WS: Irwindale II: Round seven preview

* Holmes looks to avenge disappointing loss earlier this year * First six races in 2006 feature six different Budweiser Pole Award winners * Tight championship battle heads to Southern California DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2006) --...

* Holmes looks to avenge disappointing loss earlier this year

* First six races in 2006 feature six different Budweiser Pole Award winners

* Tight championship battle heads to Southern California

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2006) -- Eric Holmes (No. 62 Sunoco Race Fuels/Paul Oil Chevrolet) knows his way around Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. It was where he scored the biggest victory of his racing career. It is also the site of his biggest disappointment.

Holmes grabbed the spotlight by winning the AutoZone Elite Division portion of the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2004. Bitter disappointment followed his first NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series race at the half-mile track earlier this season, however, as he came within inches of victory.

"That was the most disappointed I've ever been," the 31-year-old driver from Escalon, Calif., said of the AutoZone West Series race in May. "I was really upset. I thought I had him. I actually thought there was one more lap to go when we came to the white [flag]. I just ran out of time. I was very, very disappointed -- knowing I had a good car at the end of that race and to come up six or eight inches short."

Holmes has been looking forward to an opportunity to avenge his loss at the Southern California track. He will get his chance when the AutoZone West Series returns to the Irwindale Speedway for the King Taco 200 on Saturday, July 22.

The $111,453 event will be televised live in high definition to a national audience on HDNet. In addition, SPEED is scheduled to broadcast an enhanced replay at 11:30 a.m. (PT) on Aug. 3.

"Irwindale's always been a track I really liked and always ran really well at," Holmes said of the state-of-the-art facility where he won his first Budweiser Pole Award in the AutoZone West Series, but lost the race by .016 of a second.

A veteran of more than 70 races in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series -- Holmes began this season with plans to contend for the Southwest Series title, while competing on a limited basis in the West Series. Strong finishes early in the season in the West Series changed those plans, however.

"Now, we're in a championship battle; so we're going to go with it," Holmes said of shooting for championships in both divisions. "This is the last time you'll be able to run both," he said, in reference to the Elite Division being discontinued in 2007.

"I've never won a championship, so I'm hoping to come out with at least one -- but maybe we can come out with two," Holmes said.

To be successful, meanwhile, he must overcome an upcoming portion of the two schedules with several consecutive weeks of racing. The Irwindale race is the first of three straight weeks of racing in the AutoZone West Series and is sandwiched between Southwest Series events. Holmes considers this to be the most demanding part of this season. "It's a lot," Holmes admitted. "The five weeks in a row is going to be hard, three weeks in a row with the Grand National car and two with the tour car."

Some of his Southwest Series experience has benefited his transition to the heavier cars in the AutoZone West Series, according to Holmes. "The experience at Irwindale and Phoenix transfers to both cars," he said. "The experience on the short track cars is not the same at all, however," he added.

This marks Holmes' first full season of competition in the AutoZone West Series. He ran selected events previously, registering three top-five finishes in seven races between 1997 and 2003.

NEWS & NOTES

* The race -- The King Taco 200 is the seventh event in a 12-race schedule and marks a turning point as competitors head into the second half of the season. This event is the second of two stops by the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series to Irwindale this season. Andrew Myers (No. 44 Toyota of Escondido Chevrolet) took the win by inches over Eric Holmes when the series visited in May. The margin of victory of .016 of a second made for the closest finish in 14 series races at Irwindale.

* The track -- Irwindale Speedway is a half-mile paved oval with blended banking of six, nine and 12 degrees in the corners and banking of six degrees in the straights. The track has hosted 14 NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series events, dating back to June of 1999.

* Three-race swing -- This event marks the first of three-consecutive weekends of racing for the AutoZone West Series. The circuit heads to Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., on July 29 and then returns to California for a race at Stockton 99 Speedway on Aug. 5.

* Six races, six different Budweiser Pole winners in '06 -- The first six AutoZone West Series races this season have feature six different Budweiser Pole winners -- Spencer Clark (No. 23 Allegiant Air Ford) at Phoenix in January, Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) at Phoenix in April, Nick Lynch (No. 29 Baja Motorsports/Mr. Gas Dodge) at Stockton, Eric Holmes at Irwindale, Brian Vickers (No. 17 GMAC Chevrolet) at Sonoma and Peyton Sellers (No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet) at Roseburg.

* Points lead shuffled with tight championship battle -- The top positions have been shuffled in the championship standings after nearly every event this year. At the midway point of the season, with six of 12 races completed, four different drivers have been atop the standings. The competition is tight throughout -- with the top 10 drivers separated by just 135 points and the top 16 covered by only 255 points. For comparison, 254 points separated the top 10 drivers after six races a year ago and 266 points separated the top 10 drivers at the same point in 2004.

* Talented crop of rookies -- The competition is also close for this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. The top five members of the freshman class include Peyton Sellers, with 49 points; Brian Ickler (No. 20 NAPA Filters Chevrolet), with 46 points; Justin Lofton (No. 66 Lofton Cattle Feeding Investments Chevrolet), with 44 points; Eric Hardin (No. 18 Hardin Buick-Pontiac-GMC/DSNTV Chevrolet), with 35 points and James Bruncati (No. 22 Sunrise Ford Ford), with 20 points.

* Busy off weekend for Sellers -- Peyton Sellers had a busy weekend away from the AutoZone West Series. He pulled double duty at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H. Sellers made his debut in the NASCAR Busch Series event on Saturday, July 15 -- qualifying 41st and finishing 37th. He also competed in the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series race at the Magic Mile on July 14 -- registering a 33rd-place finish after starting on the outside of the front row and leading the first nine laps.

* Myers also makes trek to Northeast -- Andrew Myers also made the trek to New Hampshire International Speedway to compete in the Busch East Series race on July 14. Myers, a veteran of the Late Model class at Irwindale Speedway before joining the ranks of the AutoZone West Series in 2005, qualified 12th and finished 15th in his first visit to Loudon. He led 19 laps.

* Several drivers to debut in West -- Several drivers are scheduled to make their debut in the AutoZone West Series at Irwindale. Fallbrook, Calif., driver Scott Youngren (No. 45 Stone Truss/Shower Pan Man Ford) -- well-known to Irwindale fans as a competitor in the Late Model class -- is aiming to make his first start at the NASCAR Grand National Division level. Moses Smith (No. 76 Hasa Pool Products Pontiac) -- a Tempe, Ariz., driver with a varied motor sports background -- is also slated to make his first appearance in the AutoZone West Series. Another newcomer is NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division Southwest Series driver Brandon Loverock (No. 98 Unique Pizza & Subs Chevrolet) of Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

* Special breed of retired racers -- Members of the Greyhound Adoption Center will return to Irwindale Speedway for this race. This marks the fourth consecutive year for Jack Sellers (No. 75 Greyhound Adoption Center Chevrolet) to donate a portion of his winnings to the agency and display their name on his race car to increase public awareness of their effort to find homes for retired greyhound racers.

* Last year's event -- Although Mike Duncan won the Budweiser Pole position in last year's event, Andrew Myers shot into the early lead from outside the front row. Duncan battled back to take the lead on lap 14, however. Mike David (No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford) charged to the front and led briefly before Steve Portenga (No. 77 King Taco Ford) took command on lap 44. The lead went back and forth between Portenga and Duncan through the mid stages of the race. Portenga took advantage of lapped traffic to get by Duncan on lap 108 and remained out front to the finish. A late-race caution set the stage for a four-lap dash to the finish. Portenga paced the field to the checkered flag in the NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet, to win by 1.156 seconds over Scott Lynch. Third went to Brett Thompson (No. 61 Thompson Motorsports/Rich Thompson Trucking Chevrolet).

* Irwindale winners -- Austin Cameron (No. 88 RaceCarFans.com Chevrolet) leads AutoZone West Series winners at Irwindale, with four victories. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver and two-time AutoZone West Series champion Brendan Gaughan is next on the list with the three races he swept in 2001. Bobby Dotter and Steve Portenga are also multiple race winners, with two victories each.

* 10 Budweiser Pole winners at Irwindale -- The 14 visits by the series to Irwindale resulted in 10 different drivers winning a Budweiser Pole Award. Cameron, Duncan, Scott Lynch and Sean Woodside are multiple winners, with two each.

* Team dominance -- The Bill McAnally Racing team has dominated competition at Irwindale since 2001, winning seven of the last nine races. Gaughan swept all three series visits for BMR in 2001. Three of Cameron's four Irwindale wins were in the familiar blue and yellow No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored car, one in 2002 and two in 2004. Portenga added a BMR win, with last year's victory at Irwindale.

* Front runner -- Gaughan has the most top-five finishes at Irwindale, with six. The Las Vegas native also won the most money in series competition at the state-of-the-art facility, with $71,690, and led the most laps, running out front for 674 laps.

* Consistent veteran -- Series veteran Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet) has scored the most top-10s in series competition at Irwindale -- finishing in the top 10 in 10 of 12 races he has competed in there. He has also registered top-five finishes in four of the last five events there, including third earlier this year.

* Widespread competition -- In the 14 series races at Irwindale, 114 different drivers have taken the green flag. Austin Cameron tops that list, starting 13 of those races. Other drivers to compete in series events at Irwindale include NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Kurt Busch, who finished 22nd in the inaugural series race there in June of 1999; NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished fourth in that event; Mike Wallace, who finished fifth behind Hornaday; and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular Matt Crafton, who finished a close second to Bobby Dotter in 2000.

* A quick comparison -- Among drivers who have competed in four or more series races at Irwindale Speedway, Bobby Dotter has the best average finish of 4.0 in four races. Gaughan was close behind, with an average of 4.63 in eight races. Tops among active drivers is Steve Portenga, who entered this season with an average of 7.0 in 10 races at Irwindale and finished seventh there in May.

* Manufacturers' battle -- Chevrolet has been in victory lane for 12 of the 14 series races at Irwindale. Joe Bean scored Ford's only win there in 2000 and Scott Lynch nabbed the only win for Dodge at Irwindale in 2003.

* About the distance -- The 14 series events at Irwindale have varied in distance. Seven were 250-lap races (two in 1999, two in 2000 and three in 2001); three were 200 laps (one each in 2002 and 2003, and one more earlier this season); three were 150 laps (both in 2004 and one in 2005) and one was 300 laps (the season finale in 2000).

* Stat of the race -- Three of the 14 West Series races at Irwindale were won from the Budweiser Pole position.

Fast Facts

What: King Taco 200, NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Race #7

Where: Irwindale Speedway, Irwindale, Calif.

When: 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22.

Track layout: .5-mile paved oval.
Distance: 200 Laps, 100 miles.

Posted Awards: $111,453

TV: HDNet (Live)
SPEED (enhanced replay, Aug. 3, 11:30 a.m. PT)

2005 winner: Steve Portenga.
2005 polesitter: Mike Duncan.

Records: Qualifying: Butch Gilliland, June 19, 1999, 100.722 mph, 17.871 sec.; Race: Austin Cameron, July 27, 2002, 76.062 mph, 1 hr 18 min 53 sec

Pre-race schedule: Saturday -- Practice, Noon-12:45 p.m., 1:15-2 p.m. Qualifying, 4:30 p.m. Note: All times subject to change.

NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Top 10: 1. Peyton Sellers 902, 2. Mike David 887, 3. Eric Holmes 866, 4. Mike Duncan 850, 5. Steve Portenga 823, 6. Brian Ickler 812, 7. Jim Inglebright 806, 8. Brett Thompson 774, 9. Scott Gaylord 767, 10. Justin Lofton 767.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Bobby Dotter , Matt Crafton , Moses Smith , Brendan Gaughan , Steve Portenga , Jim Inglebright , Scott Gaylord , Jack Sellers , Brett Thompson , Scott Lynch , Mike David , Eric Holmes , Austin Cameron , Peyton Sellers , Andrew Myers , Justin Lofton , Scott Young , Brian Ickler