It was a little frustrating," Sellers admits. "I'm kind of like the world's best athlete but the world's worst fan because I wanted to be out there running with them and not watching it on television. In the past, I watched the Toyota All-Star Showdown and just sat there wondering what I needed to do to get the chance to be able to race at Irwindale one day. I know that's a race where you really get tested to see how good you really are.
"They have the Showdown in the fall, when a lot of the short tracks have [wound] down their seasons for the year, so there are a lot of racers who watch that race with dreams of getting the chance to make it to Irwindale one day. There are a lot of people across the country who watch that race and think the same way about it as I did and think about what they need to do to make it to Irwindale the next year."
How could you have an all-star race of this magnitude and not have a driver with Peyton Sellers' credentials in the field? It's an invitation-only event for the drivers from the two NASCAR Regional Racing tours, so Sellers hasn't qualified because he's been running the Dodge Weekly Series and not one of the tours.
Despite misconceptions about NASCAR-sanctioned tours and series, The Dodge Weekly Racing Series and NASCAR Regional Racing are entirely different entities. The Dodge Weekly Racing Series is based solely at local tracks across the country while NASCAR Regional Racing-the NASCAR Grand National Divisions and the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Divisions-is comprised of touring divisions that compete at different tracks in their specific regions.
"I knew I could race at places like South Boston, but that was kind of the end of the line even though racing in the Dodge Weekly Racing Series is neat because it is so affordable and you get the chance like I did to race against people from across the country for a national title," Sellers says. "To race in the upper divisions like the NASCAR Regional Racing Series at the next level takes a whole lot more money. NASCAR has the Dodge Weekly Series to where it's affordable and not too hectic with the travel that comes with it."
Sellers is now walking, talking proof that good talent still gets the attention it deserves at the Dodge Weekly Series level-he's now a proud graduate of the tour and is currently competing in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series, under the NASCAR Regional Racing banner. The 22-year-old recently relocated to the Sacramento, California, area where he drives the No. 16 Napa Chevrolet in a driver development program that is a cooperative effort between Bob McAnally Racing and Nextel Cup team owner Richard Childress.
For Sellers, the goals this year are to win races and possibly battle for the Midwest Series championship, but the ultimate reward would be to get the chance to finally race in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown for the first time.
"This year, I've been blessed and lucky enough to have the chance to move up to the next level," Sellers says. "Watching that race on television last year was a shame for me, but I could take some comfort in knowing that things were already in place for me for this year, and I would finally get the chance to race in the Showdown at Irwindale." -J.M.