Auto Club 500 News and Notes

Auto Club 500 News and Notes

California preview
February 19, 2007
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com


Last week at Daytona the Chevy’s were a heavy minus -330 favorite. This week at California, the tables are turned with the combined efforts of Ford and Dodge being a rather large minus -155 choice to win the race this Sunday.

Ford and Dodge have won 4 of the last 5 California Speedway Cup races with Hendrick Racings’ Kyle Busch being the only Chevy to carry the checkers over that span. Hendrick has been Chevy’s only bright spot since the track debuted with Jeff Gordon winning 3 of the Chevy’s 5 races. Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, won his inaugural California race as a rookie.

So why is Chevy an underdog? It looks like they have some pretty good stats in their favor, or at least Hendrick. The problem is that there is no one else stepping to the plate for Chevy other than Hendrick, or at least that was the case until last year when a few names showed up for Chevy from all different camps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr, recently known for being awful at intermediate tracks, wheeled home an excellent 2nd place finish with Childress racings’ Clint Bowyer in 3rd. Finishing 6th was Joe Gibbs Racings’ Denny Hamlin. Gordon finished 5th, so in all, there were 4 different Chevy teams represented in the top 6 for the fall California race last year.

So again, why is Chevy such a big underdog? It seems like Chevy is making a major push to get better on these Horse Power tracks where handling is essential. The teams are understanding more and more the points game like Jack Roush does. He has centered his whole operation around being the most consistent on the type of track that is most prevalent in the series.

Ray Evernham followed the Roush plan and laid it out nicely for Kasey Kahne and his organization last year and succeeded. They didn’t win a Championship, but they saw the Cup just dangling out there for them to grab. However, with the focus of the team on the intermediate tracks, the Kahne lost focus on the short tracks, roads, and plate races which basically cost him a real shot at the title.

Last year Kahne became the first Dodge to win at California Speedway in 13 races and became the 11th different driver to win a race there. He had a total of six wins last season and in just about each case, his car was on a completely different level than everyone else. He blew away the field. Because of that car and his tremendous successes driving it, Kahne is the favorite this week at 5 to 1 and accounts for a 25 cent edge on the manufacturer prop all by himself.

Traditionally over the years, we could use the pre-season Las Vegas testing in late January to give us a barometer of how well teams may be prepared for the California race and other like tracks. The Las Vegas banking was similar to California so many teams utilized the same set-ups. This year with the steep banking changes, the set-up is definitely more suited for Texas, Charlotte, and Atlanta similarities.

However, the thing I left most impressed with after the Vegas sessions was the strength of the Evernham teams. Not just Kasey Kahne, but Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs too. That team was blazing fast and showed everyone in the make-shift garages that they made some pretty good advancements over the short winter. If they get Riggs and Sadler’s cars close to the levels of Kahne, look out Cup Series.

The other part of the manufacturer equation and why they are favored rests with Ford. Yes, that’s Ford, and not just Jack Roush’s Fords. Robert Yates Racing went through some tough times last year, but they may be back this year. Not a Championship level of course, but at a level where they are at least competitive and capable of contending for a few race wins. The Yates team was applauded for their times in Las Vegas testing. Both David Gilliland and Ricky Rudd looked good out there and gives solid evidence of the shared engine program of Roush-Yates working for both parties. Sadler won for Yates at California in 2004.

It is Yates’ only California win. Should he do again this week, Rudd can get you 50 to 1 and Gilliland 55 to 1 in the Sports Books.

The Roush crew has been very impressive over the years at California. It really doesn’t matter who is in his cars. A few have come and gone but the cars have remained the same. Mark Martin leaves, no problem, throw the next kid in. Jeff Burton goes, no problem, bring that kid from the trucks. Kurt Busch leaves, big deal, give his car to that other guy.

It really doesn’t matter who pilots a Roush car and his point has been well taken as he proves it year after year. Matt Kenseth has become the face of Roush Racing. He won this race last season and sits at 8 to 1 odds.

He and Carl Edwards would be the drivers to key on outside of Kahne as logical candidates to win the race. In 5 career Cup races at California Speedway, Edwards worst finish has been 6th, and that 6th place finish in 2004 was just a filler race to get him set for his rookie campaign of 2005. No one has been more consistent over that span than Edwards at California. Being consistent is what wins Championships and it is what Roush preaches.

There is one lemon in the Roush garage that has been anything but consistent and it’s driven by Jamie McMurray. McMurray inherited the Championship cars of Kurt Busch and could do nothing with them last season.These were cars that dominated races almost like Kahne did last year and McMurray could do nothing.

My theory on why McMurray hasn’t done well is because he is too set in his own ways. I was a bit surprised to see Roush take a driver from somewhere else. He usually likes to take a fresh mind and let them absorb his philosophy, rather than having it go in one ear and out the other. Maybe McMurray thinks he knows it all already. It’s just a thought and I haven’t any proof, but my goodness, why is that team not finishing in the top 5 weekly like Kurt Busch did?

Let’s be conservative this week and take our top two Roush drivers, take two Evernham guys, and then come back with a Hendrick driver which is very tough choice because I could be happy with any of them.

Top 5 California Finish Prediction:
1) #19 Elliott Sadler (20/1)
2) #9 Kasey Kahne (5/1)
3) #5 Kyle Busch (12/1)
4) #17 Matt Kenseth (8/1)
5) #99 Carl Edwards (12/1)

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Re: Auto Club 500 News and Notes

Top 10 drivers - and beyond
Racing series       NASCAR-CUP
Date     2007-02-19

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 -- And Beyond

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 19, 2007) -- Below is a look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 along with some other notable drivers, going into Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.

1 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet)

The File:
31-years-old from Bakersfield, Calif., 11 career victories.
This past Sunday, won the closest Daytona 500 (0.020-second margin of victory) since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993
Second time since New Hampshire on Sept. 17, 2006 that he leads NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings
Starting position of 34th was lowest-ever of a Daytona 500 winner.

California Speedway Outlook:
Two top 10s, four top 15s at California
21.1 average finish* Finished 29th and 15th respectively, last season at California
Has led in three of his nine California events for a total of 28 laps.

Loop Data Highlight:
Has led 547 laps in the past four California races (11th-most).

***

2 -- Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet)

The File:
48-years-old from Batesville, Ark., 35 career wins
Finished second in the Daytona 500
Highest points position since after April 2, 2006 (also second)
Best finish since Atlanta on March 20, 2006 (also second).

California Speedway Outlook:
Three top fives and six top 10s
13.7 average finish
Finished ninth and 12th, respectively, last season
Has led in 10 of his 13 California races for a total of 271 laps.

Loop Data Highlight:
Has series' second-best Average Running Position (8.260) over the last four California races.

***

3 -- Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet)


The File:
39-years-old from South Boston, Va., 18 career wins
Finished third in the Daytona 500.
Highest points position since after Charlotte race on Oct. 14, 2006 (first)
Best finish since Charlotte on Oct. 14, 2006 (also third).

California Speedway Outlook:
Three top fives and four top 10s
17.8 average finish
Finished sixth and seventh, respectively, last season at California.

Loop Data Highlight:
Has second-best running position (8.260) over the last four California races.

***

4 -- Mike Wallace (No. 09 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet)

The File:
46-years-old from St. Louis, Mo., no career wins
Finished fourth in the Daytona 500
Highest points position in his career (previous highest was sixth after 2001 Daytona 500)
500 effort was best career finish (previous best was fifth on Nov. 13, 1994).

California Speedway Outlook:
One top 20 in two tries at California
20.5 average finish.

***

5 -- David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford)


The File:
21-years-old from Unadilla, Ga., no career wins
Finished fifth in the Daytona 500
500 was his best career finish (previous best was 25th at Martinsville on Oct. 22, 2006).

California Speedway Outlook:
Has never competed at California.

Loop Data Highlight:
Had 159 Green Flag Passes in the Daytona 500.

***

6 -- David Gilliland (No. 38 M&M's Ford)

The File:
30-years-old from Riverside, Calif., no career wins
Finished eighth in the Daytona 500 after starting from the pole
Highest points position ever
500 was best career finish (previous best was 15th at Talladega on Oct. 8, 2006 and Atlanta on Oct. 29, 2006).

California Speedway Outlook:
One career start at California, finished 32nd.

***

7 -- Joe Nemechek (No. 13 CertainTeed/Ginn Resorts Chevrolet)

The File:
43-years-old from Lakeland, Fla., four career wins
Finished ninth in the Daytona 500
Eight straight top 20s.

California Speedway Outlook:
One top 10 at California
24.5 average finish
Finished 27th and 25th last season at California.

Loop Data Highlight:
Picked up eight spots over the last four California races (ninth-best).

***

8 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)

The File:
35-years-old from Vallejo, Calif., 75 career wins
Finished 10th in the Daytona 500
Seventh top-10 finish in Daytona 500.

California Speedway Outlook:
Series-leading three wins at California; six top fives and six top 10s 11.8 average finish
Finished 13th and fifth, respectively, last season at California
Has led in seven of his 13 California races for a total of 455 laps.

Loop Data Highlight:
203 quality passes over the last four California races (third-best).

***

9 -- David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge)

The File:
29-years-old from South Bend, Ind., no career wins
Finished 10th in the Daytona 500
Highest career points standing (best last season was 28th after the Daytona 500)
500 marked best career finish (previous best was 16th at Daytona on July 1, 2006).

California Speedway Outlook:
34.5 average finish
Finished 36th and 33rd, respectively, last season at California.

***

10 -- J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet)


The File:
30-years-old from Phoenix, Ariz., zero career wins
Finished 12th in the Daytona 500
Highest career points standing (best last season was 18th after Atlanta on March 20, 2006)
Best career finish (previous best was 16th at Daytona on July 1, 2006).

California Speedway Outlook:
One top 10
26.8 average finish
Finished eighth and 19th respectively, last season at California.

***

24 -- Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford)

The File:
37-years-old from Vancouver, Wash., 11 career wins
Finished 25th in the Daytona 500.

California Speedway Outlook:
One win, two top fives
21.1 average finish
Finished 42nd and 24th last season at California
Has led in four of his eight California races for a total of 258 laps.

Loop Data Highlight:
Driver Rating of 108.0 is second-best over the last four California races.

***

25 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford)


The File:
34-years-old from Cambridge, Wis., 14 career wins
Finished 27th in the Daytona 500.

California Speedway Outlook:
One win, three top fives and six top 10s
11.6 average finish
Finished first and seventh, respectively, last season at California
Has led in seven of his 10 California races for a total of 246 laps.

Loop Data Highlight:
Series-leading Driver Rating of 110.1 over the last four California races.

***

30 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet)

The File:
37-years-old from Kannapolis, N.C., 17 career wins
Finished 32nd in the Daytona 500.

California Speedway Outlook:
Two top fives, three top 10s
19.3 average finish
Finished 42nd and 24th, respectively, last season at California
Has led in four of his 10 California races for a total of 10 laps.

Loop Data Highlight:
Has 155 Quality Passes over the last four California races.

***

37 -- Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)


The File:
26-years-old from Enumclaw, Wash., 7 career wins
Finished seventh in the Daytona 500
Highest points position since after Pocono on July 23, 2006 (also seventh).

California Speedway Outlook:
One win, three top 5s and four top 10s
11.0 average finish
Fourth and first respectively, last season at California.

Loop Data Highlight:
Has third-best Driver Rating of 106.9 over last four California races.

***

38 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)

The File:
31-years-old from El Cajon, Calif., 23 career wins
Finished 39th in the Daytona 500
Snapped streak of 105 races in the Top 10.

California Speedway Outlook:
One win, four top fives
8.0 average finish
Second and 11th last season at California.

Loop Data Highlight:
Sixth-best Driver Rating of 104.6 over the last four California races.

***

40 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet)

The File:
35-years-old from Columbus, Ind., 29 career wins
Finished 43rd in the Daytona 500.

California Speedway Outlook:
Three top fives, five top 10s
17.8 average finish
43rd and ninth last season at California.

Loop Data Highlight:
Fourth-best Speed in Traffic over the last four California races.

www.nascar.com

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Re: Auto Club 500 News and Notes

Numbers Game: Analyzing The Auto Club 500   
Monday, 19 February 2007 


The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series moves West this week for Sunday’s running of the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, and a town known for glitz and glamour will instead be marked by speed and sound.

Celebrities and drivers will rub elbows in the Los Angeles market – Fontana, Calif. – as the ever-maturing California Speedway will undoubtedly once again provide some of the fastest racing on the circuit.

The track first started featuring NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing in 1997 and as popularity grew, so did California Speedway’s need for another race. In 2004, the track was awarded a second race – the second one under the lights, a perfect setting for Hollywood magic.

Driver Rating at California 
Matt Kenseth       110.1
Greg Biffle           108.0
Kasey Kahne       106.9
Carl Edwards       106.7
Kyle Busch          104.6
Jimmie Johnson   103.6
Mark Martin         103.4
Denny Hamlin      101.1
Tony Stewart       100.3
Kurt Busch            94.5
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005 and 2006 races (4 total) at California.

Selected Driver Highlights

Note: NASCAR’s scoring loops began collecting data for statistical purposes in 2005. That is why the Loop Data statistics in this release cover the last four races.

Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford)

Defending Auto Club 500 champion
One win, three top fives and six top 10s at California Speedway
Average finish of 11.6 at California
Has led 246 laps at California, fifth-most all-time
Average Running Position of 7.518 in the four previous races at California, best of any driver
Has a Driver Rating of 110.1 over the previous four California races, best of any driver
Third-fastest driver on the California frontstretch over the past four races
Second-fastest Green Flag Speed over the past four California races

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford)

One win, two top fives and two top 10s at California
Though finishing 41st at this event last year, led the most laps with 168
Second-best Driver Rating at 108.0 over the last four races at California
Highest number of Fastest Laps over the last four races with 130
Fastest Green Flag Speed over the last four races
Over the last four races, has the most Laps Led (230)

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)

Three wins (most of any driver), six top fives and six top 10s at California
Average finish at California is 11.8, which ranks him seventh among all drivers
Has led 455 laps at California, most of any driver
Second-most Green Flag Passes (339) over the past four races 
Third-highest number of Quality Passes – passes of cars running in the Top 15 under a green flag – with 203

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)

One win and four top fives
Average finish at California is 8.0
Has led 104 laps at California, 10th-most of any driver
Average Running Position of 8.693, third-best of any driver over the past four races 
Sixth-best Driver Rating of 103.6 over the past four California races

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)

One win (last September), three top fives and four top 10s at California
Led 130 laps in last September’s race
Third-best Driver Rating here of 106.9 over the last four races
Fastest Driver on the Frontstretch and in Turn 4 over the past four races
Third-most Fastest Laps Run here over the past four races with 67
Most Quality Passes here over the past four races (230)
Fastest Speed in Traffic over the past four races

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford)

Four top fives and six top 10s
In six races, never finished lower than fifth
Has a fourth-best Average Running Position of 8.997
Fastest driver in Turn 2 over the past four races
Second-fastest driver on the Frontstretch, the Backstretch and Turn 4 over the last four races
Second-most Quality Passes (207) over the past four races

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)

One win and three top fives
Won both Budweiser Pole awards last season
Only driver to have won multiple poles (2) at California
Driver Rating of 94.5, 10th best over the past four races 
732 laps in the Top 15 over the past four races here, eighth-best

Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet)

One win, three top fives and six top 10s here
Six-straight top 15 finishes here
Has led 271 laps here, second most of any driver
Has a Driver Rating of 103.4 over the past four races here, seventh-best

Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford)

Three top fives and five top 10s here
Prior to last September’s finish of 20th here, McMurray had four straight top-10 finishes
Average finish of 8.9
Driver Rating of 86.8, 12th-best over the past four races
531 laps in the Top 15 over the past four races, 13th-best

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet)

Three top fives and five top 10s
Finished ninth last time at California
Led 185 laps, seventh-best
Driver Rating of 100.3, ninth-best over the past four races
Fourth-best Speed in Traffic over the past four races

California Tidbits

There have been 13 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at California Speedway since the track opened in 1997.
Matt Kenseth is defending Auto Club 500 champion. Kasey Kahne won last September’s race.
There have been 10 different winners in the last 10 races at California.

Seven of the last 10 races at California Speedway have been won from starting positions outside the top 15, including this event last year when Matt Kenseth won from the 31st starting position. It was the deepest starting position of a California race winner.

Two races at California have been run beyond the 250-lap scheduled distance: 2005 Sony HD 500 (254 laps) and 2006 Auto Club 500 (251).

Rick Hendrick has posted five wins at California Speedway, the most of any car owner. Those five wins were scored by Jeff Gordon (three), Jimmie Johnson (one) and Kyle Busch (one).

Roush Fenway Racing has posted four victories here: Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.

11 different drivers have won the Budweiser Pole in the 12 qualifying races at California (only Kurt Busch is a repeat winner)

Streaks

Carl Edwards has posted five straight top-10 finishes at California
Kurt Busch has three straight top-five starts at California
Kyle Busch has three straight top-10 finishes at California
In his only two starts at California, Denny Hamlin has started in the top 10
Kasey Kahne has three straight top-five finishes (two straight top-five finishes)
Matt Kenseth has three straight top-five finishes
Mark Martin has six straight top-15 finishes
California Speedway Data

Race #: 2 of 36 (2-25-07)        Number of laps: 250

Track Size: 2 miles                Length of Event: 500 miles

California Speedway complex sits on 529 acres in Fontana
2-mile oval, 75 feet wide with a 15-foot apron
Banking is 14 degrees in the turns
Frontstretch is 3,100 feet long and is banked 11 degrees
Backstretch is 2,500 feet long with three degrees banking
Pit road is 2,200 feet long
Qualifying/Race Data

Last year’s pole winner: Kurt Busch (187.086 mph, 38.485 seconds)

Last year’s race winner: Matt Kenseth (147.852 mph, 3 hours, 23 minutes, 43 seconds, 2-26-06)

Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch (188.435 mph, 38.248 seconds, 2-23-05)

Track race record: Jeff Gordon (155.012 mph, 3 hours, 13 minutes, 32 seconds, 6-22-97)

History

Races won from the pole: 0 of 13 events

Races won from inside the top 10: 6 of 13 (46%)

Races won from outside the top 10: 7 of 13 (54%)

Joe Nemechek won the Budweiser Pole for the inaugural NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at California Speedway in 1997.
Jeff Gordon won the inaugural NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at California on June 22, 1997.

September 2004 was the first night race at California Speedway and also the first time there were two races a year at the track.

Last Five Winners at California

2006 – Kasey Kahne

2006 – Matt Kenseth

2005 – Kyle Busch

2005 – Greg Biffle

2004 – Elliott Sadler

www.backstretchmotorsports.com

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Re: Auto Club 500 News and Notes

Fontana: News of Note, schedule


Last Year's Top 10 Drivers Facing Must-Rebound Race
Off And Running: RCR Teams The Early Barometer
Chevrolet Leads Manufacturer Standings
Star-Struck: California Speedway An Entertainment Magnet

Making Up Lost Ground: Top-10 Drivers Seek Important California Rebound

For those drivers who had sub par Daytona 500 performances, Sunday's Auto Club 500 offers a necessary shot at redemption.

Only four drivers who participated in the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup are among the top 10 heading to California, including reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson, who's 38th in the standings. His accident-marred Daytona 500 finish ended his streak of 105 consecutive weeks in the top 10 -- the sixth longest mark in series history.

Here's why rebounding is critical: The first 26 of the series' 36 events establish Chase eligibility, and race winners receive five extra points this year. Also new in 2007: the Chase expands from 10 to 12 drivers, who will be seeded by their win totals following the cutoff race -- No. 26 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 8.

Aside from Johnson, here's who needs a boost: Series runner-up and defending race winner Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), who's 26th in the standings, and last year's third-place finisher, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet), who's currently 29th.

Others include last year's fifth-place finisher, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), who's currently 31st; last year's eighth-place finisher Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), who's currently 23rd, and last year's 10th-place finisher Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet), who's 22nd. Both Kahne and Busch are former California winners.

Conversely, five drivers head to California enjoying their top-10 spotlight, including fourth-place Mike Wallace (No. 09 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet), who's fourth; Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford), who's fifth, and sixth-place David Gilliland.

Veteran Joe Nemechek (No. 13 Ginn Racing Chevrolet) is seventh with a new Ginn Racing team. And two second-year drivers -- ninth-place David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge) and 10th-place J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) -- seek to improve on rookie seasons.

What Off-Season? RCR Teams Start Ahead Of the Pack In 2007

So much for time off.

Two months of preparation and relaxation apparently hasn't slowed down Richard Childress Racing's three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams, as evidenced by last Sunday's performances in the season-opening Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick's victory was the capstone, but teammate Jeff Burton's (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) third-place finish likely quieted any potential critics. Even Clint Bowyer's (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) 18th-place finish counts as a bright spot. The second-year driver was battling for a top-15 finish before becoming part of last Sunday's last-lap incident.

The RCR finishes are noteworthy because of last season's resurgence. After several years of poor performances and significant personnel and equipment changes, both Harvick and Burton earned the organization's first berths in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Harvick finished a career-best fourth in the 2006 series standings while Burton finished seventh -- his best showing since a third-place finish for Roush Racing in 2000.

Harvick also won his second NASCAR Busch Series title. And Bowyer finished second in last season's Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition.

Also, Harvick's victory in the 49th Daytona 500 came for new sponsor Shell/Pennzoil, which takes over from longtime RCR sponsor GM Goodwrench.

Additionally, NASCAR's Loop Data statistics credit Burton with the highest Driver Rating in last Sunday's Daytona 500 -- 109.3.

In The Loop: Roush-Fenway Drivers And Kasey Kahne Top California Pre-Race Data

You could always count on a good finish -- even a dominant win every now and then -- from Roush Fenway Racing whenever the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series came to an intermediate track.

Roush Fenway became the gold standard on the 1.5-mile and two-mile courses.

Then Kasey Kahne came along.

Kahne dominated much of the intermediate portion of the schedule last season, winning six races on that brand of race track.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series returns to California Speedway this weekend, the first intermediate track on the schedule.

And not surprisingly, Roush Fenway and Kasey Kahne own the top spots in much of the Loop Data taken over the last two years at California (four races total).

Matt Kenseth has the top Driver Rating over that span with a 110.1. Behind him fall Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ameriquest Ford) with a 108.0 rating, Kahne with a 106.9 and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) with a 106.7. It makes sense, then, that three of the last four races there have been won by members of that group (Kahne, Kenseth and Biffle).

If not Roush Fenway or Kahne, look for Jimmie Johnson to make a strong run. He has the third-highest Average Running Position (8.694), the sixth-highest Driver Rating (103.6), the fifth-most Quality Passes (185) and the sixth-highest Speed in Traffic.

One driver who has surprising troubles at California is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt has a 23rd best Driver Rating of 73.2. He's in the middle of the pack in Laps in the Top 15 with 339.

Off And Running: Chevrolet Takes Early Lead In Manufacturer Battle

Chevrolet is ahead of the pack in the manufacturer championship thanks to Kevin Harvick's Daytona 500 victory.

Chevrolet has nine points, followed by Dodge with six, Ford with four and Toyota with three points.

Dodge, however, leads another category -- laps led -- with 96 by Dodge drivers last Sunday. Chevrolet drivers led 82 laps and Ford drivers led 24 laps.

Off The Track: Hollywood And Music Heavyweights Converge At California Speedway

Given California Speedway's proximity to the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles and star-filled Hollywood, it's a given that entertainment icons from the film, television and music industries come out to watch NASCAR's national series stars perform.

Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Costner will serve as Sunday's grand marshal. He'll also perform with "The Kevin Costner Band" during pre-race activities. Rocker Sammy Hagar and his band also will play in Sunday's pre-race concert, while Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Brian McKnight has the honor of performing Sunday's national anthem. This will be McKnight's second California Speedway national-anthem performance. He also performed during the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Awards Ceremony in New York.

Along with his Sunday performance, Hagar will serve as the grand marshal for Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series' Stater Bros. 300. Actors Bill Fichtner of FOX's "Prison Break" and David Boreanaz of FOX's "Bones", will serve as honorary race officials for Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series event. And Columbia recording artist Frankie J will perform Saturday's national anthem.

NNCS, Etc.

Daytona 500 runner-up Mark Martin (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet) and fourth-place finisher Mike Wallace head west with some interesting notes attached.

Martin has one win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 13 starts at California. He also has led 271 laps -- second only to Jeff Gordon's 455 -- and has an average finish of 13.7.

Martin also now leads the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series with 36 consecutive weeks in the top 10. He's scheduled to run 22 races for Ginn Racing this season.

As for Wallace, his career-high series finish was presaged by his ninth-place effort in the 2003 Daytona 500 -- also in the No. 09 Chevrolet owned by James Finch. Wallace also won the July 2004 event at Daytona International Speedway -- his last victory.

Prior to Wallace's two top-10 Daytona 500 finishes, Geoffrey Bodine placed third in the 2002 event, also in the No. 09 Chevrolet.

Keys To California: Winning at the 2-mile California Speedway means having a strong, durable engine, and a balanced, well-handling car. Pit strategy also is key because fuel mileage can be an issue. Good pit stops usually mean an increased chance of success at California.

Watch Out For Greg Biffle: The driver of the No. 16 Ameriquest Ford led a race-high 168 laps in last February's event before engine failure ended his day. Still, he leads five NASCAR pre-race Loop Data categories and should be considered a threat on Sunday.

On Deck: Car Of Tomorrow Test At Bristol Motor Speedway

Following Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' next activity is a test session -- the third of six this season.

And it's a very important one. Teams will test the Car of Tomorrow -- the innovative new chassis that debuts this year -- on Feb. 28 and March 1 at Bristol Motor Speedway. It's all in advance of the Food City 500 on Sunday, March 25 at Bristol.

The Food City 500 marks the first of 16 events in 2007 where teams will race the Car of Tomorrow. The culmination of a seven-year project, the car features improved driver safety, competition, cost management for teams and increased manufacturer identity.

Among the car's safety components are a larger driver cockpit, double frame rails with steel plating, energy management materials to protect from impact and a safer fuel cell.

Fast Facts

The Race: Auto Club 500

The Place: California Speedway

The Date: Sunday, Feb. 25

The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX, 3 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: 2-mile oval

Distance: 500 miles (250 laps)

Purse: $6,065,926

2006 Winner: Matt Kenseth
2006 Pole: Kurt Busch

Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 11-11:50 a.m.; Final Practice, 2:20-3:20 p.m.

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Fontana: Round two preview

Californians Kevin Harvick, David Gilliland Lead Way Westward

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2007) – Excitement transfers from one coast to another this week as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series travels west to California Speedway.

Leading the way will be the Golden State’s own Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), who won this past Sunday’s Daytona 500 – the third consecutive California native to do so.

After he wraps up the Daytona 500 champion’s traditional media tour in New York on Tuesday, Harvick heads west for more of the same, including his Wednesday participation in “California Speedway Day” at Hollywood’s Hollywood & Highland.

“It’s been great; anytime you get to celebrate a win in the Daytona 500, it’s a lot of fun,” Harvick said Tuesday.

“I already had a bunch of family and friends coming to California anyway, so this (500 victory) just makes it that much better.”

Harvick plans “tripleheader” participation in each of NASCAR’s three national series events this weekend. Aside from his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup duties with Richard Childress Racing, he’ll combine driver/ owner hats in Saturday’s NASCAR Busch Series’ Stater Bros. 300, piloting the Kevin Harvick Inc.-owned No. 33 RoadLoans Chevrolet. Harvick is the reigning NASCAR Busch Series champion.

He’ll also attempt to qualify for Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series’ San Bernardino County 200 – the first of four 2007 truck events he’s scheduled to drive his own No. 2 Camping World Chevrolet for KHI.

Kevin Harvick, David Gilliland Lead California Contingent

Both the Daytona 500 winner and pole sitter return to home soil this week – Kevin Harvick and David Gilliland (No. 38 M&M’s Ford), respectively, – also to the sites of some formative triumphs.

Harvick, 31, is a Bakersfield native. Gilliland, 30, is a Riverside native. The former is the third consecutive Daytona 500 winner from California behind 2006 Daytona 500 and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), who hails from El Cajon, and 2005 Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), who hails from Vallejo.

Both Harvick and Gilliland, who will start only his 17th series race this Sunday, honed their racing skills in California. Gilliland is the 2005 Toyota All-Star Showdown champion; the event showcases top drivers from the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series and NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, both top developmental series.

Also the 2004 NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series rookie of the year, Gilliland served as crew chief for his father Butch in 1997, the year the elder Gilliland won the series title.

Harvick is equally accomplished in NASCAR West Series circles; he succeeded Butch Gilliland as champion in 1998, a year in which he won the series’ pole and race at California Speedway on July 8.

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Daytona drama heads cross-country
Jeff Hammond / FOX Sports

Drama, controversy and emotion through the Daytona 500 checkered flag is what makes Speedweeks.

There was the continuing saga of DEI and what Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to do vs. his stepmother Teresa. Very quickly, ejections, fines and penalties were handed down for rules violations. Then, seven teams committed to running the full Nextel Cup schedule loaded up and went home after the Duels, most notably the Red Bull team with Brian Vickers and A.J. Allmendinger. Two other Cup race winners, Ward Burton and Jeremy Mayfield, also went home.

These very talented drivers and their teams pinned their hopes on making the Daytona 500 and starting the season on a positive note. Now, they have to regroup, go to California and hopefully break into the field.

California Speedway is going to test these teams. If these guys are shut out one more time (Friday, 5:30 p.m. ET on SPEED), they'll be two races behind, and it could affect sponsorships and team stability, especially if they have to make a cross-country trip and can't make the show. If they're not inside the top 35 in owner points by Bristol, it could be a soap opera for those teams every week as they try to make their way in on time.

Who to Watch

Kevin Harvick: Heading home to California, Bakersfield native Harvick and Richard Childress Racing have momentum. Oh, by the way, he's not running all of the Busch races so he's got more time to focus on winning the Nextel Cup championship. He can back up his Daytona win with a top five finish.

Jimmie Johnson: As part of a resilient team led by crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson overcomes adversity quickly. The No. 48 team didn't have the showing that they hoped for at Daytona so expect the El Cajon native to rebound from his Daytona performance at his home track.

Tony Stewart: The No. 20 team was strong as always at Daytona. Call it being victimized, racing luck or something else, Stewart crashed and finished 43rd in the Great American Race. He had a very strong ride at Daytona, and I expect nothing less from his team at California. We'll see how racing luck affects these guys on the West Coast.

Kasey Kahne: With six wins on 1 1/2- and 2-mile tracks last year — including the last Cup race at Fontana in September — Kahne should be just as strong this year. At Daytona, I picked Kahne's Evernham Motorsports teammate, Elliott Sadler, as a darkhorse. Toward the end of the race, I thought Sadler was going to make some noise, but Ray should be very pleased with 6th and 7th-place finishes for Kahne and Sadler last week. Scott Riggs' car had some mechanical issues, but the other two Dodges in Evernham's stable gained valuable points for the operation.

Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman: When you talk about Dodge, you've got to look at how fast the Penske cars were at Daytona. When they get up front, they can run with the best of them. All of the Dodge teams have to be pleased with their new noses and the balance that they've found. California bodes really well for them.

What to Watch

Getting into a groove: When we return to California Speedway each year, the track changes, and the racing groove widens out. California is supposed to be a lot like sister track Michigan Speedway, which has two- and three-wide racing with big, sweeping corners. The fans would love to see the aggressive racing that we had at Daytona — especially in the closing laps — all day long. 

Stocking up on points: After Daytona, the drivers who finished well want to stay up on the wheel, keep scoring points and give themselves a points advantage early in the season. Even though we're talking about California, teams are looking down the road to the first really big landmine of 2007, the fifth race of the season at Bristol and the Car of Tomorrow. Several drivers, including Robby Gordon, told me that they want to get top 20 finishes in the first four races so they are solidly in the top 35 in owner points when the Car of Tomorrow comes along. Gordon doesn't want to hold his breath in qualifying in case problems jump up. These first five races are going to have a huge impact on the guys who will make the Chase.

No tire talk: Hopefully, the tire that Goodyear takes to the track won't come into play. At Daytona, the compound that they chose was very effective.

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Driver Handicaps: California
Jeff Wackerlin

Who's HOT at California Speedway

Roush Fenway Racing - Both Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle have the best driver ratings at California, and Carl Edwards is tops in finishing average at 4.4. Jamie McMurray also finished sixth in this event last season.

Hendrick Motorsports - Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each have a win at California, with Gordon's three leading all drivers.

Kasey Kahne performs well on 1.5 and 2-mile speedways and is the most recent winner at California.

Clint Bowyer scored his career-best NEXTEL Cup finish at California last year.

Keep an Eye on at California Speedway

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming off his best finish at California with a second-place finish last September.

Both Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing early end at Daytona.

Harvick looks to carry his momentum from Daytona to California Speedway where he is in search of his first top five.

Casey Mears will also get to chance to perform for the first time on a non restrictor-plate track using Hendrick horsepower.

Mark Martin will compete in his first race at California driving a Chevrolet.

Ricky Rudd posted an average finish of 4.3 when he raced last (2001-2003) at California with Robert Yates Racing.

Although the track is now configured much differently than California, Elliott Sadler, Scott Riggs and David Gilliland were the fastest in preseason testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Track Performers

Jeff Gordon leads all active full-time drivers among wins (5), top fives (22) and poles (6) on 2-mile speedways. Mark Martin, who won the 1998 California race driving a Roush Ford, is second with five wins and leads all with 34 top 10s. Dale Jarrett is third in wins with four, and Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte are tied with three victories each. Ricky Rudd is second in top 10s with 28 and Carl Edwards is tops with an average finish of 6.5 in 10 races.

Rookie Report

Paul Menard has the most experience among the Raybestos Rookies at California Speedway. Menard had competed in six Busch Series races with DEI at the 2-mile speedway capturing top 10s, including a fourth-place finish in his last attempt where he led for seven laps. Menard is the only rookie that has made one NEXTEL Cup start on a 2-mile track, finishing 20th on California's sister track, Michigan International Speedway last August. David Ragan, who was the highest finishing rookie in the Daytona 500, competed in one Busch race at California, finishing 41st in last year's September Busch race driving the No. 50 for Roush Fenway Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya has yet to start a NEXTEL Cup or Busch race on a 2-mile speedway among his seven combined starts. AJ Allmendinger is still seeking his first Cup start with the new Red Bull Racing team.

Qualifying Tidbits

Kurt Busch swept both poles at California Speedway and posted a speed of 187.086 mph in qualifying for this event. The pole was the third for Dodge at the track. Busch's brother, Kyle, set the qualifying record at 188.435 mph driving a Chevrolet in this event in 2005. Ford's last pole at California came in the second race in 2005 with Carl Edwards. Seven of the 13 races have been won from outside the top 10 and no one has yet to win from the pole.

California Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2006 season)

Greg Biffle is the fastest driver early in a run during the first 25 percent of a green flag run since a pit stop. Biffle's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of 1.2538 leads all active drivers. Kyle Busch (1.0815), Jimmie Johnson (1.0471), Matt Kenseth (1.0229) and Carl Edwards (.9705) round out the top five.

Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin, respectively, hold average running positions of 7.5 and 8.2. They are closely followed by Jimmie Johnson (8.7), Carl Edwards (9.0) and Denny Hamlin (9.5).

Mark Martin is the fastest driver late in a run since a pit stop. Johnson's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of .8175 leads all active drivers. Matt Kenseth (.7197), Reed Sorenson (.7129), Kasey Kahne (.6989) and Tony Stewart (.6484) round out the top five.

Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, respectively, have completed 230 and 207 quality passes (Passing a car running in the top 15 while under a green flag).

Matt Kenseth has the best average Driver Rating at 110.1.

More Driver Notes

1. Kevin Harvick (Points: 190): Harvick looks to carry his momentum from Daytona to California Speedway where he is in search of his first top five. In five out of nine races at the 2-mile speedway, Harvick has failed to finish inside the top 25. His best performance (sixth), and second top 10, came in the 2005 February race.

2. Mark Martin (Points Behind Leader: -15):
Martin dominated the 1998 race leading 165 laps en route to his only victory at California Speedway. In this event last year, Martin finished ninth for his series tying sixth top-10 finish in 13 races. He is currently the leader in races led, with 10, and is second to Jeff Gordon in laps led with 271. This weekend will be Martin's first Cup start in a Chevrolet at California.

3. Jeff Burton (Points Behind Leader: -25):
Last year in this event, Burton broke a streak of finishing 15th or worse in the seven races prior at California Speedway when he finished fifth. Burton's other top-10 finishes came with Roush Racing from 1998-2000. His career best was a runner-up finish in 1999. Last September, Burton finished 16th in his fifth race with Richard Childress racing at the track, giving him a finishing average of 18.0 in that span.

6. David Gilliland (Points Behind Leader: -43): Gilliland started 20th and finished 32nd in his only start at California Speedway.

7. Joe Nemechek (Points Behind Leader: -52): Nemechek appeared to be headed to his first top-10 finish at California Speedway in the 2005 February event after he led the most laps (63) before losing the engine on lap 130. His 39th-place finish was his second DNF and 10th finish of 20th or worse at California. Nemechek, who won the inaugural pole at California, finished 10th in the 2005 September race - his only top 10 at the track.

8. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -56): Gordon is the only driver that has scored multiple victories at California Speedway. His three victories, six top fives, and 455 laps led currently leads all drivers. His finishing average (11.8) is the best among all drivers that have raced in every event since 1997.

9. David Stremme (Points Behind Leader: -60): Stremme is still searching for his first top-30 finish at California Speedway. This weekend will mark his third career Cup start at the track.

10. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind Leader: -63): Yeley has two top-10 starts and one top-10 finish at California Speedway in four starts.

11. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind Leader: -65): This weekend will mark Sadler's second California Speedway start with Evernham Motorsports. Last September he led eight laps and finished 13th. Sadler posted his first top-20 finish at California in seven races when he drove the Robert Yates Racing Ford to victory in the 2004 Labor Day event. He followed the win up with his second top-10 finish (8th) in the 2005 February event. His average finish (21.2) is the worst among all drivers that have at least one victory at the speedway.

12. Reed Sorenson (Points Behind Leader: -66): Sorenson has a pair of 21st-place finishes at California Speedway. He did lead for the first time at the track last September for eight laps.

14. Robby Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -72): Last February, Gordon captured his best finish (26th) in his four starts at California Speedway with his No. 7 Team. In his last attempt at California, he finished 43rd after transmission problems knocked him out of contention on lap 193.

15. Johnny Sauter (Points Behind Leader: -75): Sauter's only Cup start at California Speedway came in 2004 when he finished 21st with Richard Childress Racing.

16. Sterling Marlin (Points Behind Leader: -78): Marlin has made two starts with his current team Ginn Racing at California Speedway posting an average finish of 30.5. His best finish at the track came in 2002 with Chip Ganassi Racing when he came home seventh. His overall average finish in 13 starts is 20.9.

17. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind Leader: -81): California Speedway is the site of Bowyer's career-best Cup finish. Last September, Bowyer started third and finished third in his second start at the track.

19. Casey Mears (Points Behind Leader: -87): Mears returns to his home state for his eighth Cup start at California Speedway. Mears has posted two top-10 finishes on the 2-mile speedway, with all his other finishes being 14th or worse. His best finish at Fontana came last February when he finished seventh. Mears does have some other unique experience at the track, having raced there in four different series; CART, Indy Lights, Busch and Cup. This weekend will mark Mears' first track start with Hendrick Motorsports.

20. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind Leader: -90): Labonte has raced in 13 races at California Speedway and has captured two runner-up finishes (2000, 2003) and a total of four top fives. Labonte, who has one pole at Fontana (2001), finished 31st and 26th, respectively, in his first track starts with Petty Enterprises.

21. Dale Jarrett (Points Behind Leader: -93):
Jarrett has captured six top-10 finishes at California Speedway, with his best (fifth) coming in 1999. Jarrett's 17.2 finishing average is hampered by a 41st-place finish (engine) in 1998 and a 37th-place finish (accident) in 2003. He has led at least one lap in four different races at California for a total of 102 laps. This weekend Jarrett will make his first track start driving a Toyota.

22. Kasey Kahne (Points Behind Leader: -94): Last September, Kahne scored his first win at California Speedway after leading 130 laps from the ninth starting position. The win marked his third consecutive finish of sixth or better. Kahne's DNF in this event in 2005 marked his only finish outside the top 15 in six starts. In his first two starts, Kahne led a combined 116 laps, won a pole and posted a finishing average of 7.5.

23. Kyle Busch (Points Behind Leader: -94): Busch made NASCAR history at California Speedway in 2005 as he became the series' youngest pole and race winner. He won the pole in the 2005 February event after setting a track record of 188.245 mph. In September 2005, Busch set the mark for the youngest winner at 20 years, four months and two days, after leading 95 laps en route to his first career NEXTEL Cup win. He finished 10th and eighth, respectively, last season at California. Busch will be back in the same car (chassis No. 394) that finished seventh at Kansas last season.

24. Carl Edwards (Points Behind Leader: -96): Edwards will be shooting for his sixth consecutive top-10 finish at California Speedway in as many starts. Edwards' third-place finish in this event last year is his career best and fourth top five at the track. His 4.4 finishing average leads all drivers.

25. Greg Biffle (Points Behind Leader: -102): Biffle, who swept both Busch races in 2004 at California Speedway, won his first NEXTEL Cup race at the track in the February event in 2005. He led 46 laps en route to the win and it was his first finish of 13th or better in five starts at the 2-mile speedway. He followed the win up with a another top-five, a runner-up finish after leading 16 laps. In this event last year, Biffle looked to be the man to beat again. Coming off a win in the Busch race on Saturday, Biffle dominated the Cup race, leading 168 laps before a part failure took him out of the race.

26. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind Leader: -103): Kenseth is the defending Auto Club 500 race winner. Along with the victory, Kenseth scored a seventh-place finish in the September race, marking his sixth top 10 in 10 starts at California Speedway. He has led in seven races for a total of 246 laps, which ranks fifth among all drivers. Kenseth, who also has won three Busch races at Fontana, will still be without his primary crew chief Robbie Reiser as he is on race two of his four-race suspension.

27. Ricky Rudd (Points Behind Leader: -105): Rudd will be making his first start with Robert Yates Racing at California Speedway since 2002. Rudd enjoyed success with the team in three starts posting an average finish of 4.3. Rudd finished inside the top 10 on two other occasions, most recently in 2005 with the Wood Brothers.

28. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -109): Last year Truex Jr. competed in his first two NEXTEL Cup Series races at California Speedway where he finished 15th and 18th, respectively.

29. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind Leader: -111): Hamlin finished 12th and sixth, respectively, in his first two starts at California Speedway in 2006. In the second race he led for the first time for 29 laps.

30. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind Leader: -120): McMurray has two finishes outside the top eight in seven starts at California Speedway, most recently in September when he came home 20th - his worst finish at the track. In this event last year, McMurray finished sixth in his first track start with Roush Racing. The only time McMurray led a lap at the 2-mile track came in his first start, in 2003, when he led for 41 laps.

31. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -123): After five consecutive races, Earnhardt Jr. was finally able to break back into the top 10 category at California Speedway when he scored a career-best start (sixth) and finish (second) in the September race in 2006. Junior's other top-five finish (third) came in 2001 after crashing the primary car on Friday and changing the engine on Saturday. During the race, Earnhardt ran out of fuel on lap 107 and was able to battle back from a lap down. Earnhardt's only other top-10 came in 2003 after he brought the Budweiser Chevrolet home sixth.

34. Ken Schrader (Points Behind Leader: -132): Schrader has yet to post a top-10 finish at California Speedway. His best finish of 14th came on two occasions with two teams - Andy Petree and BAM Racing.

36. Ryan Newman (Points Behind Leader: -136): Newman will make his ninth California Speedway start and his 190th career NEXTEL Cup Series start this Sunday. In his previous starts at the speedway, Newman has posted three top-10 finishes - his last coming in this event in 2005. He won the pole in his first start at the track in 2002 and has gone on to post a total of three more starts of ninth or better. His worst start, of 28th, came in the 2005 September race. Last year Newman finished 20th and 33rd, respectively.

37. Kurt Busch (Points Behind Leader: -140): Busch has one victory (2003) and one runner-up finish (2002) at California Speedway. His last top 10 came in the 2005 February event when he finished third. Last year, Busch swept both poles at California and an average finish of 21.5 in his first two track starts with Penske Racing.

38. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind Leader: -144): This weekend Johnson returns to the site of his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win, which was scored back on April 28, 2002, in his first start at California Speedway. Since then, Johnson has finished no worse than 16th and has three second-place finishes, one of which was captured in this event last season. Last September marked the fourth time Johnson did not lead a lap at California. Overall, Johnson has led a total of 104 laps, with the most (62) coming in the race that he won.

40. Tony Stewart (Points Behind Leader: -151): In this event last year, Stewart suffered a flat tire but was still able to lead 28 laps and challenge for the win until he blew an engine on lap 214. The 43rd-place finish was his worst in 11 starts at the 2-mile speedway. Stewart, who finished ninth last September, saw his best finishes at the track come in 1999 and 2001 with a pair of fourth-place efforts. In the 2005 September race, Stewart scored his third top five - first in five races - with a fifth-place finish. Stewart dominated the 2003 event, leading three times for 100 laps, before a connecting rod broke within the engine, giving him a 41st-place finish.

42. Scott Riggs (Points Behind Leader: -163): Riggs has yet to finish inside the top 15 in two starts at California Speedway with Evernham Motorsports. His best finish came in the 2005 September race when he placed seventh with MB2 Motorsports. Riggs, the 2002 California Busch winner, has never led a lap in Cup competition at the 2-mile speedway.

43. Michael Waltrip (Points Behind Leader: -217): If Waltrip qualifies for Sunday's race it will mark his 14th start, and first in a Toyota, at California Speedway. Waltrip has yet to post a top 10 at the track since leaving DEI after the 2005 season.

Brian Vickers: Vickers, the 2004 pole winner, captured his best finish - and only top 10 - at California Speedway in the 2005 September race. He led a combined 46 laps in his first three of five starts at the 2-mile speedway. This weekend Vickers will attempt to qualify for his first race with Team Red Bull.

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Auto Club 500: Steadier Than Daytona
by Brian Gabrielle

Daytona is a cruel mistress. At least when it comes to predictions.

Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch looked mighty fine about two-thirds of the way through last Sunday's race, and it looked like a nice payday for us. But then Smoke and Busch the Elder wrecked one another, and all heck broke loose. That green-white-checker finish was exciting as could be, but it didn't do anything for the bettors among us. Kevin Harvick made for a nice story in pulling out his hundredths-of-a-second victory, but Mark Martin would've been far more incredible. It also would've meant the books would've taken a big-time bath.

Anyway, let's move onto Fontana, for this weekend's Auto Club 500.

Last Week: A rough beginning to '07. As I mentioned above, Stewart and Busch were looking strong; Kurt led the most laps in the race, and Stewart had a firm hold on the lead when he made his fatal mistake, running down onto the apron just a bit, causing his #20 car to check up and forcing Busch's #2 to ram him from behind. So in a puff of smoke and a tear of sheet metal, our day was over. That's a loss of 1.5 units.

Note: Please be sure to check back late Saturday or early Sunday for our head-to-head selection for this weekend's race, which we'll put online as soon as the books post their odds.

Take Matt Kenseth (+1003), 1/6th unit. Frankly, Kasey Kahne (+585) may be the most likely wager on the board to come through, but it's hard for me to justify taking him at such a steep price. Yes, Kahne was the king of downforce tracks last year, winning six times on the cookie-cutter unrestricted intermediate speedways, and yes, one of those wins came at this very track, Fontana, last fall. But realize that the Dodge Charger has a new nose; its new aerodynamics are supposed to improve the Dodge's handling in traffic, but methinks Kahne didn't have much of a problem with the way the old one handled. Anyway, if I can get something like Kenseth at half the price, I'm taking it. Kenseth won this race last February, and is three-for-three in top-10s at this joint. He's also a master at Michigan, Fontana's twin track, where he's won twice and posted top-10s in seven of the last eight races. You'll notice a pattern to my picks this week...I'm making a pretty heavy speculative bet that the Roush cars still have their overall strength at this track style. I know the #17 car will be without crew chief Robbie Reiser, but I think Kenseth has a serious chance to win this race despite that.

Take Carl Edwards (+1103), 1/6th unit. Always a bridesmaid. Edwards has raced in Nextel Cup cars at Fontana five times. His finishes? Fourth, third, fourth, fifth and sixth. That's sick. Now, there's certainly no guarantee Edwards suddenly learns to close the deal here, but you're not going to find a better Fontana finishing average on the entire board this weekend, and at more than 11-1 odds, I'm willing to take the chance that King Carl can get 'er done. He, too, is also very good at Michigan International Speedway, where he's raced five times in Cup cars and posted four top-10s (and a second-place). Edwards' reunion with crew chief Bob Osborne didn't bear fruit last weekend, but that was Daytona. Look for the #99 to run really well here deep in his comfort zone.

Take Greg Biffle (+1204), 1/6th unit. There are any number of drivers who can be great at these cookie-cutters. Jimmie Johnson (+902) is always a threat; Jeff Gordon (+1103) has won here three times; Tony Stewart (+1003) was a downforce demon toward the end of '06; Dale Earnhardt Jr. (+1003) was surprisingly strong at the two-milers last year. But I'll use my third bullet on The Biff. Again, I'm obviously convinced Roush will be good at this track style again this year, and if I'm wrong, well, I'll know it right quick and adjust accordingly hereafter. But Biffle dominated this exact race last year, building an insurmountable lead with just 21 laps to go when his engine went boom. Biffle has won here before, and also has a second place, to go along with his two wins and five consecutive top-10s at Michigan. Perhaps more than any other team in NASCAR, when Biffle and his #16 crew hit on their setup, they're well nigh impossible to beat. Hopefully that happens again on Sunday.

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Auto Club 500 Driver Updates
February 24, 2007
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com


Chevy is now the favorite after practice.

There is a huge amount of value on the Chevy's in any manufacturer prop after seeing the Childress, DEI, Gibbs, and Hendrick teams run on Saturday.

TOP 5 rated cars after all practice and qualifying sessions:

1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr
3) Kevin Harvick
4) Clint Bowyer
5) Jeff Burton

TOP drivers to WAGER AGAINST:

1) Kurt Busch
2) Brian Vickers
3) Tony Stewart

TOP drivers to WAGER ON at plus money (that don't conflict with top 5 rated drivers)

1) Matt Kenseth
2) Elliott Sadler
3) Scott Riggs
4) Jamie McMurray

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Top Drivers Looking to Rebound
Shawn Akers

It will take more than a 32nd-place finish in the Daytona 500 to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. down.

The driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet said he’s already shaken off the disappointment from Daytona and plans on making a strong bid for a victory in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, where he qualified fifth fastest on Friday afternoon.

"It’s a completely clean slate. We’re ready to go," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You can’t compare Daytona to California. Daytona is like a season of its own, and the superspeedway program is different from the rest of the tracks.

"So, we’re not going out there feeling like we’re in trouble in the points already or worry about being in an accident at Daytona. That was only the first race. If we do what we know we can do as a team, we’ll be in the top 12 in points when The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup begins in September."

Tony Stewart, who finished last at Daytona, has put his Daytona 500 woes behind him and is excited about racing at California Speedway.

"Everybody is pretty worn out after being at Daytona for so long," the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet said. "California means a normal routine again. Once we get away from Daytona, everything kind of settles into a groove.

"I enjoy going to California, because I really feel that’s where our season starts. It’s a track where you don’t really worry about what everybody else’s car is doing. You worry about what your car is doing. Once you leave California, you feel like the season has officially started."

Stewart will start from 11th place on Sunday.

California native Jimmie Johnson is another driver who looks to overcome a bad start to the season. The defending NEXTEL Cup Series champion finished 39th last weekend.

Johnson has had a great deal of success during his career at California Speedway. He has three second-place finishes here — including last year’s Auto Club 500 — and one victory, which he scored in his rookie season in 2002.

He will attempt to achieve similar results this weekend despite his 23rd place qualifying effort.

"It’s racing, and that’s what we deal with," Johnson said of his Daytona result. "Unfortunately, we were in an accident in our first race of the season. It’s just how it goes. Kevin Harvick will be on a high coming to California, and he’ll be tough to beat. So will Mark Martin, after last week. We need to forget about Daytona because, in a lot of people’s minds, the season starts this weekend."

Denny Hamlin, the 2006 NEXTEL Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, faces a situation similar to last year when he finished 30th at Daytona. He is coming off a 28th-place run in the Daytona 500.

"I wish we would have had a better finish at Daytona to kick off the season, but we’ll look at this race as where the season really starts for us," said Hamlin, who will start 17th on Sunday. "Last season, we managed to put in a good run at California (12th) after a bad start at Daytona, and it helped get our season pointed in the right direction."

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Re: Auto Club 500 News and Notes

Kenseth, Stewart and Johnson today, what do you think? Also like them in their matchups

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Re: Auto Club 500 News and Notes

I am on Edwards,Biffle with savers on Bowyer and Sadler.

Tough race to handicap since so many drivers have looked good and have shown they run good here.

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I just took J Gordon Ev/D Earnhardt Jr in a matchup  wink

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Won the matchup but everyone other than Bowyer had junk cars  :-[

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Kenseth Sweeps California

On Academy Awards night, Matt Kenseth produced his own sequel worthy of an Oscar.

Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Carhartt Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, led 129 laps – including the final 23 – at California Speedway and defended his 2006 win in the Auto Club 500 on Sunday. It was also the second victory in as many days for the 34-year-old, having claimed the win in yesterday’s Stater Bros. 300 NASCAR Busch Series event.

The victory was Kenseth’s 15th of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series career and second at Fontana in Cup competition. The win total at the 2-mile speedway increases to six overall for the Cambridge, Wisconsin native when you combine his Busch Series exploits.

It was also Ford’s eighth win in California NEXTEL Cup action and Roush Fenway Racing’s 13th in all NASCAR races at the speedway.

Much like yesterday’s Stater Bros. 300 Busch Series event, Kenseth was chased to the finish line by a Hendrick Motorsports driver who was unable to catch him in the waning moments. Polesitter Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet finished runner-up, .679 seconds off Kenseth’s pace.

Defending NEXTEL Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin rounded out the top five.

Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers completed the top-10 in the finishing order.

Despite missing the first race of the season, Brian Vickers made history for Toyota with his result as he earned the first top-10 finish in a points race for the Japanese manufacturer in his No. 83 Red Bull Camry.

"I think this finish says a lot about the whole group, not just Team Red Bull, not just the No. 83, about Toyota, about Red Bull," Vickers said. "To be a new team in such a competitive series and come in our first race and get a top 10. I’m so proud of everyone.

"Our goal is to go to the next race and focus on making the race. Hopefully we can come out of it just like we did today. Until we get in the top-35 (in points), that has to be our goal – we can’t forget that."

With four laps remaining in the Auto Club 500, Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick looked to be in position to win his first California Speedway race, but as the field was readying for the final restart following a red flag period, he brought his No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet to pit lane because of a flat left front tire – dropping from second to a 17th place finish.

"It is a little disappointing, the thing was really good," Harvick said. "This Chevrolet was really fun to drive today. To come to California where we have struggled before and have a chance to win, is awesome. We just had some bad luck. There is nothing we can do about that. That is two days in a row we had tire trouble, so what do you do."

Although Stewart finished eighth overall, it was a disappointing finish as he was amongst those with a dominant car earlier in the day. However, a mistake by the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet on lap 159 – leaving pit road too quickly – cost him a drive-through penalty, which he served under green flag conditions.

He stayed on the lead lap despite the penalty and showed how good his car was by driving back to finish inside the top-10.

"We had a good car, that’s for sure," Stewart said. "I was 300 rpm below what I needed to maintain pit road speed. So, unless the line (where a timing light is set up) is in a spot where I don’t know it’s at… I don’t know. NASCAR has all that computer stuff and it tells you exactly when and where, so I’ll be interested to see it."

On the debut weekend for unleaded fuel in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated had the hardest time adapting to the change. Two of their drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr., encountered engine problems early in the 250 lap race. While Truex was only able to complete 13 laps, Earnhardt Jr. was able to return after engine problems appeared on lap 71. Unfortunately, it was a brief return as the engine expired for good shortly thereafter in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet.

As a result, Truex and Earnhardt Jr. finished 41st and 40th respectively.

"I know the guys at the shop that build the motors are really upset right now. I just want them to keep their heads up, and we will figure it out," said Earnhardt Jr., who now has two consecutive DNF’s after his crash at Daytona. "The unleaded fuels just threw us a curveball. We haven't gotten the situation like we needed, but we will go over the two motors we lost this weekend."

The DEI cars were not the only ones with engine problems. Kasey Kahne, winner of last fall’s event at California Speedway and today’s outside polesitter, led the first 20 laps of the race and looked to be in contention for a victory until an engine problem forced him to come into the garage on lap 69.

After spending time in the garage, Kahne did return to the track.

Toyota’s Dave Blaney and Dodge’s John Andretti also faced engine issues Sunday afternoon.

The race featured a total of nine caution periods for 37 laps and one red flag for a hard crash involving David Reutimann, which set up the final four lap shootout.

Reutimann, driver of the No. 00 Domino’s Toyota, was able to walk away from the impact and appeared to be okay.

While the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series takes a weekend off until the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11, teams will hardly get to rest as they shift their focus towards the two day "Car of Tomorrow" test at Bristol Motor Speedway this week. The test, which begins on Wednesday, will help teams prepare for the "COT" debut on March 25th at Bristol, the first of 16 races that will use the new car design in 2007.

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