MIKE DUNCAN HOLDS OUTSIDE SHOT AT THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE IN NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, AUTOZONE WEST SERIES
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 19, 2006) -- A year ago, Mike Duncan came from behind to win his second consecutive championship in the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series. Another late-season surge this year could lead to a third straight title, making him the first driver in 20 years to garner three consecutive series championships.
Despite not having the stellar results on short tracks this season that he experienced in recent years, the 44-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., driver holds out hope of success in the final two events.
"I don't feel like we have had the season that would justify a championship, but yet we're still hanging around up toward the front and we know it's not over until the checkered flag of the last points race," Duncan said. "We're definitely not going to give up. I think all of our team realizes it's still a possibility."
He knows, however, that any hopes of another title hinge on very strong performances by his MB Duncan Motorsports team in the two remaining races. "We have been a top-five finisher just about everywhere we went in the past," he said. "We just haven't shown that this year." Duncan has registered one win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes this season behind the wheel of the Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet.
"Bill's been working, trying to figure out why our short track program has fallen off a little bit," Duncan said of his crew chief Bill Sedgwick. "Hopefully, he's found some things that we can get back to where we have been in the past and make a good run these last two races. You just never know, we might still have a chance."
A third straight championship would put Duncan in an elite group of drivers. The late Jim Robinson was the last person to win three consecutive championships in the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series -- winning titles in 1983, 1984 and 1985. Prior to that, Roy Smith won three of his four overall championships between 1980 and 1982. The all-time leader in series championships, Ray Elder, won four of his six overall titles between 1969 and 1972.
Although coming off a major win at California Speedway, Duncan still has more ground to make up than he did a year ago. As the series headed to Texas with two races remaining last season, he was second in the championship standings -- 33 points out of first. He failed to gain ground in the Lone Star state, but clinched the championship with a runner-up finish in the season finale. With two races remaining this season, Duncan is third in the standings. He trails Eric Holmes by 65 points and is 38 points behind second-place Mike David.
The next stop on the schedule is the Allstate Texas Thunder 200 on the 3/8-mile oval at Thunder Hill Raceway in Kyle, Texas, on Sept. 30. The series is set to wrap up its 2006 campaign on the half-mile oval at Altamont Motorsports Park near Tracy, Calif., on Oct. 15.
Duncan need only to look to Sedgwick for someone who has experience in both winning and losing championships in a come-from-behind fashion. Each year between 1989 and 1992, the series championships were decided in dramatic down-to-the-wire battles between Sedgwick, a two-time champion in the series, and four-time champion Bill Schmitt.
The biggest late-season turnaround during that time came in 1990, when Sedgwick led by 84 points with two races remaining. He was sidelined early by mechanical problems in the next event, however, and Schmitt went on to win the title by one point. It was Sedgwick's turn for a comeback in 1992. Although Schmitt was up by 29 points with two races remaining, Sedgwick overcame the difference and took the championship by a six-point margin.
Sedgwick's philosophy is not to deviate late in the season from what has been done all year. "You just have to stay focused and do what's been getting you there all the time," he said. "There's no guarantee that it will work that way for you every time, but you can't change your strategy. You've got to keep doing what you're doing and do the best you can."