WS: Mesa Marin: Round two preview

*Steve Portenga returns to racing after one-year absence *Lucas Oil 150 part of a big night of NASCAR racing *Sarah Fisher among talented crop of rookies set to compete DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 4, 2005) -- After taking a season off ...

*Steve Portenga returns to racing after one-year absence

*Lucas Oil 150 part of a big night of NASCAR racing

*Sarah Fisher among talented crop of rookies set to compete

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 4, 2005) -- After taking a season off from driving, Steve Portenga (No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet) returned to competition this year in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series.

While he downplays any adjustment in making his return to racing, the 34-year-old driver does admit to some pressure in joining Bill McAnally Racing this season and getting behind the wheel of the familiar blue No. 16 NAPA-sponsored Chevrolet.

"By far, I think it's the best ride on the West Coast and I feel very privileged to be in it," Portenga said. "It's a great opportunity for me."

That opportunity does come with some pressure, however, he admitted. "Over the winter, my wife kept saying that I had a lot of pressure on me," he explained. "I took it well over the winter, but now it feels like I do have a lot of pressure. There are some big shoes to fill at that team. Brendan Gaughan, Sean Woodside, Austin Cameron and Gary Smith -- they did well."

Smith scored the first series win for BMR in 1998. Woodside delivered the team its first championship in 1999. Gaughan drove to back-to-back titles for BMR in 2000 and 2001. And Cameron scored 12 victories in three seasons with BMR, as well as winning the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2003. "So, whoever has been in the NAPA car has done very well," Portenga said. "I think I can continue the trend. All of the key elements are in place."

After notching a top-10 finish in this year's season opener, he is anxious for his next opportunity as the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series visits Bakersfield, Calif., for the Lucas Oil 150 at Mesa Marin Raceway on Saturday, April 9.

The $103,101 event is to be televised to a national audience live in high definition on HDNet. In addition, SPEED Channel will provide an enhanced replay.

Portenga -- who lived in Sparks, Nev., when he began his racing career -- now resides near Bakersfield and considers Mesa Marin Raceway his home track. "It's one of my favorite tracks on the schedule," he said. "I won my first (NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division) Southwest Series race there in 1993, won a West race there in 2001 and qualified well in a (NASCAR Craftsman) Truck race there. I've got a lot of laps logged there. So, I really consider it home."

The high-banked features of the half-mile track fit his driving style, according to Portenga -- who in addition to his win has recorded three top-five and five top-10 finishes in six races there. "I really like the short tracks and I like the superspeedways," he said. "It's right in the middle. Mesa Marin is a fast short track. It's got the speed of some of the bigger tracks and the short-track driving style."

Concerning his return to driving after a one-year absence, meanwhile, Portenga says it was a quick transition back to the cockpit. "I kind of fell right back into place," he said. "I feel real comfortable. I think it's kind of like riding a bicycle."

Portenga -- a two-time champion in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series -- sat out the 2004 season as a driver to focus on his future. "I had a great opportunity with Joe Nava and Performance Motorsports to drive for them for a year (2003)," he said. "I was not really sure if I wanted to take that year off. I ended up running that year and having a lot of fun. I made up my mind that the NASCAR Grand National Division is as far as I want to go. This is where I want to make my home. I took a year off basically to figure things out."

He spent last year working as a crew chief for several race teams. "I was involved with some great people and learned a lot," Portenga said. "It gave me another role in racing. I've been an owner and a driver. I can basically say I've done it all now."


* The race -- The Lucas Oil 150 is the second race on the series schedule for 2005. It is one of two series visits this year to Bakersfield.

* The track -- Mesa Marin Raceway is a high-banked, half-mile paved oval with turns banked 17 degrees and seven degrees banking in the straights. The track has hosted 43 West Series races.

* Big night of NASCAR racing -- The Lucas Oil 150 is part of a big NASCAR double header at Mesa Marin Raceway. It will mark the first time for the track to host a NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series race and a NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series race on the same night.

* Talented rookie field -- Ten drivers have registered for this year's rookie program in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. Among them is Indy 500 veteran Sarah Fisher (No. 20 BMR/RCR Chevrolet), who will get her first taste of competition on the high-banked track. Last year this event was won by a rookie.

* Double duty -- One driver slated for double duty in Bakersfield is Burney Lamar (No. 92 Groeniger Chevrolet). In addition to competing in the Southwest Series race, he is slated to make his debut in the West Series.

* Media Day -- Members of the media will get an advance opportunity to see the drivers in action at Mesa Marin Raceway -- with a special practice session set for Media Day on Friday, April 8.

* Press conference-- The big NASCAR weekend in Bakersfield will get underway with a Mesa Marin Raceway press conference at a local indoor karting facility, Superkart Racing, on Thursday, April 7. Drivers representing both the West Series and Southwest Series are slated to attend.

* Last year's event -- A series of pit stops during a late-race caution gave David Gilliland (No. 88 Chevrolet) the advantage he needed to overcome a dominant Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) and capture the win in this event last year. Although Duncan led the first 120 laps of the race, he found himself at the back of the pack of lead-lap cars in the late stages of the event. He chased down Gilliland in the final laps, but had to settle for second when the caution flew on the white flag lap.

* New winners -- The 43 series races at Bakersfield produced 26 different winners. Both races at Mesa Marin Raceway in 2004 featured first-time winners in the series -- with then-rookie Gilliland winning in March and series veteran Brett Thompson (No. 61 Rich Thompson Trucking/Windmill Inns Chevrolet) notching his first victory last October.

* Other race winners -- In addition to Gilliland and Thompson -- other former Bakersfield race winners expected to enter this event include Duncan, who won in 2003, and Portenga, who won in 2001.

* Notable names -- There have been 277 different drivers who raced in series competition at Mesa Marin Raceway. The list includes nationally known drivers such as Davey Allison, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, Derrike Cope, Harry Gant, Ron Hornaday Jr., Jimmy Spencer and Rusty Wallace.

* Leading marks -- Bill Sedgwick leads many series statistics at Mesa Marin Raceway. With six victories, the two-time series champion has the most wins. He has won the most Bud Pole Awards, setting the fast-time seven times. He leads in terms of money won, taking home $106,821 in 23 races. He also led the most laps of competition around the high-banked track, running out front for 1,820 laps. Sedgwick is also a winning crew chief at Mesa Marin Raceway, guiding Mike Duncan to victory in 2003.

* Top finishes -- Four-time series champion Bill Schmitt holds the record for the most top-five finishes in series competition at the half-mile track, with 15. He also holds the record for the most top-10 finishes, with 19.

* How they compare -- Among active drivers who have competed in three or more series races at Mesa Marin Raceway, Scott Lynch (No. 08 Orleans Dodge) has the best average finish of 5.33 in three races. Steve Portenga (No. 16 NAPA/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet) and Duncan are tied for second on that list, with an average finish of 6.17 in six races for each.

* Long-time veteran -- Jack Sellers (No. 75 Aramark Pontiac) has taken the green flag at Mesa Marin in 30 series events, more than any driver in the series. His record on the half-mile track includes three top-10 finishes.

* Manufacturers' battle -- Chevrolet leads in manufacturer wins at Mesa Marin Raceway with 21, including the past four.

* Stat of the race -- Twelve of the 43 series races at Mesa Marin Raceway were won from the Bud Pole.


Drivers celebrating a birthday during the month of April include David Gilliland, who turned 29 on the 1st; Dusty Fielden, who turned 21 also on the 1st; and John Salemi, who turns 33 on the 29th.


Twenty years ago, Ruben Garcia scored back-to-back wins at Mesa Marin Raceway in the West Series. He edged Hershel McGriff for the win on June 8, 1985 and beat Bill Schmitt when the series returned on Oct. 5. Garcia of El Monte, Calif., finished in the top 10 of the championship standings four consecutive years between 1984 and 1987 -- with third in the final standings for 1985 being his best season.


What: Lucas Oil 150, NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series Race #2

Where: Mesa Marin Raceway, Bakersfield, Calif.
When: 8 p.m., Saturday, April 9.

Track layout: .5-mile paved oval.
Distance: 150 Laps, 75 miles.

Posted Awards: $103,101

TV: HDNet (Live)
SPEED Channel (Enhanced replay)

2004 winner: David Gilliland.
2004 polesitter: Mike Duncan.

Records: Qualifying: Butch Gilliland, May 30, 1999, 97.166 mph, 18.525 sec.; Race: Jim Robinson, May 8, 1982, 76.617 mph, 58 min 44 sec

Pre-race schedule: Saturday -- Practice, 12:45-1:30 p.m., 2:15-3 p.m. Qualifying, 4:30 p.m. Note: All times subject to change.

NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series Top 10: 1. David Gilliland 180, 2. Mike Duncan 170, 3. Jason Jefferson 165, 4. Mike David 160, 5. Brandon Ash 155, 6. Michel Jourdain Jr. 150, 7. Matt Kobyluck 146, 8. Dale Quarterley 142, 9. Steve Portenga 138, 10. Scott Lynch 134.


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Drivers Derrike Cope , Jimmy Spencer , Sarah Fisher , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Brendan Gaughan , Dale Quarterley , Matt Kobyluck , Steve Portenga , Jack Sellers , Brett Thompson , Scott Lynch , Mike David , Donnie Allison , David Gilliland , Burney Lamar , Brandon Ash , Austin Cameron , Jason Jefferson , Hershel McGriff , Harry Gant , John Salemi , Jim Robinson , Michel Jourdain , Davey Allison , Ruben Garcia