WS: Phoenix II: Round two preview

* Duncan looks to make up ground in pursuit of 3rd straight title * Growing field of newcomers join series * Drivers from Busch East Series make the trek to Phoenix DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 17, 2006) -- With one race in the books ...

* Duncan looks to make up ground in pursuit of 3rd straight title

* Growing field of newcomers join series

* Drivers from Busch East Series make the trek to Phoenix

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 17, 2006) -- With one race in the books for the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series in 2006 -- defending two-time champion Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) is already looking to make up ground in the championship standings. A 13th-place finish in the season opener at Phoenix International Raceway in January left him out of the top 10 of the points for the first time since April 2003.

The 44-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., competitor hopes to bounce back as the AutoZone West Series returns to Phoenix for the Casino Arizona 150 on Thursday, April 20. The race, a companion event with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series races at PIR, is to be televised to a national audience live in high definition on HDNet. In addition, SPEED is to provide an enhanced replay.

Despite his success nearly everywhere on the circuit, Duncan has encountered problems at Phoenix. "We're kind of use to having bad starts at Phoenix," said Duncan. "It seems like every year something happens or during the course of the season we'll have a bad showing there. It's not a surprise to me. It could have been a lot worse. Hopefully, that will be the end of our finishes out of the top 10 and we can start chasing our way back toward the front."

Although he rebounded from ninth at the beginning of the 2004 season to take the points lead following the third race, Duncan does not expect to see that kind of rebound this season. "I think the competition this year is a lot deeper," said Duncan. "I think it's going to be a lot tougher to gain that kind of ground that fast. It's just going to take consistent finishes, like we're capable of doing -- but there's a lot of luck involved in getting that top spot by the end of the year."

Duncan has to contend with a strong field of rookies and several veterans returning to full-time competition this year.

"You just have to dig deep and make sure you've done all your homework and you're totally prepared each time you come to an event," Duncan said of going for a third consecutive championship. "I think the 'luck factor' is the biggest asset that somebody can have. Whoever has that rabbit's foot throughout the season is going to be the one that ends up on top. I don't think any one team is that much more superior over any other team."


*The race -- This event is the second race on the series schedule for 2006, making for back-to-back visits to the Valley of the Sun. The NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series initially kicked off its 53rd season at PIR on Jan. 22.

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

*Large field of entries -- The nearly 40 drivers pre-entered for this event represent 10 states, as well as Canada. California has the most representation, with more than 20 drivers hailing from the Golden State. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Connecticut each have two drivers entered -- while Nevada, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington each have one. Series veteran, Carl Harr (No. 71 WestWorld Computers Chevrolet) will make the long haul from Edmonton, Canada.

*Growing freshman class -- Spencer Clark (No. 23 Allegiant Air Ford) has joined the large list of drivers competing for this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. He joins with 14 other drivers who registered for the program at the season opener in January.

*From the Southwest Series -- Several veterans of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series are entered in this event. Auggie Vidovich (No. 57 DenBeste Trucking Ford) will be making his second appearance in the AutoZone West Series. Vidovich, the 2003 champion and three-time runner-up in the Southwest Series, finished 16th in his AutoZone West Series debut in Las Vegas in 2001. Stan Silva Jr. (No. 65 A&S Metals/Stan Silva Jr. Trucking Chevrolet) is slated to make his AutoZone West Series debut at PIR. Todd Souza (No. 13 Bianco Basura Chevrolet), who made his only series appearance in a substitute role at Phoenix in 2004, is also entered.

*Long haul -- Two drivers from the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series are slated to make the journey to Phoenix for this event. Matt Kobyluck (No. 40 Mohegan Sun Chevrolet), who has competed in four season-opening races at PIR, is on the entry list. After being sidelined by mechanical trouble in his AutoZone West Series debut in this event a year ago, Ted Christopher (No. 35 Van Dyke Baker Ford) will be hoping for better results this time out. In addition to winning the 2001 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national championship, Christopher has 10 wins in the Busch East Series and 23 wins in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

*Last year's race -- The inaugural NASCAR race under the lights at PIR was an exciting event that featured a wild finish. Burney Lamar took advantage of two late-race cautions and a last-lap scramble to catch the leaders and slip by for the win. Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet) started things off by winning the Budweiser Pole position and leading the first 38 laps -- before giving way to Busch East Series regular Dale Quarterley. Lamar took the point 10 laps later -- driving for car owner and former AutoZone West Series champion Kevin Harvick. When the leaders pitted during a caution, Brett Thompson (No. 61 Thompson Motorsports/Rich Thompson Trucking Chevrolet) stayed on track and assumed the lead. Lamar was back out front by lap 90 and began to build a sizeable lead. Second generation Busch East Series driver Ryan Moore began to close the gap and slipped by Lamar on lap 133. Scott Lynch, who had steadily moved forward after starting 19th, charged into the lead on lap 143 and appeared headed for victory. However, the field was bunched on lap 148 by the first of two late-race cautions -- twice extending the event for a green-white-checkered finish. Lynch and Moore waged a fierce battle in the final two laps. As they came in contact in turn three on the final lap, the pair slid up the track -- allowing Lamar to slip by on the inside. Lynch recovered for second, followed by Moore.

*Leading money winner -- Austin Cameron (No. 88 Chevrolet) -- who leads the standings among career money winners in the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series with $899,163 -- is expected to surpass the $900,000 mark with his winnings at Phoenix.

*Leading winners -- With his victory at PIR in January, Ken Schrader (No. 99 Arizona Casino Chevrolet) has the most wins in series competition at Phoenix, with four.

*Most poles -- Richard Petty leads the number of Budweiser Pole Awards in series competition at Phoenix -- winning in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

*Top fives -- While Bobby Allison holds the mark for the most top-five finishes overall in the series at Phoenix, with six -- Austin Cameron has the most top-fives among active drivers with five.

*Top tens -- Cameron, who has 10 series starts at Phoenix, and Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet) are tied for the most top-10 series finishes at PIR -- with eight each. Gaylord of Lakewood, Colo., has taken the green flag at PIR more than any other driver in the series. In 12 stand-alone West Series events, his best finish was second in 2004. The veteran driver also entered seven combination races with the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series at PIR.

*Top money -- Cameron leads in terms of series winnings at Phoenix, with $71,384.

*Running out front -- 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, Neil Bonnett had the best average finish of 2.2 in five races. Among current active drivers with four or more races at PIR, the average finish of 5.25 by Jim Inglebright (No. 1 Jelly Belly Chevrolet) ranks highest.

*Wins among manufacturers -- Chevrolet has the most wins at Phoenix International Raceway among automobile manufacturers, with eight.

*Stat of the race -- Five of the 20 AutoZone West Series races at PIR were won from the Budweiser Pole. Three winners started outside of the top 10. Rich Woodland Jr., started the furthest back and won -- coming from 21st on the grid in 1998.


Drivers celebrating a birthday during the month of April include David Gilliland, who turned 30 on the 1st; and Nick Lynch, who turned 24 on the 7th.


What: Casino Arizona 150,

NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Race #2

Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Phoenix, Ariz.

When: 8:00 p.m., Thursday, April 20.

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

Posted Awards: $204,460

TV: HDNet (Live)
SPEED (Enhanced replay)

2005 winner: Burney Lamar.
2005 polesitter: Mike Duncan.

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.

Pre-race schedule: Thursday -- Practice, 9:30-10:30 a.m., 11 a.m.-12:05 p.m. Qualifying, 3:35 p.m. Note: Subject to change.

NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Top 10: 1. Ken Schrader 185, 2. Eric Holmes 170, 3. Matt Kobyluck 170, 4. Spencer Clark 170, 5. Peyton Sellers 155, 6. Brian Ickler 150, 7. Steve Portenga 146, 8. Brett Thompson 143, 9. Jim Inglebright 142, 10. Scott Gaylord 134.


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Drivers Rich Woodland , Richard Petty , Dale Quarterley , Matt Kobyluck , Steve Portenga , Jim Inglebright , Scott Gaylord , Brett Thompson , Scott Lynch , Carl Harr , Bobby Allison , Eric Holmes , Stan Silva Jr. , Burney Lamar , Auggie Vidovich , Todd Souza , Austin Cameron , Peyton Sellers , Ted Christopher , Brian Ickler