“Back in the early ’70s, we had 50-, 60-, 70-car fields,” Kanke said. “We had those caliber of drivers. There will be 25 to 30 of the best drivers in the country. These kind of races are what I like the best.” As one of only three Southwest Series drivers with multiple wins at Irwindale Speedway – David Gilliland and Burney Lamar are the other two – Kanke said his experience will be a benefit. But he also recognizes that experienced drivers in the other series will have an edge as well. He likes the chances of drivers like Steve Carlson, Garrett Evans and Jeff Fultz, all veteran racers in their respective divisions. Carlson won two races and is second in points in the Midwest Series. Evans had four top-five finishes and is third in the Northwest Series. Fultz won the Southeast Division with four wins in 12 races. “If they get right, they’re going to be hard to beat,” Kanke said. Because of the level of competition, Kanke said he is approaching the All-Star Showdown a little differently than a regular-season race. “If a guy comes out of there first, he’s really good,” Kanke said. “Anybody comes out of there sixth is really good. That’s the caliber of racing I grew up on in the early ’80s.” But unlike the drivers in the Northwest, Midwest and Southeast, the Southwest Series drivers will have to travel from Phoenix to Irwindale in one day to make the All-Star Showdown. The Southwest Series season finale was Thursday at Phoenix International Raceway. Drivers had to be at Irwindale Speedway on Friday for qualifying races. Kanke is one of the lucky drivers on the Southwest Series. He has two cars he can use in races. Kanke took his back-up car to Phoenix and left his primary car at home. That’s how important the All-Star Showdown is to Kanke. He wants his best car to race against the best drivers in the country. And perhaps add a Showdown win to his racing resume. Kanke finished 30th in the regular-season finale race at Phoenix. Bob Lyon of Agua Dulce was 24th; Pursley was 37th; and Michels was seventh. NASCAR Nextel Cup Series regular Ken Schrader won the Phoenix race. He will be racing in Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix. Tim Haddock covers motor sports for the Daily News. He can be reached at (818) 713-3715 or [email protected] AT THE RACES NASCAR ELITE DIVISION, GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION Toyota All-Star Showdown Site: Irwindale Schedule: Tonight, races (Speed Channel, 5 p.m.) Track: Irwindale Speedway (half-mile oval). Race distances: Elite Division (62.5 miles/125 laps); Grand National Division (75 miles/150 laps). Posted awards: Elite Division, $268,220/Grand National Division, $303,000. Last year: Mike Johnson won the Grand National Division race and Eric Holmes won the Elite Division race. Fast facts: The Toyota All-Star Showdown features the top drivers from the two NASCAR regional racing series, the Grand National Division and Elite Division. … All drivers in the events are guaranteed starting spots, but all had to race in a 50-lap qualifying race on Friday to determine the starting order. The lineups for the qualifying races are set up by regular season points, with champions and points leaders for each respective series starting from the back. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! M.K. Kanke has been a regular on the NASCAR Elite Division, Southwest Series, since 1987. He has won more than $400,000 in his career, making him the Southwest Series money leader, and 20 races, good for second all-time. But tonight will mark his first time in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. The top-10 drivers in the four NASCAR Elite Divisions are eligible for tonight’s All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway, the third year the half-mile track has hosted the event. Greg Pursley of Canyon Country and Rip Michels of Mission Hills are in the Southwest Series top 10 and eligible for the All-Star Showdown. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The NASCAR Grand National Division is also part of the All-Star Showdown. The top 15 drivers from the West Series and Busch North Series are eligible for the Grand National Division portion of the race. Kanke, a driver from Frazier Park, was running partial schedules on the Southwest Series in 2003 and 2004 and didn’t finish in the top 10 in points either year. This year, Kanke finished seventh in points, solidly in the top 10, and with one win already at Irwindale Speedway in August, he likes his chances against some of the top short-track racers in the country. “We’re using the same set-up we won the race with,” said Kanke. “We got two good races at Irwindale. We got good data. I think we will have a good car.” The All-Star Showdown reminds Kanke of the open competition days of NASCAR, when some of the top drivers at the Cup level would race against the regional stars at short tracks across the country.