WS: Irwindale II: Race notes

CAMERON OVERCOMES OBSTACLES TO RETURN TO VICTORY LANE IN NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, AUTOZONE WEST SERIES IRWINDALE, Calif. (July 22, 2006) - Austin Cameron knows how to overcome obstacles. Diagnosed with cancer in 2003 - he battled back,...


IRWINDALE, Calif. (July 22, 2006) - Austin Cameron knows how to overcome obstacles. Diagnosed with cancer in 2003 - he battled back, determined not to let the illness deter his life or his racing career. He took last season off to undergo heart bypass surgery to repair a major vein damaged subsequent to his cancer treatment. He returned to racing in the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series this year, determined to get back on track and return to victory lane.

The first half of 2006 did not go as Cameron had hoped, as he and the MRG Motorsports team he joined in the off season endured a string of bad luck. He remained focused, however, and his determination paid off as he scored a victory in the King Taco 200 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on Saturday, July 22.

"This is going to give us a major lift for our team morale," said the 29-year-old driver from El Cajon, Calif. "It's a great deal. My focus was to finish, because we've just had a string of bad luck."

With everything he has faced in the past few years, Cameron has kept his racing struggles this year in perspective. "This is easy to keep your chin up doing this stuff," he said. "When you have a life-threatening disease and life is near death, this is a cake-walk."

It was most appropriate that his latest victory came on the track where Cameron has won more than any series driver and was the site of his greatest racing accomplishment, winning the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2003. Irwindale was also the site of his last win, in October of 2004.

Despite the obstacles he has faced, Cameron was positive he would return to victory lane. "I knew I could do it," he said. "My wife expects me to quit pretty soon, but I didn't let her know that I probably wouldn't quit until I won again," Cameron said with a chuckle. "I'm just happy to be back here."

His win concluded a day in which competitors battled triple-digit temperatures, as well as each other. Cameron used patience and pit strategy in getting the Chevrolet to the front late in the race and then pulled away for his 14th career victory and his fifth win at Irwindale.

After starting 12th, Cameron was up to sixth before pitting with most of the other leaders for fuel and fresh right-side tires on lap 64. With teams limited to just two new tires during the race, Cameron and his crew chief Mike Naake opted to pit again on lap 143 and put his original right-side tires back on the car. "The first thing we did when we got out of the pits, I told them to get some measurements on those other tires we took off and get them ready, because I think we might need to use them," Cameron said of his first stop."

Cameron took the lead from Peyton Sellers on lap 166 and pulled away for the win. "We were able to stretch it out a little bit," Cameron said. "The car was real equal, real balanced." His margin of victory was 1.604 seconds, at an average speed of 85.337 mph. With the win, Cameron netted $7,363 in prize money and posted awards.

Escalon, Calif., competitor Eric Holmes - who took the runner-up spot when the series visited Irwindale earlier in the season - finished second, again, in the Sunoco Race Fuels/Paul Oil Chevrolet. Johnny Borneman of Ramona, Calif., was third in the Borneman Plastering/Red Line Oil Ford - followed by Steve Portenga of Sparks, Nev., in the King Taco/Signco Ford and Mike David of Modesto, Calif., in the Bennett Lane Winery Ford. Completing the top 10 were Jim Inglebright; series rookie Justin Lofton; Kevin Conway; Scott Gaylord and a first-time competitor in the series, Moses Smith.

The race featured 10 lead changes among four drivers. Tim Woods III led the most laps, dominating from lap 66 to 146. He faded to finish 17th, however. Other race leaders included Holmes and Peyton Sellers, who led the championship standings coming into the event and won the Budweiser Pole Award with a lap of 97.297 mph in the NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet. His car suffered a flat tire late in the race, however, and he finished 16th.

David now holds a one-point advantage over Holmes in the standings - 1,042 to 1,041 - with Sellers third at 1,022. Portenga is fourth with 983, while two-time and defending series champion Mike Duncan is fifth with 968. Rounding out the top 10 are Inglebright at 956, Lofton at 913, Gaylord at 906, Brett Thompson at 904 and Brian Ickler at 894.

Sellers retained his lead in the chase of this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. He tops the list of freshman drivers with 58 points, followed by Lofton at 54, Ickler with 52 and Eric Hardin with 42. Others include Daniel DiGiacomo at 23, James Bruncati at 20, Eric Humphries at 16, Brian Pannone at 16, Nick Lynch at 15, Spencer Clark at 14, Justin Fisher at eight and Ed Watson at two.

The next event on the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series schedule is the NAPA Auto Parts 250 at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., on Saturday, July 29.


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Drivers Moses Smith , Steve Portenga , Tim Woods , Jim Inglebright , Scott Gaylord , Brett Thompson , Mike David , Eric Holmes , Kevin Conway , Austin Cameron , Peyton Sellers , Justin Lofton , Brian Ickler