Saturday, January 2, 2010

2009 In Review:
NASCAR Camping World Series West

The NASCAR Camping World Series West featured plenty of
fireworks, both on and off the track, from the season opener through
the final race in 2009.
Getty Images for NASCAR


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2009 season in the NASCAR Camping World Series West featured another year of great competition, with some dramatic finishes and many other memorable moments.

The battle for the championship was another close one that came down to the wire between Jason Bowles and Eric Holmes for a second consecutive year. In much the same way it did the previous year, momentum between the two drivers shifted midway through the season. Unlike 2008, when Holmes led early and held on to take the title, this time Bowles took command midway through the season and pulled away to win the championship.

As the year had progressed, it became apparent how Bowles – in his third season in the series – had developed into a contender capable of winning at each venue on the circuit. The three wins he scored in 2009 included one on the one-mile speedway of Phoenix International Raceway, one on the twisting road course of Infineon Raceway and one on the short track of Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.).

Bowles also developed another trait of a champion, running up front and finishing up front on a consistent basis. He collected 60 bonus points during the season for leading in 10 of the 13 races. In addition to his three wins, Bowles registered 10 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes.

Holmes, meanwhile, was dominant on the short tracks early in the season. After winning three of the first six races, it appeared he might be headed for a third series championship. But he was not able to keep pace with Bowles. Although he had top-10 finishes in all but one race down the stretch, Holmes failed to crack the top five in those final six races. Mechanical problems in the season finale ended any chance he had of coming from behind for the title.

While the battle between Bowles and Holmes captured the spotlight this season, two other drivers each came in under the radar and threatened to snatch the title away.

Veteran West Coast competitor Greg Pursley made his full-time return to the series this year, driving for the first-year team of car owner Gene Price. After winning the season opener with a dramatic last-lap pass, Pursley settled into the top five of the standings and remained there with a solid performance throughout the year. He concluded the season third in points.

David Mayhew, driving for his third different team in three years, also seemed to be overlooked early in the season. That did not deter him, however, from scoring two wins and remaining within striking range of the title until late in the season.

Competition for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award focused on two talented young drivers in 2009. Ironically, both are from the East Coast. Paulie Harraka – a participant in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, who drove for Bill McAnally Racing – is from Wayne, N.J. Blake Koch, driving for car owner Jim Offenbach on the Golden Gate Racing Team, is from West Palm Beach, Fla.

Harraka and Koch each showed great potential as they swapped the lead in the rookie standings back and forth throughout the year. Harraka came on strong late in the season, winning two of the final three races, to take the rookie title and finish fourth in the overall championship standings.

Beyond the challenge for the championship and the fierce rookie chase – there was plenty of tough competition in the 56th season of the West’s oldest stock car racing circuit.

The Phoenix race included a thrilling back-and-forth battle between Bowles and veteran East Coast driver Steve Park. Their competition at PIR could be compared to a high-speed chess match, with each driver employing different strategy and making different moves to gain an advantage.

Bowles ultimately prevailed after jumping into the lead on the final restart. Holmes took advantage of the wild scramble in the final two laps to gain second, with Park finishing third. Comments from Park during post-race media interviews reflect the respect East Coast and West Coast drivers have developed for each other since the former Busch North Series and Winston West Series were aligned together as one series six years ago.

“I enjoyed racing with Jason and Eric,” Park said. “I think the fans were treated to a real great show. I was slipping and sliding and these guys were running hard. We all raced door handle to door handle and came home with a great finish and a great clean race that was exciting for the fans.”

The Phoenix race was one of several events in 2009 to end with a green-white-checkered finish due to a late-race caution. Fans at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway witnessed a thrilling green-white-checkered finish in which Jim Inglebright dashed from third to first in the final two laps around the scenic road course.

It was great to see the series return to Portland this year and to view the turnout of NASCAR fans there. One side note was that the road course was only about a mile from where Portland Speedway was located. The historic half-mile oval was the site of many great NASCAR Camping World Series West races, with more than 50 events being held there between 1956 and 2000. Going back to Portland provided a connection to a big part of the heritage of the series.

And when it comes to the history of the series, there is only one driver whose racing career covers that entire span of time – Hershel McGriff. The legendary driver, who launched his racing career at Portland in 1945, returned to competition in the series in 2009 at 81 years of age. He had been away from the sport since 2002, but opted to return this year to run the road course events. In his return, McGriff attracted an overwhelming amount of media attention at all three races. He went above and beyond in responding to the numerous media requests, demonstrating why he has always been such a great ambassador for the series and this sport.

Another driver who attracted plenty of media attention in the series this season was Patrick Long, who also ran a handful of races in the NASCAR Camping World Series East. He jumped into a NASCAR stock car on his weekends off from his full-time effort as a Porsche factory driver. Having a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans competing in the series generated added media attention and Long was great about responding to those demands.

Concerning the media, it was great to see the opportunity that car owner and event promoter Bill McAnally provided to members of the media on the final weekend of the season. Radio and television personalities from the Sacramento, Calif., market were provided with a chance to get behind the wheel of an actual race car for a special media race at All American Speedway in Roseville. The event, and the training sessions that led up to it, provided these members of the media with some first-hand experience in a race car and memories that will last a lifetime.

In addition to the battles on the race tracks, there were battles with Mother Nature on several occasions this season – with race teams and NASCAR officials working through a wide range of weather conditions. Despite the wet and very cold temperatures they faced during preparations for the series opener in Texas, there was a strong turnout of fans to see the curtain go up on another season of racing. It was the other extreme by the end of the season, but triple digit temperatures did not keep fans from packing All American Speedway to see an exciting season finale.

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