WS: Thunder Hill: Race notes

TEXAS TRIUMPH PUTS PORTENGA WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE OF TITLE IN NASCAR GRAND NATIONAL DIVISION, WEST SERIES KYLE, Texas (Oct. 1, 2005) - Problems for the top two drivers in the championship standings, coupled with a win by Steve...


KYLE, Texas (Oct. 1, 2005) - Problems for the top two drivers in the championship standings, coupled with a win by Steve Portenga, have made the title chase into a three-horse race with one event remaining in the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series.

Portenga's victory, his third of the season, came in a hotly-contested battle as the series staged its first race in Texas - The Allstate Texas Thunder 200 at Thunder Hill Raceway on Oct. 1.

While the visit to the Lone Star State brought good fortune for Portenga, who entered the event third in the championship standings, the outcome was quite the opposite for the top two drivers in the standings. The car of Scott Lynch - who led the points heading to Texas - spun after contact with another car just before the race's midway point. Although he returned to action, a second altercation sidelined him with a 15th-place finish.

Mike Duncan, who trailed Lynch by 33 points entering the event, suffered a similar fate. He encountered mechanical trouble and finished 16th. Consequently, Lynch retained the point lead by 41 markers over Duncan. With his win, Portenga, closed to within 54 points of the lead.

Patience was a big key to his success in Texas, according to Portenga. "My car wasn't great all night," he said. "I just adapted. I moved up high. I would square the corners off, which makes the car tight in the middle and helped it getting off the corners."

While Portenga was on the offense in the first half of the race, he played defense for much of the second portion. "My big concern the first half was that I was a little too loose," he said. "I did not want to take that left rear tire off the car. I made that mistake earlier this year. I made sure I was keeping a little bit left in the bank. I was even ready for a green-white-checkered."

The early leader of the race was Scott Gaylord, who won the Bud Pole Award in qualifying with a lap of 89.274 mph in the Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet. Duncan challenged several times after starting on the outside of the front row, but came up short in his bid for the lead. While Gaylord remained out front - Portenga and Lynch were charging to the front after starting sixth and seventh, respectively. Lynch slipped by Gaylord for the lead on lap 69, but lost the top spot to Portenga 15 laps later.

Also charging to the front of the field was David Gilliland, who had started 14th. He was in the top 10 by lap 20 and to sixth by lap 60. Gilliland made his way to the front just past the midway point of the race and began a see-saw battle with Portenga.

Portenga put the NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet out front for good on lap 128, however, and held off several late-race challengers for his seventh career series win. His margin of victory was 1.122 seconds. The former Sparks, Nev., resident who now lives in Bakersfield, Calif., took home $7,720 in prize money and posted awards.

Gilliland of Riverside, Calif., was second in the Chevrolet. Third place went to Gaylord of Lakewood, Colo. Series rookie Andrew Myers of Huntington Beach, Calif., was fourth in the Toyota of Escondido Chevrolet - followed by Mike David of Modesto, Calif., in the Bennett Lane Winery Ford. Rounding out the top 10 were Sarah Fisher, Brett Thompson, Andrew Lewis, Daryl Harr and Tim Smith.

The race featured six lead changes among four drivers - Portenga, Gaylord, Lynch and Gilliland. Nine cautions for 56 laps slowed the average speed of the race to 53.603 mph.

The first visit by the series to the 3/8-mile paved oval in Central Texas featured typical short track action with plenty of bumping and banging. Portenga credits his spotter and his "old school" approach to racing for his survival. "The spotter was on his toes tonight, telling me which cars were looking inside or outside," Portenga said. "I still drive the old style. I look over my shoulder. If I don't see their fender, they don't have the right of way. I don't rely on my spotter as much as some of these other guys do. That's old school racing."

Lynch, who won the series championship as a rookie in 2003, leads the championship standings with 1,812 points over Duncan with 1,771. Portenga is close behind with 1,758. Gilliland is fourth with 1,693, followed by David with 1,577. They are followed by Thompson at 1,521, Gaylord at 1,471, Tim Woods III at 1,463, Myers at 1,425 and Lewis at 1,423.

The battle for this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award is also coming down to the final event, with Lewis continuing to lead the standings. He has 91, followed closely by Myers with 86, Fisher with 79 and Smith with 61.

The NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series will wrap up its 2005 season with the Ford Motorcraft Parts 150 presented by 3M at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., on Oct. 15. The event, part of the annual October Classic, will mark the final event at the high-banked half-mile facility before it is razed for development.


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Drivers Sarah Fisher , Andrew Lewis , Steve Portenga , Scott Gaylord , Scott Lynch , Mike David , Daryl Harr , David Gilliland , Andrew Myers