WS: Phoenix II: Round ten preview

* Duncan hopes to fuel championship run at Phoenix * Sarah Fisher slated for NASCAR debut at PIR * First of four consecutive races to close out season DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 27, 2004) - When Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas...

*         Duncan hopes to fuel championship run at Phoenix

* Sarah Fisher slated for NASCAR debut at PIR
* First of four consecutive races to close out season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 27, 2004) - When Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron 's Rear Ends Chevrolet) came to Phoenix International Raceway a year ago, he was in the midst of a championship battle in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. Despite a third-place finish at PIR and a win in the season finale, Duncan came up 14 points shy in his title bid.

As he returns to Phoenix for this year's event, he is in another fierce championship battle. Unlike last year, when Duncan was third in the standings and trying to come from behind, he enters this event with an 83-point lead and is riding a string of six consecutive top-five finishes. He hopes to add to that lead and extend his streak with a solid finish in the Subway 150 at PIR on Sunday, Oct. 3. The $144,772 event will be televised to a national audience live in high definition on HDNet. In addition, SPEED Channel will provide an enhanced replay Dec. 4.

Duncan plans to use the same approach to this race as he did a year ago. "I don't approach this points thing like we are leading," said the 42-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., competitor. "I still feel like Austin Cameron is the car to chase. I feel like we are chasing him. It's just fortunate right now that the points are in our favor. I feel like all the way to the end, he is the one that we and everybody else are going to have to chase. That's the way I approach it. We are trying to win every race."

Duncan's performance at Phoenix last fall was in contrast to some less-than-stellar finishes he has experienced at PIR in season-opening events. In fact, his average finish in six early-season races at Phoenix is 17.5, with his best being a 10th at the beginning of this year. "I think the biggest deal is hitting the setup," Duncan said. "I know when we were there in the spring this year, I felt like we had a good car - but something happened with the left rear tire. We had a lot of stagger and we were chasing that and just never got our setup back to where it needed to be.

"I know our past performances there have not been good," Duncan acknowledged. "I don't know if it's just Phoenix or if it's the whole state of Arizona, because when we use to run down at Tucson it seemed we never did very well. Hopefully, our due time is now and we will be able to run well. I don't feel like it's a lack of confidence or a lack of knowledge for the PIR track, because I think we have a decent program for that racetrack."

The Subway 150 is the first of four races on four consecutive weekends to close out the 2004 season and decide the championship in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. A mistake in any of these final four events could cost him a shot at the title, said Duncan, who won the West Series Rookie-of-the-Year Award in 2000. "You can't slip at all, anywhere," he stressed. "If a persons slips on any of the tracks, it's going to hurt him - probably to a point that he might not be able to recover. Definitely finishing the race is the most important, but yet finishing ahead of all your opponents is the other key factor."

In addition to his string of six top-five finishes - Duncan has finished in the top-10 in 20 consecutive races, dating back to the second event of the 2003 season. He has also dominated qualifying this season, winning five of eight Bud Pole Awards, and has led the most laps of competition. His approach to racing is reminiscent of the drive and determination displayed by two-time series champion Bill Sedgwick, who now serves as Duncan's crew chief.

Duncan admits he has been influenced by Sedgwick. "I've got a lot of respect for him and I listen to what he says," Duncan said. "He and I think a lot alike in some ways and in some ways we don't. Consistency in your finishes is a big key and I know that he was consistent when he drove. I think that stays with me when I'm in the car. And I've got him in my ear the whole time, too. So, you know the way he thinks is being transferred into the way I think."

Another trait common between them is their serious nature. They both appear very focused and intent nearly all the time at a track. "I'm serious about everything I do," Duncan explained. "I don't like to do things in a half mode. Maybe I'm too serious most of the time. I know I need to smile more, but right now things are intense. Being around these guys you can feel the tension among the people. I know that we've got a target on us and everybody is chasing trying to get where we are at and we want to stay where we are at. I just think that it's best that we stay focused."

NEWS & NOTES

* The race . The Subway 150 is the 10th of 13 races on the series schedule for 2004. It is the second of two series visits to Phoenix International Raceway this season.

* 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 16 stand-alone West Series events, including this year's season-opener.

* Busy month . This event begins a busy month of October as the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series prepares to close out its championship season with four events in four consecutive weekends - Phoenix (Oct. 3), Colorado National Speedway (Oct. 9), Mesa Marin Raceway (Oct. 17) and Irwindale Speedway (Oct. 23).

* Popular open-wheel racer . Indy Racing League driver Sarah Fisher is slated to compete at Phoenix International Raceway in the Bill McAnally Racing No. 20 NASCAR Select by NAPA Filters Chevrolet. Fisher has raced four seasons in the IRL IndyCar Series and was voted the IRL's Most Popular Driver the past three years.

* Another newcomer . Also slated to make his NASCAR debut at Phoenix is Rafael Martinez of Monterrey, Mexico in an entry owned by Tavo CT Hellmund. Martinez is the 2002-2003 champion in the Copa Rashfrans Mustang GT series in Mexico and currently leads this year's standings.

* Double duty . A couple of drivers plan to pull double duty at Phoenix. Eddy McKean (No. 19 Magic Valley Steel and Pipe Ford) and Nick Joanides (No. 4 Puskarich Racing Chevrolet) are slated to compete in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series race and the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series race.

* Promoting awareness of camp . Both Daryl Harr (No. 71 WestWorld Motorsports Chevrolet) and his father, Carl Harr (No. 02 WestWorld Motorsports Chevrolet), have the Victory Junction Gang Camp logo on the hood of their cars. They are displaying the logo to promote awareness of the camp for seriously ill children.

* Special DoubleHeader race party . Drivers from the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series and the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series will be on hand for a special DoubleHeader Race Party at the F1 Race Factory in Phoenix from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday. Drivers will greet fans and sign autographs.

* Last year's race . The top three drivers in the championship standings finished in the top three positions when the series visited Phoenix last October. Scott Lynch (No. 08 Yerf Dog/Orleans Racing Dodge) scored his third win of the season and padded his lead in the championship standings slightly over race runner-up Steve Portenga and third-place finisher Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet).

* Multiple winners . With his victory earlier this year at Phoenix, Ken Schrader (No. 99 Federated Auto Parts Pontiac) 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 has started the past three races from the pole position, the lineup for the January race was set by the rulebook after inclement weather forced the cancellation of qualifying.

* Top marks . Austin Cameron (No. 16 NAPA/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet) holds the mark for the most top-five finishes among active drivers in the series. He has finished in the top five in five of the last seven series races at Phoenix. Cameron also holds the mark for the most top-10 series finishes at PIR, with seven, and leads in terms of series winnings at Phoenix, with $65,340.

* 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. Ken Schrader is second on the list with an average finish of 3.0 in four races, while Bobby 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 eight 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 three wins, however.

* Stat of the race . After inclement weather forced qualifying to be cancelled in this year's season opener, Ken Schrader had to start 19th on the grid. With his win, 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.

* Dominant season . In addition leading the championship standings, Mike Duncan leads the West Series in several other categories. He has led twice as many laps of competition (549) as any driver and has completed more laps than any other, running 1,506 of the 1,508 possible. His average finish of 4.22 is tops in the series, as well.

* Most money won . Austin Cameron leads the way in terms of the most money won so far in 2004, with $55,364 in winnings.

* Leading rookie . David Gilliland (No. 88 RaceCarCeilingFans.com Chevrolet) continues to lead the chase for this year's Auto Meter Rookie of the Year Award. He was the top finishing rookie in seven of the nine races completed.

* Battle among car owners . The championship standings among the car owners continues to be very tight. In the car owners' points standings, the four owners in second through sixth are separated by just 32 points.

* Power moves . The first nine races have produced nine different winners of the POWERade Power Move of the Race Award. POWERade, the official sports beverage of NASCAR sponsors the award at each event, along with a year-end award. It goes to drivers who advance the most positions from their official starting position to their finish in each race.

BIRTHDAYS

Drivers celebrating a birthday this week include Kristi Schmitt, who turns 24 on the 2nd, and Sarah Fisher, who turns 24 on the 4th.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

On Oct. 3, 1976, Gary Johnson came home with the win on the road course at Laguna Seca Raceway (now Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca) in Monterey, Calif. It marked the final event in a 12-race series schedule that year. Chuck Bown, who finished fifth at Monterey, won the 1976 championship over Ernie Stierly. Finishing second in the event was John Kieper, followed by Chuck Wahl and Richard White.

Fast Facts

What: Subway 150, NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series Race #10 of 13

Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Phoenix, Ariz.
When: 3:00 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 3.

Track layout: 1-mile superspeedway.
Distance: 150 Laps, 150 miles.

Posted Awards: $144,772

TV: HDNet (Live)
SPEED Channel (tape-delay, Dec. 4, Noon ET)

2003 winner: Scott Lynch.
2003 polesitter: Scott Lynch.

Pre-race schedule: Saturday - Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m., 11-11:45 a.m. Qualifying, 2 p.m. Final practice, 4:30-5 p.m. Note: Subject to change.

Field: 32 cars possible. Fastest 28 through time trials. Two provisional positions based on 2004 West Series championship owner point standings, one position based on 2004 West Series championship driver standings, one provisional position to West Series champion.

Records:
Qualifying: Steve Portenga, March 18, 2000, 129.394 mph, 27.822 sec.
Race: Scott Lynch, Oct. 5, 2003, 114.262 mph, 1 hr 18 min 46 sec.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ken Schrader , Sarah Fisher , Rich Woodland , Richard Petty , Steve Portenga , Scott Gaylord , Scott Lynch , Daryl Harr , Carl Harr , Bobby Allison , David Gilliland , Austin Cameron , John Gary