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Fontana, California (Back in the Deadline Room)...NASCAR has returned to Southern California in 2014 after a wild 2013 race captured the attention of the entire nation. A wild crash, an amazing finish and a post-race brawl all added to the lore of the 2013 race and when all was said and done for the 2013 season, Fontana of all places, was considered by many to be the best race of the year on the NASCAR circuit. This coming from a track that lost it's Labor Day Race a few years ago and has been much maligned for it's boring races. NASCAR, the drivers and the media were all excited to come back to Fontana this year with many story lines and what looks to be a great race ahead. But, where is everybody? Sure, Auto Club Speedway has announced this race to be a sellout, which it very well may be. But, if you look in the stands, there are plenty of unoccupied seats for what may have been the most anticipated race since Daytona in 2014. In fact, last year it took around 95,000 fans to make the speedway a sellout, and in the off-season, they cut the seating down to 68,000. Is this the way to go? I an area where millions can drive to the track in less than two hours, isn't it time we publicize the great show that is NASCAR. When is the last time you heard a commercial, or saw an advertisement from the speedway about the upcoming race? Sure, true NASCAR fans know the race is here, but there are millions of people in Southern California that should know this event is here. It is affordable, fun and something one will remember for the rest of their lives. One of the reasons for the sudden resurgence of Auto Club Speedway is the track itself. The track is now highly "racey". The California sun has been beating down on the track for over 16 years now and it has weathered enough to where tires fall out quicker and drivers love to race on it. It is now one of the best shows on the NASCAR calendar and the Southern Californians have yet to get the memo. You can't ask for a better weekend experience for the entire family. NASCAR is all about family. It is loud, fast and fun and it is much more that turning left. Of all the things that Southern Californians are offered every weekend, I see no reason why we can't put 100 plus thousand into the stands at Auto Club Speedway once a year. I can promise that you won't be disappointed. And, heck, any sport that still has its patrons pray before it starts, and still believes in incredible fly-overs is NOT something to miss.
In a game that will go a long way to determine the final playoff spot in the National Conference, the Portland Thunder defeated the LA KISS 44-31 in front of 8,802 at the Moda Center in Portland.
Between jumping out to a 13-0 lead halfway through the first quarter and a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter, the Portland Thunder (5-11) took a commanding lead in the race for the National Conference's final playoff spot over the Los Angeles KISS (3-13).
Kyle Rowley threw for a game high 258 yards on 25-36 passing with four touchdowns and one interception. On the other side of the coin, Aaron Garcia threw for an abysmal 14-34 for only 196 yards with and even four touchdowns and four interceptions. LA finally got on the board with a Garcia to Raymond Radway scoring strike to pull within a touchdown of Portland with just 3:34 remaining in the opening quarter. The KISS was put into a great spot after a 53 yard AJ Cruz kickoff return to the four of Portland. After a timeout to confer with head coach Matthew Sauk, Rowley fired a strike to Douglas McNeil III for a two yard score and give the Thunder a 20-7 lead with 12:09 left until intermission. Garcia connected with Donovan Morgan on a post route for 20 yards and the score to pull LA within six points. Portland took the ball all the way down to the four yard line looking to score again. However, BJ Bell stepped up and sacked Rowley and forced him to fumble the ball. Bell recovered it at the seven. Speaking of seven that is how many plays it took to get back into the end zone for the KISS. Garcia found Samora Goodson on a crossing route in the back of the end zone for the score and after the extra point by Kenny Spencer, the KISS had the lead for the first time at 21-20.
The teams traded turnovers and Portland closed out the half with a 29 yard field goal to regain the lead 23-21 at the break.
Los Angeles broke the scoring open with a Kenny Spencer 18 yard field goal to give the lead back at 24-23. The teams traded turnovers again to close out the third quarter.
After a turnover on downs by Portland, the Black and Flames took control at the three. On the first play from scrimmage, KC Obi forced a Garcia fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Bryce Peila for a touchdown. That was the start of a 21-0 run to put the game on ice.
Morgan caught a 46 yard pass to score the final points of the night to close out the scoring.
Both teams ran 46 plays on the night, with Portland out gaining LA by a 253-215 margin. Next week the Thunder will travel to the US Airways Center to take on the 14-2 Arizona Rattlers. LA will go back to the drawing board to try and figure out a way to handle the San Antonio Talons (1-15) at Honda Center.