WS: Phoenix: Round one preview

NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, AUTOZONE WEST SERIES * Duncan begins campaign for third consecutive title * Cameron, Inglebright, Borneman return to series full time * NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series National Champion to make ...

NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, AUTOZONE WEST SERIES

* Duncan begins campaign for third consecutive title

* Cameron, Inglebright, Borneman return to series full time

* NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series National Champion to make series debut

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 16, 2006) -- A record field of cars is expected as the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series prepares to kick off its 2006 season as part of the Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway on Jan. 21-22.

Entries for the United Rentals 125 represent what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons ever for the series -- with a mix of veteran drivers, fast rookies and a couple of well-known West Coast competitors making their return to the series. In addition, the entry list for Phoenix also includes NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Ken Schrader and two NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series regulars.

Heading the list of veterans in the AutoZone West Series is two-time champion Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet), who will begin his drive for a third straight title. The Bakersfield, Calif., competitor finished second in this event a year ago.

After wrapping up last season as the runner-up in the championship standings, Steve Portenga (No. 77 King Taco Racing/Food City Ford) has returned to the Performance Motorsports Team he drove for in 2003 and is ready to make another run for the championship. Portenga -- who originally hailed from Sparks, Nev., but now lives in Bakersfield -- finished ninth in last year's season opener at Phoenix.

Other top 10 drivers from last year expected at PIR include Mike David (No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford) of Modesto, Calif.; Brett Thompson (No. 61 Thompson Motorsports/Rich Thompson Trucking Chevrolet) of Jerome, Idaho; Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet) of Lakewood, Colo.; Tim Woods III (No. 54 Chino Hills Ford Ford) of Chino Hills, Calif.; and Andrew Myers (No. 44 Toyota of Escondido Chevrolet). They finished fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, in the final standings for 2005.

Two familiar faces returning full time to the AutoZone West Series are Austin Cameron (No. 88 RaceCarCeilingFans.com Chevrolet) of El Cajon, Calif., and Jim Inglebright (No. 1 Jelly Belly Chevrolet) of Fairfield, Calif. Cameron is returning after taking a year off from the series. He will be in the Mark Golembeski-owned car that won last year's season opener. After running selected events the past two years, Inglebright has reunited with his long-time sponsor Jelly Belly.

Also returning to the series full-time in 2006 is Johnny Borneman (No. 8 Borneman Plastering/Red Line Oil Ford). The Ramona, Calif., competitor has run a limited schedule the past two seasons.

Other series veterans expected to begin their season at PIR include Daryl Harr (No. 02 WestWorld Computers Chevrolet) from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and his father Carl Harr (No. 71 WestWorld Computers Chevrolet) of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada -- along with Jack Sellers (No. 75 Aramark/Dayco Pontiac) of Sacramento, Calif.; Tim Smith (No. 12 Integrity Financial/CTX Chevrolet) of Roseville, Calif.; David Eshleman (No. 11 Spirit of Fontana Chevrolet) of Fontana, Calif.; and Bobby Hillis (No. 27 First Impression Press Chevrolet) of Phoenix.

Others expected to be at PIR include Ed Watson (No. 55 Ellstrom Manufacturing Ford) of Mount Vernon, Wash.; David Cardey (No. 15 Empire Plumbing Pontiac) of Riverside, Calif.; Chris Schmelzle (No. 09 Midgley Motorsports Chevrolet) of Victoria. British Columbia, Canada; Travis Powell (No. 87 Powell Awards & Engraving Chevrolet) of Snohomish, Wash.; Chris Oddo (No. 50 Performance Race Training Center Chevrolet) of Fallbrook, Calif.; and Robbie Brand (No. 37 Big Bear Choppers Chevrolet) of Barstow, Calif.

Two other entries are Spencer Clark (No. 26 Allegiant Air Ford) of Las Vegas and Eric Holmes (No. 62 Beebe Racing/Paul Oil Chevrolet) of Escalon, Calif. Clark, a second-generation competitor, recorded two top-five finishes in five series starts as an 18-year-old last season. Holmes -- a veteran of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series -- has three top-five finishes in seven career series starts.

This year's freshman class is one of the most talented the series has seen. Heading that list is the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national champion Peyton Sellers (No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet). The 22-year-old Danville, Va., driver is part of a driver development program with Richard Childress Racing and Bill McAnally Racing.

After finishing seventh in his first of two races in the series last season, Eric Humphries (No. 25 T.O.E. Performance/Red Line Oil Ford) of Chowchilla, Calif., is returning with hopes of making a run for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Jeff Barkshire (No. 46 Centennial Batteries/SPE Pontiac) -- who won the rookie title in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series last year -- will be making his second start in the AutoZone West Series. The Auburn, Wash., driver was sidelined by mechanical trouble in his series debut last September.

Other newcomers to the series include Bruce Betts (No. 90 RE/MAX Advantage Colorado Chevrolet) of Colorado Springs, Colo.; James Bruncati (No. 22 Sunrise Ford Ford) of Glendora, Calif.; Daniel DiGiacomo (No. 31 Aquariums by Russo's/Russo's Pet Experience Chevrolet) of Dana Point, Calif.; Justin Fisher (No. 24 Arrowlane/Stonehenge/AIREA5150 Pontiac) of Phoenix; Eric Hardin (No. 18 BMR Chevrolet) of Anaheim, Calif.; Brian Ickler (No. 20 Consolidate Electrical Distributors/NAPA Chevrolet) of San Diego; Justin Lofton (No. 66 Bob Lofton Cattle Feeding Investments Chevrolet) of Westmorland, Calif.; Nick Lynch (No. 29 Baja Motorsports/Mr. Gas Dodge) of Burley, Idaho; Tony "Lloyd" Mack (No. 28 DWG International Ford) of Chino, Calif., Mike Mulhall (No. 86 Noctis Racing Chevrolet) of Monrovia, Calif.; and Brian Pannone (No. 38 All Pro Plumbing/Pannone Motorsports Ford) of Riverside, Calif.

For the fourth consecutive year, Matt Kobyluck (No. 40 Mohegun Sun Chevrolet) of Uncasville, Conn., is making the cross-country trek to compete at Phoenix. Joining him is another Busch East Series driver, Jeff Anton (No. 30 Northeast Mortgage Chevrolet) of Russell, Mass.

This marks the seventh straight year for Phoenix to host the season opener for the AutoZone West Series.

NEWS & NOTES

* The race -- This event is the first race on the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series schedule for 2006. It is the first of two series visits to Phoenix International Raceway this season, with a return visit slated for April.

* The event -- As part of the Copper World Classic at PIR, the AutoZone West Series will share the stage with the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series as well as USAC's Midget and Silver Crown cars.

* The track -- PIR is a one-mile superspeedway with turns one and two banked 11 degrees, turns three and four banked nine degrees and two degrees of banking in the dogleg. The track has hosted 19 stand-alone AutoZone West Series events.

* Last year's race -- After winning the Bud Pole Award, David Gilliland led a 33-car field to the green flag for last year's event. It was former series champion and current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick who dashed into the early lead, however. Gilliland kept Harvick within sight and closed in to move by him in lapped traffic on lap 78. From there on, Gilliland was in a conserve mode to save fuel. He went on to win by a margin of nearly three seconds over Mike Duncan (Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) and Jason Jefferson. Meanwhile, Harvick faded to 13th, one lap down, after making a late pit stop.

* Multiple winners -- Ken Schrader (No. 99 Four Winds Motorhomes/AXA Financial Services Chevrolet) will attempt to break his tie with Richard Petty for the most series wins at PIR. They have three wins each.

* Most poles -- Petty still leads the number of Bud Pole Awards in series competition at Phoenix, setting the fast mark in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

* Top marks -- Bobby Allison holds the mark for the most top-five finishes in the series at PIR, with six. Cameron holds the mark for the most top-10 series finishes, with eight, and leads in terms of series winnings at Phoenix, with $69,334.

* Running out front -- Richard Petty continues to hold the mark for leading the most laps of series competition at the Phoenix, meanwhile, running out front for 361 circuits.

* How they compare -- Among drivers who have competed in four or more series races at Phoenix, the late Neil Bonnett had the best average finish of 2.2 in five races. Allison's average finish in seven races was 5.14.

* Return performance -- Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet) has taken the green flag at PIR more than any other driver in the series. He has competed in 11 stand-alone AutoZone West Series events and seven combination races with NASCAR's premier series.

* Wins among manufacturers -- Chevrolet has the most wins at Phoenix International Raceway among automobile manufacturers, with nine.

* Stat of the race -- Schrader won this event after starting 19th in 2004. He became the first driver to win from outside the top five in series competition at PIR since Rich Woodland Jr., started 21st and won in 1998.

BIRTHDAYS

Drivers celebrating a birthday during the month of January include Robbie Brand, who turned 48 on the 7th; Kenny Shepherd, who turned 42 on the 9th; Jeff Jefferson, who turns 34 on the 17th; Andrew Lewis, who turns 19 on the 19th; Mike Duncan, who turns 44 on the 22nd; Austin Cameron, who turns 29 on the 24th; Gary Collins, who turns 46 on the 24th; Spencer Clark, who turns 19 on the 29th; Mike David, who turns 39 on the 29th; and Jeff Davis, who will turn 47 on the 29th.

FAST FACTS

What: United Rentals 125, NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Race #1

Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Phoenix, Ariz.
When: 3:00 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 22.

Track layout: 1-mile superspeedway.
Distance: 125 Laps, 125 miles.

Posted Awards: $210,629

2005 winner: David Gilliland.
2005 polesitter: David Gilliland.

Pre-race schedule: Saturday -- Practice, 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Practice 1-2 p.m. Sunday -- Qualifying, 10:30 a.m.

Note: Subject to change.

Field: 34 cars possible. Fastest 28 through time trials. Two provisional positions based on final 2005 AutoZone West Series championship owner point standings, one position based on final 2005 AutoZone West Series championship driver standings, one position to AutoZone West Series champion, two positions based on final 2005 Busch East championship owner standings.

Records: Qualifying: Steve Portenga, March 18, 2000, 129.394 mph, 27.822 sec.; Race: To be established at this distance.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Rich Woodland , Richard Petty , Andrew Lewis , Matt Kobyluck , Steve Portenga , Jeff Jefferson , Tim Woods , Jim Inglebright , Bobby Hillis , Scott Gaylord , Jack Sellers , Brett Thompson , Mike David , Daryl Harr , Carl Harr , David Eshleman , Bobby Allison , Eric Holmes , David Gilliland , Kenny Shepherd , Austin Cameron , Jason Jefferson , Peyton Sellers , Andrew Myers , Justin Lofton , Jeff Barkshire
Teams Richard Childress Racing