IRWINDALE, California - Austin Cameron scored his fifth win of the season with a victory in the NAPA 150 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on Saturday - but it was not enough to overtake Mike Duncan, who clinched the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series championship with a ninth-place finish in the season finale.
Duncan, who came 14 points shy of the title a year ago, secured this year's championship by 16 points over Cameron.
"I'm so glad it's over. It wore me out," said Duncan, who fought a loose handling race car. "The car was so loose. We wanted two inches of stagger in the back. We had three and a half. It's unbelievable how bad it was. It was like being on ice all the way through the corner. The back end wanted to come around. I can't drive a car with a lot of stagger. It's too much. You can't adjust the car around stagger. You've got to have what you need."
Duncan - a 42-year-old former minor league baseball player from Bakersfield, Calif. - expressed the strain he experienced during the race. "It was just the most unbelievable test of nerves that anybody could ever go through," he said. "I could just see (the championship) going away and he's (Austin) checking out. He's leading the race. I knew that we had to get the thing together to have a chance."
For Cameron, who won five of 13 series races this season, the victory was bittersweet. "It's tough to swallow when you want it so bad," he said of the championship. "This is what makes a racer a racer and a winner a winner is times like this and seasons like this. All I can do is look at it and build on it and do better next time."
After doing a burnout to celebrate his win, Cameron pulled his car door to door with Duncan's car in turn four to offer his congratulations. "I couldn' t pick a better guy to beat me than Mike Duncan," Cameron said later. "They deserve it. They got us by just this much."
Cameron's race win did not come easy, meanwhile. Defending series champion Scott Lynch, who had won his second Bud Pole Award of the season with a qualifying lap of 98.582 mph in his Yerf-Dog/Orleans Racing Dodge, led the early stages of the race.
Although series rookie David Gilliland charged past to dominate much of the early going, a flat right front tire slowed his effort. Johnny Borneman took command and appeared he might have the car to beat, but an overheating problem sidelined him on lap 87.
Cameron - who started fifth on the grid - took over from there and paced the field to the finish, despite a late-race caution that set up a green-white-checkered finish. The El Cajon, Calif., piloted the NAPA/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet to a margin of victory of .583 seconds. His win, the 13th of his career, netted him $6,750.
NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series regular Dale Quarterley of Westfield, Mass., finished a strong second in his EDART/Van Dyk Chevrolet. Brett Thompson of Jerome, Idaho, was third in the Rich Thompson Trucking Chevrolet. Gilliland of Riverside, Calif., recovered from his flat tire to take fourth in the RaceCarFans.com Chevrolet. Fifth went to series veteran Scott Gaylord of Lakewood, Colo., in the Oliver Gravity Separators Chevrolet. Rounding out the top 10 were Mike David, Lynch, Tim Woods III, Duncan and Carl Harr.
The race featured five lead changes among four drivers - Cameron, Gilliland, Borneman and Lynch. The pace of the event was slowed by five cautions for 26 laps.
Duncan wrapped up his season with one win, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in the Lucas Oil/Ron's Rear Ends Chevrolet. He won the title with 2,090 points over Cameron's 2,074. Gilliland finished third in the standings with 1,915, followed by Gaylord with 1,900. Lynch finished fifth with 1,877. Completing the top 10 in points are David at 1,803, Daryl Harr at 1,711, Carl Harr at 1,666, Tim Woods III at 1,642 and Jose Luis Ramirez at 1,534.
Gilliland clinched the Auto Meter Rookie of the Year Award - followed by Daryl Harr, Carl Harr, Nick DeFazio and Jose Luis Ramirez.