WS: Phoenix: Season opener preview

* Duncan launches effort for back-to-back championships * Harvick, Schrader battle series regulars in season opener * Open-wheel competitors, Fisher and Jourdain, challenge stock car veterans DAYTONA BEACH, Fla....

* Duncan launches effort for back-to-back championships
* Harvick, Schrader battle series regulars in season opener
* Open-wheel competitors, Fisher and Jourdain, challenge stock car veterans

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 25, 2005) - Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Kwik Signs/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) is shooting for a second consecutive championship in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series in 2005. To be successful, he knows the importance of getting his season off to a good start. And that means getting a good finish at Phoenix International Raceway, where he has struggled in the past.

The NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series will kick off its 2005 season at PIR as part of the Copper World Classic on Jan. 29-30. It will mark the sixth straight year for the one-mile track to host the season opener - but it will be the first time for the West Series to be part of the Copper World weekend, as the popular event returns to PIR. The event will be televised live in high definition on HDNet - hosted by the broadcast team of Rick Benjamin, Pat Patterson and Kandace Krueger.

Duncan, who hopes to become the first driver to win two consecutive series championships since Brendan Gaughan did it in 2000-2001, knows he needs a strong run at PIR. "We've never had a finish there that we felt reflected the way we run," Duncan said of the track where his team has encountered various problems. "I know our past performances there have not been good. We've had some bad luck."

In five previous season openers at PIR, Duncan's best finish was 10th last year. He also had finishes of 12th, 13th, 20th and 25th. His only top-five finish at Phoenix came in the fall race of 2003, when he finished third.

Last year's fall race did not go as well, however. Mechanical trouble left Duncan 19th and ended his streak of 20 consecutive top-10 finishes. It also slashed his lead in the championship standings and threatened his title run. He went on to win the championship by a 16-point margin, however.

Duncan will be facing plenty of tough competition in the season opener. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regulars entered in the event include Kevin Harvick (No. 92 Chevrolet), who won the series championship in 1998, and Ken Schrader (No. 99 Federated Auto Parts Pontiac), who has won this race three of the past four years.

The entry list for this race also includes Indianapolis 500 veteran Sarah Fisher (No. 20 Levi Strauss/Domino's Pizza Chevrolet) of Indianapolis, who made her only series start at Phoenix last October.

Another open-wheel racing veteran on the entry list is Michel Jourdain Jr. (No. 19 Ford) of Mexico City.

In addition to Duncan, meanwhile, other drivers expected to enter this event who finished in the top 10 of the championship standings last year include Burley, Idaho driver and 2003 West Series Champion Scott Lynch (No. 08 Orleans Racing Dodge), who has two Phoenix wins to his credit; last year' s Rookie-of-the-Year David Gilliland (No. 88 RaceCarFans.com Chevrolet) of Riverside, Calif.; and series veteran Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators Chevrolet) of Lakewood, Colo., who finished second at Phoenix last October.

Other top 10 drivers expected to compete at PIR include the 2002 series Rookie-of-the-Year Mike David (No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford) of Modesto, Calif.; Carl Harr (No. 02 WestWorld Motorsports Chevrolet) and his son Daryl Harr (No. 71 WestWorld Motorsports Chevrolet) from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and Jose Luis Ramirez (No. 77 Del Valle Ford) of Mexico City, Mexico.

Absent from the series as a driver last year, Steve Portenga (No. 16 NAPA/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet) will make his debut at Phoenix with the Bill McAnally Racing team. Also with a new team is Brandon Ash (No. 3 Adair Motorsports Pontiac). After cutting back his West Series racing effort in recent years, the Umpqua, Wash., driver is looking to make an impact in the series in teaming with the Phoenix-based team owned by Christina Adair.

Series veterans Johnny Borneman (No. 8 Borneman Plastering/Red Line Oil Ford) of Ramona, Calif., Brett Thompson (No. 61 Thompson Motorsports/Windmill Inns Chevrolet) of Jerome, Idaho; Gene Woods (No. 7 Circle K Dodge) of Ontario, Calif., Jack Sellers (No. 75 Aramark/Dayco Pontiac) of Sacramento, Calif.; David Eshleman (No. 6 Fleet Refinishing Chevrolet) of Fontana, Calif.; and Bobby Hillis (No. 27 Freedom Grill Chevrolet) of Phoenix are also entered.

Others on the entry list include Jason Jefferson (No. 97 Pontiac), of Naches, Wash., Brandon Miller (No. 21 Reese's Chevrolet) of Bakersfield, Calif.; Tim Smith (No. 12 Integrity Financial/CTX Chevrolet) of Roseville, Calif.; Ed Watson (No. 55 Ellstrom Manufacturing Ford) of Mount Vernon, Wash.; David Cardey (No. 15 Empire Plumbing Pontiac) of Riverside, Calif.; and Takuma Koga (No. 09 Midgley Motorsports Chevrolet) of Nagoya, Japan.

Newcomers to the series include two teenagers who are celebrating their 18th birthday this month - Andrew Lewis (No. 18 Teen Arrive Alive Chevrolet) of Corona, Calif.; and Spencer Clark (No. 26 Team ASE/Sunrise Ford/Splitfire Sparkplugs Ford) of Las Vegas. Other newcomers to the series include Rick Ruzbarsky (No. 51 Hayward Pool Products Chevrolet) of Tracy, Calif.; Andrew Myers (No. 44 Toyota of Escondido Chevrolet) of Newport Beach, Calif.; and Chris Schmelzle (No. 90 Midgley Motorsports Chevrolet) of Victoria. British Columbia, Canada.

For the third consecutive year, a driver from the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series will make the cross-country trek to compete at Phoenix. Matt Kobyluck (No. 40 Mohegun Sun Chevrolet) will try to improve on his third-place finish of a year ago. Another Busch North Series regular, Dale Quarterley (No. 32 Chevrolet), will make the journey for a second time.

NEWS & NOTES

* The race . This event is the first race on the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series schedule for 2005. 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 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 17 stand-alone West Series events.

* Last year's race . The lineup for last year's event was set by the rulebook after inclement weather forced the cancellation of qualifying. Scott Lynch (No. 08 Yerf-Dog/Orleans Racing Dodge) started from the pole position, but was sidelined early with mechanical trouble. Austin Cameron was out front for much of the race in the NAPA/NAPA Belts and Hose Chevrolet, with Ken Schrader (No. 99 Federated Auto Parts Pontiac) leading briefly on several occasions. Schrader saved the best for last, however, taking the lead for good on lap 116 and registering his third win at Phoenix.

* Strong pair . Schrader, with three, and Lynch, with two, account for five wins in the past six series races at Phoenix.

* Multiple winners . With his victory in this event last year, Schrader tied Richard Petty's mark for the most series wins at PIR, with three.

* Most poles . Petty still leads the number of Bud Pole Awards in series competition at Phoenix, winning in 1978, 1979 and 1980. Although Lynch started three consecutive races from the pole position, he was not credited with a Bud Pole in this event last year because the lineup was set by the rulebook after inclement weather forced the cancellation of qualifying.

* 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. Schrader is second on the list with an average finish of 3.0 in four races, while 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. The veteran driver has competed in nine stand-alone 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 seven. Pontiac and Dodge have accounted for the last four wins, however.

* Stat of the race . Schrader won this event after starting 19th a year ago. 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 Greg Pursley, who turned 37 on the 4th; Kenny Shepherd, who turned 41 on the 9th; Jeff Jefferson, who turned 33 on the 17th; Andrew Lewis, who turned 18 on the 19th; Mike Duncan, who turned 43 on the 22nd; Austin Cameron, who turns 28 on the 24th; Gary Collins, who turns 45 on the 24th; Spencer Clark, who turns 18 on the 29th; Mike David, who turns 38 on the 29th; and Jeff Davis, who will turn 46 on the 29th.

-nascar-

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