WS: Fontana: Round 10 preview

* Portenga hopes for win at California Speedway to boost run at title * Close championship battle continues with only 3 races remaining * Southern California well-represented in challenge for Sunoco Rookie Award DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug.

* Portenga hopes for win at California Speedway to boost run at title

* Close championship battle continues with only 3 races remaining

* Southern California well-represented in challenge for Sunoco Rookie Award

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2006) -- The annual NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series race at California Speedway has always been considered a prestigious event. This year it may also be pivotal in determining the series championship.

The series heads to Fontana, Calif., for The California 200 on Friday, Sept. 1. It is the 10th event on a 12-race schedule this year.

With a large turnout of entries expected, drivers know a good finish on the two-mile superspeedway could boost their hopes for a title and that a poor finish could derail chances of a championship.

"The big deal is going to be the car count," said veteran driver Steve Portenga (No. 77 King Taco/Signco Ford) -- who is fourth in the championship standings, 84 points out of the lead. "That can help the points battle and it can hurt the points battle. I think it's going to help in this situation, if we can run well."

Portenga has reason to be optimistic about doing well at Fontana. He won there in 2003. He also knows first-hand how quickly a driver can lose ground in the standings, however. He experienced that earlier this season. "One of the situations that got us in the position we're in was Sonoma, where we finished 33rd," he said "We lost an engine there."

Now he is faced with trying to close the margin on the points leader. "This year, we've put ourselves in a points situation," he said of the Fontana event. "We not only want to win, but we also need to win. We have to come out of there doing well."

While he considers it an uphill battle, Portenga has not given up on his chances for a championship this year. "It's going to be tough," he said. "I've got three good competitors in front of me and several good competitors behind me. I'm not only having to look out my windshield, I'm having to look at the rear view mirror."

Nevertheless, he remains positive. "I've won at two of the next three race tracks we're going to," said the 36-year-old driver. "I think are chances are good, but we're going to have a little bit of luck. We're going to have to do our job right and then hope for a little bit of luck on our side and a little luck going the other way on their side."

In addition to a boost in points, doing well at Fontana can also boost a driver's career, according to Portenga. "It's the biggest race track we go to," he said. "It makes you feel you've accomplished a lot when you do well there.

"When I won there in 2003, it came right after my truck season and it really boosted my resume and my career," Portenga continued. "It meant a lot, being able to come to a big track like Fontana and capture the win. It makes you feel good as a driver."

"It's also real special for me, because it's the home track of my sponsor, King Taco," he added.

After working as a crew chief during the 2004 season and driving for a different team in 2005, Portenga returned this year to the Performance Motorsports team he was with when he visited victory lane at Fontana in 2003. In doing so, he's hopeful of recapturing the success he experienced three years ago.

"I'm going to be driving the same car I won with there," he said. "They've only run that car three or four times since. I ran it earlier this year at Phoenix. The car is just like it was."

This will mark just the second year for the AutoZone West Series to compete under the lights at California Speedway. The race is to be televised live in high definition to a national audience on HDNet. In addition, an enhanced replay is set to air on SPEED on Sept. 14.

NEWS OF NOTE

* The race -- This event is the 10th event of a 12-race schedule for 2006. The first series visit to California Speedway -- on June 21, 1997 -- marked the inaugural NASCAR event on the 2-mile track.

* The track -- California Speedway is a superspeedway with turns banked 14 degrees, 11 degrees of banking in the front straight and three degrees banking in the back straight. The track has hosted 10 AutoZone West Series events.

* Wide open championship battle -- This year's battle for the AutoZone West Series championship continues to be wide open. With three races remaining to decide the title, Mike David (No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford) of Modesto, Calif., has a slim five-point margin over Eric Holmes (No. 62 Sunoco Race Fuels/Paul Oil Chevrolet) of Escalon, Calif. The challenge for the title goes beyond those two, however, with the top five drivers separated by just 85 points. By comparison, at this point a year ago, 227 points covered the top five drivers.

* Pursuit of rookie title -- Peyton Sellers (No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet) continues to lead in the chase for this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Sellers, last year's national champion in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series, has been the top finishing rookie in five of nine AutoZone West Series races so far this year. The 22-year-old Danville, Va., driver is pursued for the prestigious rookie title by several Southern California drivers -- Justin Lofton (No. 66 Lofton Cattle Feeding Investments Chevrolet) of Westmorland, Brian Ickler (No. 20 McMillin Homes/NAPA Filters.com Chevrolet) of San Diego and Eric Hardin (No. 18 Hardin Buick-Pontiac-GMC/DSNTV Chevrolet) of Anaheim.

* Top 10 streak -- Justin Lofton has put together a string of five consecutive top-10 finishes -- the longest current streak among drivers in the series.

* Round numbers -- As they head to Fontana, several series veterans have simultaneously reached a nice round number in terms of their career starts. Austin Cameron (No. 88 RaceCarFans.com Chevrolet) has 90 series starts under his belt, while Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) is close behind with 80 series starts. Meanwhile, Johnny Borneman (No. 8 Borneman Plastering/Red Line Oil Ford) and Tim Woods III (No. 54 Chino Hills Ford Ford) are even, with 60 starts each.

* Speaking of even numbers -- Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet) has registered an even 80 career top-10 series finishes. He is sixth on that list among drivers in the modern era (since 1970).

* Brothers return -- Car owner Jim Lynch returns to the AutoZone West Series, with sons Scott (No. 08 Mr. Gas Dodge) and Nick (No. 29 Mr. Gas Dodge) both entered in this event. Scott -- the 2003 series champion -- registered eight wins and seven Budweiser Poles in 48 starts in the series between 2000 and 2005. Nick won his first career series Budweiser Pole Award in one of only three starts at the beginning of this season.

* Also returning to the series -- Another familiar face returning to the series for this event is Greg Pursley (No. 32 Oddo Motorsports Ford). He ran the full schedule of events in 2002, finishing ninth in the championship standings. Pursley, who later won the national championship in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series in 2005, is also well-known in the ranks of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series.

* Another West Coast visit -- NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series driver Matt Kobyluck (No. 40 Mohegan Sun Resorts Chevrolet) has become a frequent traveler to the Southwest for AutoZone West Series events. Five of his six career starts in the AutoZone West Series since 2003 were at Phoenix International Raceway, where he finished third in this year's season opener. This will mark Kobyluck's first visit to California Speedway.

* Entry list -- The entry list for this event features drivers representing 10 different states. California has the largest representation, with more than half the field calling the Golden State home.

* Special Fan Fest -- Several NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series drivers are slated to participate in the Ontario Fan Fest, which will be held on Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. near the Ontario Convention Center, adjacent to the Doubletree Hotel at 2000 Convention Center Way. Drivers will be on hand to greet fans and sign autographs.

* Moving up -- Two of the main contenders in last year's AutoZone West Series event at Fontana have since graduated to a national series in NASCAR. Burney Lamar has been behind the wheel of Kevin Harvick's entry in the NASCAR Busch Series this season, while David Gilliland was recently named to drive for Robert Yates Racing in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

* Last year's event -- Burney Lamar registered his second AutoZone West Series victory of 2005 with a win in this event last year. His biggest challenge early on was from David Gilliland, who won the Budweiser Pole Award with a lap of 172.224 mph in qualifying. Gilliland rocketed away at the drop of the green flag, establishing a large lead. A series of early cautions erased that margin, however. Lamar, who started seventh, moved forward to take the lead on lap 29. His time out front was brief, as he relinquished the lead to pit on lap 38. With Gilliland and others opting to remain on track, it moved Lamar and other front runners out of the top 10. Those drivers who stayed out during that caution got an opportunity to pit for fresh tires and fuel when the final caution of the night flew on lap 54. Gilliland's effort came to an end shortly thereafter, as he encountered transmission trouble and failed to come up to speed on the restart. Lamar, meanwhile, was working his way forward -- moving to third by lap 73 and into second two circuits later. He passed Johnny Borneman for the lead on lap 85. Despite battling a loose condition with his car and clipping the wall coming out of turn four, Lamar remained out front to take the win by .704 of second -- at an average speed of 102.931 mph. Borneman was second, followed by Mike Duncan.

* Eight different race winners -- The 10 series events at Fontana have produced eight different winners. With three victories, Ken Schrader is the only driver with more than one win (1997, 1998 and 2004). Drivers with a single series win at California Speedway include Kevin Harvick in 1998, Ricky Craven in 1999, Johnny Benson in 2000, Brendan Gaughan in 2001, Burney Lamar in 2005, Eric Norris in 2002 and Steve Portenga in 2003.

* Budweiser Pole winners -- The 10 events featured nine different Budweiser Pole Award winners. Schrader is also the only driver with multiple poles -- setting the fast lap in this event in 1998 and 2000. Others to win a Budweiser Pole in series competition on the two-mile track include Johnny Borneman, David Gilliland, Kevin Harvick, Eric Norris, Austin Cameron, Clint Bowyer, David Green and Mark Reed.

* Top marks -- Schrader leads several other categories of series competition at California Speedway. He has the most top-five finishes, with six, and the most top-10 finishes, with seven. With $86,528 in winnings, he has won the most money in AutoZone West Series competition at the Southern California superspeedway. Schrader has also led the most laps, running out front for 243 circuits.

* How they compare -- Among drivers who have competed in four or more series races at California Speedway, Schrader has the best average finish. He has an average finish of 2.14 in seven races.

* String of top 10s -- Two drivers, Mike Duncan and Brett Thompson (No. 61 VA Com Technologies/Thompson Motorsports), have scored four consecutive top-10 finishes at Fontana.

* Return performance -- Scott Gaylord is the only driver to compete in all 10 AutoZone West Series races that have been held at California Speedway. His best finish there was fourth in 2004.

* Manufacturers' battle -- Chevrolet has the most wins at California Speedway among automobile manufacturers with five victories -- including last year.

* Stat of the race -- The Budweiser Pole winner went on to win the race in three of the 10 series events at California Speedway.

* Etc. -- The 10 series races at California Speedway featured 130 different drivers.

BIRTHDAYS

Drivers who will be celebrating a birthday during the month of September include Todd Burns, who turns 33 on the 4th; Carl Harr, who turns 53 on the 9th; Bobby Hillis, who turns 45 on the 10th; Nick DeFazio, who turns 23 on the 12th; Brian Ickler, who turns 21 on the 17th; Wheeler Boys, who turns 24 on the 22nd; Dan Obrist, who turns 60 on the 27th; and Zan Sharp, who turns 41 on the 30th.

FAST FACTS

What: The California 200,

NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series Race #10

Where: California Speedway, Fontana, Calif.

When: 8:00 p.m., Friday, Sept. 1.

Track layout: 2-mile superspeedway.
Distance: 100 Laps, 200 miles.

Posted Awards: $237,403

TV: HDNet (Live)

SPEED (enhanced replay,
Sept. 14, 2:30 p.m. PT)

2005 winner: Burney Lamar.
2005 polesitter: David Gilliland.

Records: Qualifying: Mark Reed, April 26, 2001, 181.593 mph, 39.649 sec.; Race: Brendan Gaughan, April 28, 2001, 152.316 mph, 1h 18m 47s

Pre-race schedule: Friday -- Practice, 9:30-10:30 a.m., 11-11:45 a.m.; Qualifying, 5:30 p.m. Note: Subject to change.

NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Top 10:
1. Mike David 1,374, 2. Eric Holmes 1,369, 3. Peyton Sellers 1,342, 4. Steve Portenga 1,290, 5. Mike Duncan 1,289, 6. Scott Gaylord 1,211, 7. Jim Inglebright 1,210, 8. Justin Lofton, 1,185, 9. Austin Cameron 1,158, 10. Johnny Borneman 1,150.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Johnny Benson , Ricky Craven , David Green , Brendan Gaughan , Matt Kobyluck , Steve Portenga , Mark Reed , Tim Woods , Jim Inglebright , Bobby Hillis , Eric Norris , Scott Gaylord , Brett Thompson , Mike David , Carl Harr , Greg Pursley , Clint Bowyer , Eric Holmes , David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Robert Yates , Austin Cameron , Peyton Sellers , Justin Lofton , Brian Ickler
Teams Yates Racing