OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car- Lurking in the Shadows

Seven events are in the books in OPTIMA's Search for the Ultimate Street Car, presented by Advance Auto Parts. That could lead one to believe things are pretty clear in terms of who is getting invited to the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) in Las Vegas, but nothing could be further from the truth. Things may be clear for those who have already earned their invitations, but the water is very murky for everyone else.

We recently blogged about the top-15 cars, which are all currently slated to earn an invite to Las Vegas, based on their current points. However, that list is just the tip of the iceberg, even if we include the first five out. What isn't included in that list are dozens of cars, that have only run one or two events, but are slated to run again in one or more of the final three events of the season.

To complicate the situation even further, only Road America is sold out at this point. With space still available at the final two qualifying events, a multitude of cars could sign up for NOLA or Auto Club Speedway and completely change the complexion of the points chase for those final 15 spots. We've already heard from a few competitors, who are intentionally delaying their registration for NOLA and/or Auto Club Speedway, hoping their appearance of disinterest in pursuing a Vegas invite will lull other competitors into believing their point totals are safe. By the time those competitors realize what has transpired, it will be too late for them to take action and sign up at an event to further protect their lead.

With that strategy in mind, let's take a look at seven competitors, who could grab a qualifying spot without even needing to accumulate points in three events, starting with Road America. Mark Stielow has won the OUSCI twice and is always a serious threat to win whenever he makes an event. His '69 Camaro is currently set to run in the GTV class, but if anyone could shave enough weight to move a first gen Camaro into the GTL class besided Mike DuSold, it would be Mark. If he sees an opportunity to be more competitive in the GTL class at Road America, he could make that move.

The same strategy could unfold for Chris Jacobs, who just gave 2015 GT class champion, Bryan Johnson, a run for his money last weekend at the Northeast Musclecar Challenge in his C5 Corvette. Chris could probably move his car from GTS to GTL with more ease than Stielow, if he saw an opportunity to earn an invite there. Why are we speculating so much about the GTL class? Because there are currently only nine entries in that class and two of them (Danny Popp & Erik Vandermey) have already earned invites to Las Vegas.

By contrast, the GTS class has 17 entries and only two are already in the OUSCI field. There are also some darkhorse entries in GTS, like Jeremy Swenson's 2011 Corvette, which could walk away with the class invite, given Swenson's past success in NASA TTU. It's also not out of the question to see Swenson potentially move to the GTL class at Road America, which could really cause problems for the rest of the GTL class entries, who are scrambling for OUSCI invites.

As we look at NOLA, we see Chris Smith's name on the entry list in the RideTech 48-Hour Corvette. Smith proved last season that he only needs one event to dominate and punch a ticket for Vegas and the C3 Vette he runs could get the job done in either GTV or GTL. However, Smith has been on entry lists at other events this season, but has not yet made an appearance. If that trend holds to form, his presence on the entry list is a non-issue for points implications.

At Fontana, we see Corvettes entered by Ryan Volk and Greg Matthews with the potential to grab invites from that single event in either the GTS or GTL class. We'll also have a rookie in the GTV class named Aaron Thrash, whose '75 Trans Am could upset someone's apple cart.

Beyond that list of potential one-event spoilers, there is a much longer list of competitors, who could also have a significant impact on what happens in terms of invites at the final three events, as well as with the final 15 spots from regular season points. At the very top of the list are Alexandra Zust (GTL) and Carrie Willhoff (GTS), who have both only run in two events so far this season. As a result, their current point totals are well outside the top-15 transfer spots and even well beyond the first five out. Either one could win their class at NOLA or Fontana, but if that doesn't happen, they both project to finish well above the 1,300-point mark on the season, which should easily secure an invite for both.

William Hurd's 2014 Camaro is another competitor, who may be off the radar in 19th place in the GT class, but his previous two outings suggest he could also finish north of 1,300 points on the season. Ryan Johnson (GTL), Douglas Wind (GTL) and Danny King (GTS) are three more competitors who have only run two events so far this season, but are scheduled to run at least one more and could finish at or near the 1,300-point mark.

The current cut-off for the top-15 qualifying spots is Buddy Buchanan's '95 Camaro at 1,044 points. However, in addition to the six cars we already mentioned with the potential to top that mark by a wide margin, there are even more that could be in the ballpark of equaling or surpassing that total. Those names include Efrain Diaz (GTV), Nick Weber (GTV), Gregg Biddlingmeier (GTV), Doug Osborn (GTS), Randy Johnson (GTS), Christine Thompson (GTS), Todd Earsley (GTS), David Thomas (GTS), Chris Porter (GTL), Mike Gallagher (GT), Ray Davis (GT), Brian Sparks (GT) and Andrew Nier (GT).

At this point, it seems appropriate to recap the math of the remaining three events. There will likely be 15 invitations distributed at those three events. In addition, there will be 15 more invitations awarded at the end of the season based on season-long point totals. We just listed seven drivers who could grab as many as seven invitations at upcoming events and 19 more competitors, who could all finish above the current points cut-off. The competitors we didn't mention are the 15 drivers who are currently on the list and would get SEMA/OUSCI entries if the season ended today or the next five, who are just outside that top-15 list.

In short, there are 30 spots left and at least 46 competitors with math, reputations or both factors suggesting they could make the OUSCI field. The fact that virtually anyone can be awarded the Spectre Performance Spirit of the Event invite opens up the possibilities even more. There are more than 200 cars signed up for the remaining three events and there is likely a fair amount of overlapping entries, as well as several entries that have already qualified for the OUSCI in those fields. Even if we reduce the unique, non-OUSCI cars to 100 for these remaining events, that's still a pretty big number for just 30 spots.

While we're mentioning the fields for the remaining events, we should point out that less than 10 spots now remain for the regular season finale at Auto Club Speedway. If you're one of those folks who are waiting to register for Fontana until after Road America and NOLA have been run, you may have to show your hand early or risk not getting into what will be a sold-out field. Don't wait another minute. Sign up now at www.DriveOPTIMA.com