BUSCH: Fontana: California Speedway event preview

Hank Parker Jr. looks for repeat performance in Auto Club 300 at California Speedway. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 24, 2002) - It's a good week for Hank Parker, Jr. He's coming off his first top-10 finish of the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand...

Hank Parker Jr. looks for repeat performance in Auto Club 300 at California Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 24, 2002) - It's a good week for Hank Parker, Jr.

He's coming off his first top-10 finish of the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division season, and is returning to the site of his first NASCAR Busch Series victory.

California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., is part of the Los Angeles market, and is thus a splendid showcase for Parker's primary sponsor, GNC Live Well. Parker, driver of the No. 36 Dodge, is defending champion of the Auto Club 300, set for Saturday (4 p.m., ET; FOX) at the 2-mile tri-oval.

Parker has one of the premier primary deals in NASCAR Busch racing. GNC (General Nutrition Centers) joined forces with Parker last season, and since, has steadily expanded its involvement in NASCAR. A GNC spokesman recently told Sports Business Daily the involvement"has far exceeded our expectations."

There are other expectations to consider, as well. Parker, 27, is considered one of NASCAR's rising stars, after three solid NASCAR Busch Series seasons. He finished 18th in the series standings in 1999, second to Tony Raines in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition. He finished 14th in the 2000 points, with eight top-10 runs. Last year at California, he earned his first series victory, had six top 10s and finished 15th in points.

"Even before I won here, I said that California was one of my favorite tracks," Parker said."The wide, flat tracks just seem to suit my driving style, for whatever reason. I've gotten top-10 finishes here twice in three tries, and with it being the place where I got my first win, I'd have to give it top billing on my list of favorites right now."

Last week, Parker survived a multi-car melee at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and finished 10th; were it not for a faulty brake pedal that had to be replaced, a top-five finish could've resulted.

The 10th at Talladega brought Parker up to 20th in points. It also boosted his outlook on the remainder of 2002. "It was ugly, but it was a top 10 and that's what we needed. Even though we got that finish in a weird way with that big wreck taking out most of the field, it kind of makes up for some of the races where we have been dominant and didn't get the finish we feel we deserved.

"I've been telling the team, once we get one top 10 under our belts, it's going to open the floodgates and we'll get a bunch more. Now we've gotten that first one, and I'm ready to start reeling off the top fives and top 10s. I think we've found just about every way possible to run in the top five and top 10 all day and not finish well. Hopefully, we've eliminated all the variables that we can control. Barring accidents and equipment failures, there's nothing to stop us from working our way into the top-10 in points in the next stretch of the season."

What better place to continue the momentum than California Speedway?

"That was such a tremendous feeling [to win there last year], I can't even describe it," Parker said."Someone who's not in the sport might think winning one of these deals is easy. Anyone who has raced in NASCAR knows just how hard it is.

"Somebody told me once, 'It takes a million things going right to win a race, but only one thing going wrong to lose one.' It was such a relief to get the first win under my belt."

A second win would feel like much more, and if it happens it won't be considered a long shot. That was the situation last year, when fuel mileage enabled Parker to, in his words,"steal" a victory. Since then, there have been changes in the No. 36's team ownership and what the team calls considerable upgrades in quality of equipment.

"I'm certainly not ashamed of the way we won [last year]," Parker said. "A win is a win, no matter how you get it. But I'd much rather win by beating the pants off every driver out there. I'd like to hear them say, 'We just didn't have anything for the 36 car today'. I want fans to see the GNC Dodge dominate a race. I know this team is capable of that."


* Fast-paced memorial... Parker is carrying special decals on his car this week. Placed just behind the driver and passenger side windows, the decals read, "In Memory of Amber." Parker is displaying the decals in memory of his 26 year-old cousin, Amber Parker, who died after being involved in a car accident just over a week ago.

* Shaking out... After eight races, the NASCAR Busch Series point standings are starting to reflect weekly participation by series regulars, as NASCAR Winston Cup drivers who have limited NASCAR Busch schedules have started to miss some races. Three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague (No. 24 NetZero Chevrolet) leads with 1,169 points, followed by NASCAR Busch veteran Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertson's Ford) at 1,147, former NASCAR Busch champion Randy LaJoie (No. 7 Kleenex/Nortel/Winn-Dixie Chevrolet) at 1,079, Kenny Wallace (No. 48 Stacker2 Pontiac) at 1,069 and rookie Scott Riggs (No. 10 Nestle Nesquik Ford) at 1,068. The first NASCAR Winston Cup regular to appear in the points is former NASCAR Busch champion Jeff Green (No. 21 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet), 12th with 893 points but only six races.


* Jeff Purvis (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) finished second to Parker last year at California Speedway. (Purvis got a NASCAR Busch victory on April 6, in the O'Reilly 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.)

* Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Casey Mears (No. 66 Phillips 66 Dodge) is feeling at home this week. Mears was born and raised 150 miles from California Speedway in Bakersfield, Calif. The Auto Club 300 will be the first race for Mears at California Speedway in a stock car. But he had a career-best finish of fourth in his CART Series debut at the track, in the 2000 season. In that race he qualified 15th and led 10 laps. Mears is one of many former open-wheel racers who have switched to NASCAR, America's most-popular form of motorsports.


* "We feel like we'll be up front at the end of the race on Saturday, and this time, we won't be using a cap gun to get there." - Hank Parker Jr. (No. 36 GNC Live Well Dodge), talking about his cars in 2002 being superior to 2001, when he won at California Speedway mainly because of gas mileage.

* "My first race was at Orange County and I crashed because the front wheel came off. We took it home, put a new front end on it, and kept coming back." -- Scott Riggs (No. 10 Nestle Nesquik Ford, talking about his auto racing debut in 1988, driving a Ford Pinto in the NASCAR Mini-Stock Division at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, N.C.

* "[I'd like to thank] the Harrah's employees that voted for the bright yellow car design before the season. Although the purple scheme won out for [most of] the season, we're running the yellow car at the superspeedways and it sure made it easy for David to see me through all that smoke." - Larry Foyt (No. 14 Harrah's Casino Chevrolet), talking about how his spotter David Green was able to guide him through last week's 27-car accident at Talladega Superspeedway.


Todd Bodine (No. 92 Excedrin Chevrolet this season) won the first NASCAR Busch Series race at California Speedway - the Kenwood 300 - in 1997. He started the Stanley Pontiac 28th. That remains the deepest start for a NASCAR Busch winner at the track. Check out his margin of victory: a whopping 15.903 seconds over runner-up Steve Park's Chevrolet.


Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Drivers Todd Bodine , Steve Park , Jason Keller , Kenny Wallace , Jeff Green , Hank Parker Jr. , Casey Mears , Larry Foyt , Tony Raines , Jack Sprague , Jeff Purvis , David Green , Scott Riggs