WWS: Las Vegas: Steve Portenga - NASCAR spotlight

Portenga hopes to capitalize on return to the series. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 7, 2003) - Steve Portenga is back. After running the full schedule in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2002, he returned this season to the NASCAR Grand...

Portenga hopes to capitalize on return to the series.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 7, 2003) - Steve Portenga is back. After running the full schedule in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2002, he returned this season to the NASCAR Grand National Division, Winston West Series. He brings with him an unbridled enthusiasm and appreciation for the West's oldest stock car racing circuit.

"I missed it after being gone a year," Portenga said. "I really missed the fun and competitiveness of the Winston West Series. I want to be a contender to win at each and every race and I think I can do that in the series. I'm at the point in my career where I want to start building on my record."

Portenga already has three wins, 13 top-fives and 26 top-10 finishes in series competition. He will get a chance to add to those figures when the Winston West Series travels to Las Vegas on Saturday, April 12, for the Orleans 222 on The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The $106,614 event will be televised to a national audience on SPEED Channel on a tape-delay basis. It is set to air at 10 a.m. ET on April 19.

Portenga, who finished in the top-five of the Winston West Series championship standings for three consecutive years between 1999 and 2001, says he has no regrets about the move he made last year. "It was an opportunity I had to take and I'm glad I did it, because it made me appreciate the Winston West Series and the West Coast and all the people out here," he said.

Without the resources needed to be competitive on a national circuit, however, Portenga knew he needed to make a change for 2003. "Basically, my sponsorship funding wasn't really there for the trucks," he explained. "We just decided I wanted to come back and be competitive."

It was not the first time Portenga has faced such a decision. After racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in its inaugural season in 1995 and part of 1996, he returned to more familiar territory in the NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series. He had won the rookie title in that series in 1992 and was the Featherlite Southwest Series champion in 1994.

While some drivers might have reservations about making such a move, Portenga capitalized on it and ended up winning a second series championship in 1998.

The second title helped propel him into a full-time ride in the Winston West Series in 1999. A year later, he took on the added role as the primary owner of the team.

Despite his success in the series as a car owner, Portenga jumped at the chance to drive this season for Joe Nava and the Performance Motorsports team in the King Taco-sponsored Ford. "Driving for someone else is something my wife and I had talked about," Portenga said. "It's more of a relaxed environment. I've got someone else doing all the worrying. All I have to do is perform. It takes all the pressure off of me. I'm back to having fun again."

Don't get the idea that Portenga will be taking it easy, however. "We both have very high expectations," Portenga said of teaming up with Nava. "Joe is very serious about the Winston West championship. He is very goal oriented.

In fact, we have a lot of goals set this year. A lot of people may underestimate the 77 car, but we have had a lot of changes over the winter. I think people will know we're there. It's going to be exciting. I could go on for hours because of my enthusiasm. It's going to be a fun year."

Portenga hailed from Sparks, Nev., when he won his first NASCAR championship while competing in a sportsman division at a track in Carson City, Nev., in 1991. The 32-year-old driver and his family now reside near Bakersfield, Calif.

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Steve Portenga