DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- He’s back! One of the best known stock car drivers on the West Coast is back behind the wheel. Austin Cameron (No. 88 RaceCarFans.com Chevrolet) returned to competition this year in the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series after taking last season off.
The past year was a busy one away from the track for the 29-year-old El Cajon, Calif., competitor. Cameron underwent heart bypass surgery in April to repair a major vein damaged subsequent to his cancer treatment of several years ago. Wedding bells rang a month later in May, as he married his long-time girlfriend, Rachelle.
By the end of the year, however, Cameron was ready to return to competition. “I was pretty much chomping at the bit trying to get back at it,” he said. “I took the year off, and it was necessary that I take it off, but I was burning up the carpet at home to get in a race car. That was something I told myself before the heart surgery was that ‘I would be back. That won’t stop me.’ ”
Cameron – who holds numerous series records, including leading the list of career money winners with more than $900,000 – also has the most series wins at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, with four victories. He hopes to extend that mark with another win as the series heads to Irwindale for the King Taco 200 on Saturday, May 27.
The event – the fourth in a 12-race schedule for the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series – will be televised to a national audience live in high definition on HDNet. In addition, SPEED is scheduled to provide an enhanced replay at 2:30 p.m. PT on June 15.
Cameron’s first career series victory came at Irwindale in 1999, driving his family-owned No. 12 AC Motorsports Chevrolet. He added three more Irwindale wins between 2002 and 2004, while piloting the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Now he is anxious to deliver a victory to the team he joined in January, MRG Motorsports, and car owner Mark Golembeski.
“It’s been an awesome track for us,” Cameron said of the state-of-the-art Southern California facility where he also won a major post-season event in the form of the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown race in 2003.
“I’m extremely confident heading into this race,” said Cameron, who has the most starts at Irwindale of any series driver, having raced in 12 of the 13 AutoZone West Series races there. “Any time we get into these short tracks, I love it – especially going to Irwindale.”
Part of Cameron’s optimism stems from David Gilliland’s performance the past two seasons in the MRG Motorsports entry at Irwindale – a record which also includes a victory in the 2005 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. “The 88 car has always been real strong at Irwindale with David driving it,” Cameron said. “So, I feel like we have a really good package to start out with. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait.”
Cameron joined the MRG team at the beginning of the season, after Gilliland departed for the NASCAR Busch Series. Although a mechanical problem relegated him to a 28th-place finish in the season opener, Cameron has run up front in the two races since.
The biggest adjustment he has faced since joining the team has been his communication with crew chief Mike Naake, according to Cameron. “It’s just basically getting my communication down with Mike, so that he understands what I’m saying and I understand what he’s saying,” Cameron said. “It took a couple of practices and a couple of races to get that feeling where he knows when I say something he knows exactly what I mean and knows what to change on the car. That’s the biggest thing, communication.”
Although he is excited about being back in a race car this year, there is an upcoming event for Cameron and his wife that looms even larger – the birth of their first child, due early next month. “I can’t wait for that,” Cameron said proudly. “I’m super excited about starting a family and everything.”
Cameron, who won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award after joining the series in 1998, has 13 career series wins and 11 career Budweiser Poles. He was voted Most Popular Driver in 2003 and 2004.
NEWS & NOTES
- The race … This event is the fourth race on the series schedule for 2006. It marks the first of two visits by the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series to Irwindale this season.
- The track … Irwindale Speedway is a half-mile paved oval with blended banking of six, nine and 12 degrees in the corners and banking of six degrees in the straights. The track has hosted 13 NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series events.
- Bonus money …The championship standings will have added emphasis at Irwindale. A combined $50,000 in prize money will be paid out through the first portion of the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Leader Bonus Program to the top 15 drivers in the championship standings following this race.
- No repeat … The first three series races of the 2006 season have resulted in three different race winners – Ken Schrader (No. 99 Chevrolet) at Phoenix in January; Andrew Myers (No. 44 Toyota of Escondido Chevrolet) at Phoenix in April; and Mike David (No. 2 Bennett Lane Winery Ford) at Stockton. The first three events also featured three different Budweiser Pole winners – Spencer Clark (No. 23 Allegiant Air/JF Bellini Ford); Mike Duncan (No. 9 Lucas Oil/Ron’s Rear Ends Chevrolet); and Nick Lynch (No. 29 Baja Motorsports/Mr. Gas Dodge).
- Leading the points … With his victory at Stockton, Mike David moved atop the championship standings. The Modesto, Calif., competitor leads by 15 points over Steve Portenga (No. 77 King Taco Ford). Series rookie Peyton Sellers (No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts/NAPA Belts & Hose) is 33 markers back from the lead in third.
- BMR dominance … The Bill McAnally Racing No. 16 NAPA/NAPA Belts & Hose Chevrolet has dominated recent series competition at Irwindale Speedway. The team has won seven of the past eight races. Brendan Gaughan got the victory charge started for the team there, sweeping three visits at the state-of-the-art facility in 2001. Austin Cameron kept the momentum rolling with a win in the only series race at Irwindale in 2002. After finishing out of the top 10 there the following year, Cameron swept two visits to Irwindale in 2004. Steve Portenga piloted the BMR entry to victory lane in the only series race at Irwindale last year.
- Irwindale experience … Nearly all the members of the freshman class competing for this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the AutoZone West Series list Irwindale Speedway on their racing resume, with 12 of the 15 rookies having experience in at least one race there. A significant portion of the rookies raced at the Southern California facility on a regular basis at some point in their career.
- Consecutive starts for Gaylord … Starting the race at Irwindale will move series veteran Scott Gaylord (No. 00 Oliver Gravity Separators/Denver Seminary Chevrolet) into a tie with Kevin Richards and Sonny Easley for third on the list of consecutive series starts in the modern era (1971 to present) with 79. Ray Elder leads the category with 121 straight starts in the era, followed by Bill Schmitt with 118. While Gaylord has 161 career starts overall, dating back to 1988 – his current string of 78 straight starts began Oct. 17, 1999.
- Nine Budweiser Pole winners … The 13 visits by the series to Irwindale resulted in nine different drivers winning a Budweiser Pole Award. Austin Cameron, Mike Duncan, Scott Lynch and Sean Woodside are multiple winners, with two each.
- Front runner … Brendan Gaughan, meanwhile, has the most top-five finishes at Irwindale, with six. The two-time series champion also won the most money in series competition at there, with $71,690, and led the most laps, running out front for 674 laps.
- Top 10 finishes … Scott Gaylord has scored the most top-10s in series competition at Irwindale – finishing in the top 10 in nine of the 11 races he entered there.
- Consistent marks … Brett Thompson (No. 61 Thompson Motorsports/Rich Thompson Trucking Chevrolet) has top-five finishes in three of the past four races at Irwindale – including back-to-back third-place finishes in 2004 and 2005.
- Widespread competition … There have been 105 different competitors who took the green flag in the 13 series races at Irwindale Speedway. Austin Cameron’s 12 starts top the list.
- Quick comparison … Among drivers who have competed in four or more series races at Irwindale Speedway, Bobby Dotter has the best average finish of 4.0 in four races. Gaughan was close behind, with an average of 4.63 in eight races. Steve Portenga (No. 77 King Taco Ford) is tops among current active drivers with an average finish of 7.00 in 10 races. Gaylord is close behind with an average of 7.91 in 11 races.
- Close finishes … The margin of victory was less than a second in eight of the 13 series races at Irwindale. The closest finish there was in November of 2000 when Bobby Dotter edged Matt Crafton by .024 of a second. It was the only lap Dotter led in that event.
- Manufacturers’ battle … Chevrolet has been in victory lane for 11 of the 12 series races at Irwindale. Joe Bean scored Ford’s only win there in 2000 and Scott Lynch nabbed the only win for Dodge at Irwindale in 2003.
- Stat of the race … Only three of the 13 AutoZone West Series races at Irwindale have been won from the Budweiser Pole position.
- Points leader – Mike David, 481
- Money won – Mike David, $21,550
- Laps led – Mike David, 108
- Laps completed – Mike David, 433; Steve Portenga, 433; Peyton Sellers, 433; Jim Inglebright, 433; Spencer Clark, 433; Mike Duncan, 433; Daryl Harr, 433
- Average finish – Steve Portenga, 5.00
- Victories – Mike David, 1; Ken Schrader, 1; Andrew Myers, 1
- Poles – Nick Lynch, 1; Spencer Clark, 1; Mike Duncan, 1
- Top-five finishes – Mike David, 2; Steve Portenga, 2; Peyton Sellers, 2; Eric Holmes, 2
- Top-10 finishes – Steve Portenga, 3; Jim Inglebright, 3
- Races led – Mike David, 2; Mike Duncan, 2, Matt Kobyluck, 2
Drivers celebrating a birthday during the first part of the upcoming month of June include Jason Small, who turns 27 on the 7th; Kevin Richards, who turns 44 on the 13th; Anthony Lloyd Mack, who turns 24 on the 16th; Brett Thompson, who turns 29 on the 17th; Tim Smith, who turns 38 on the 19th; and Bruce Betts, who turns 58 on the 19th.
What: KING TACO 200,
NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Race #4
Where: Irwindale Speedway, Irwindale, Calif.
When: 8:00 p.m., Saturday, May 27.
Track layout: .5-mile paved oval.
Distance: 200 Laps, 100 miles
Posted Awards: $111,453
TV: HDNet (Live)
SPEED (enhanced replay, June 15, 2:30 p.m. PT)
2005 winner: Event not held.
2005 polesitter: Event not held.
Records: Qualifying: Butch Gilliland, June 19, 1999, 100.722 mph, 17.871 sec.; Race: Austin Cameron, July 27, 2002, 76.062 mph, 1 hr 18 mn 53 sec
Pre-race schedule: Saturday – Practice, Noon-12:45 p.m., 1:15-2 p.m. Qualifying, 4:30 p.m. Note: All times subject to change.
NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series Top 10: 1. Mike David 481, 2. Steve Portenga 466, 3. Peyton Sellers 448, 4. Jim Inglebright 439, 5. Eric Holmes 433, 6. Spencer Clark 423, 7. Brett Thompson 412, 8. Mike Duncan 410, 9. Brian Ickler 371, 10. Daryl Harr 369.
Track Contact: Kevin O’Brien