The chase for the championship in the NASCAR Winston West Series this year is the closest the circuit has seen in nearly a decade.
Defending champion Brendan Gaughan has edged in front with a slight 32-point margin over series rookie Mark Reed, with 11 of 14 races on this year's schedule complete.
Gaughan's lead represents the narrowest points battle after 11 races that the series has experienced since 1992, when an 11-race schedule concluded with Bill Sedgwick holding a six-point advantage over Bill Schmitt.
This year's championship challenge featured an early-season battle between Reed of Bakersfield, Calif., and Austin Cameron of El Cajon, Calif. Reed topped the standings through most of the first 10 races, although Cameron led briefly after the fifth event.
Gaughan, meanwhile, has made a come-from-behind charge. Fueled by eight consecutive top-five finishes - including a season-leading four wins - the Las Vegas driver slipped into first place with a win in the most recent race.
"Our lead was a lot bigger last year," Gaughan said in reference to the 168-point advantage he held after 11 races a year ago. "I liked it last year better. It's a lot nicer when you've got that cushion. You can throw away a race."
Despite his momentum this year, Gaughan is cautious about the season's outcome. "There are still three races left," he said. "All we've got to do is have one bad race, one slip up, and anything can happen here. So, it's never over until the end. But I like our chances."
The next event on the series schedule is the Bank One 250 Presented by NAPA and Hoosier at Rocky Mountain Raceways near Salt Lake City on Sept. 1.
Gaughan heads into the event with 1,767 championship points. Reed trails with 1,735, followed by Cameron with 1,590. Steve Portenga of Sparks, Nev., is a close fourth with 1,573 - while Woodside of Saugus, Calif., is fifth with 1,544. Completing the top 10 are Eric Norris at 1,539, Johnny Borneman at 1,505, Scott Gaylord at 1,474, Brandon Ash at 1,425, and Sedgwick at 1,412.
While this year's championship challenge is the closest since 1992, two recent seasons featured a battle that was similar. Mike Chase led Ron Hornaday by 37 points following 11 races in 1994. Chase went on to clinch the NASCAR Winston West Series title by a mere 28 points. In 1998, Kevin Harvick held a 34-point margin over Sean Woodside after 11 races. That difference grew to 99 points by the end of the season, however, as Harvick secured the championship.
The NASCAR Winston West Series is one of nine NASCAR Touring Series' that blanket the United States, bringing special events to many NASCAR Weekly Racing Series tracks and some NASCAR superspeedways and road courses. NASCAR Touring Series' are extremely popular with fans and competitors. NASCAR Touring Series can provide a competitor with an entire career, or they can provide valuable experience to competitors moving through the NASCAR ranks.
Corporate sponsors make significant contributions to NASCAR Touring Series point funds. These sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Featherlite, Goody's Headache Powders, Raybestos Brakes, RE/MAX International, Inc., Slim Jim, and RJ Reynolds brand, Winston.