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From the Marbles

Hot/Not: Wrapping up the weekend at Fontana

Geoffrey Miller
From The Marbles

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It took 195 of 200 laps, a sputtering Kyle Busch and a last-lap dog fight between two California natives for Auto Club Speedway to produce something that resembled highlight-reel racing Sunday.

Still, 400 miles in Fontana left it easy to pick out who is more like Charlie Sheen (duh, #winning) and who is more like Charlie Sheen (the fired TV hack). Let's jump in with a breakdown of what was hot and what was not from the Auto Club 400:

HOT: Fontana reverting to a single race

NASCAR may have finally learned its lesson that more of something isn't always better. For the first time since 2004, just one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will happen at the 2-mile venue this season.

The reasons for the reduction weren't hard to find, though you can bet the empty seats over the past few seasons didn't help. Sunday, NASCAR reported 88,000 people showed up, numbers up from recent years but still down from the 120,000+ sellouts recorded prior to two events at the track. I'm willing to bet Darlington fans still aren't pleased, however.

NOT: Jeff Gordon, the Hendrick low light

Be honest: did you think Jeff Gordon would be the worst-performing Hendrick Motorsports driver after five races? Yes, that Hendrick Motorsports, the one that has featured everybody's favorite non-competitor for the past few seasons in Dale Earnhardt Jr.{ysp:more}

It's way too early to stick a knife in Jeff Gordon's season — being 16th and 57 points out of first shouldn't be a backbreaker — but the facts don't lie, and Gordon's not exactly been prospering since his Phoenix win.

HOT: Red Bull and ... winning?

If you woke up early enough Sunday morning — late Saturday night for the west coasters — SPEED's coverage of Formula One in Australia might've left you with an odd, sugary taste as Red Bull Racing's (and last year's champion) Sebastian Vettel cruised to a dominating win in Melbourne.

His compadres stateside at ACS didn't have quite the performance Vettel did Sunday, but Kasey Kahne (8th) and Brian Vickers (9th) both managed to secure top-10 finishes for the third-best team performance in the organization's history. Previously, Red Bull had placed two cars in the top-10 just twice at Talladega in 2009 and Pocono in 2008.

NOT: Regan Smith's free fall

Remember when Regan Smith was destined to have his breakthrough season in the Furniture Row No. 78? Well, ever since Smith was tangled in a late-race crash at Daytona, it's been like a failed inventory reduction sale at his sponsor's stores — they just can't get anything to go fast.

Smith has turned in four consecutive finishes of 22nd or worse and hasn't finished on the lead lap since Daytona.

HOT: Kyle Busch in just about everything

Kyle Busch didn't close the deal on Sunday's race — one that he dominated most of the day — and apologized to his crew as he crossed the start/finish line in third place. Certainly, it was a rare moment for Moobs as typically there's no one better when the checkered flag is in sight.

Regardless, Busch has found himself striding easily to the front this season and holds the Sprint Cup Series mark for most laps led (330) after five races. Save for the blown engine at Las Vegas two races ago, Busch has yet to finish outside the top 10. His Nationwide Series numbers are a tad guady as well, scoring three wins in five races while leading 60.5% of the season's laps.

Are those numbers enough to make up for this absolutely fabulous wedding photo? Not yet, I say.

NOT: Joe Gibbs Racing sans Shrub

A bit of an odd contrast here I know, but there's no denying that the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing has an engine department in freefall right now.

Denny Hamlin led 15 laps in Sunday's race before engine issues plagued his No. 11 and dropped him from the running after completing just past half of the race's distance. Busch, of course, lost an engine that Vegas and Joey Logano had his blow at Phoenix.

Logano's team also had to replace an engine prior to Sunday's race and then Sliced Bread was subsequently penalized on the race's final restart for passing before the start/finish line. Logano finished as the last car on the lead lap in 25th.

ESPN's David Newton reported Monday that JGR left Hamlin's engine at Toyota Racing Development's headquarters in California for a lookover, and in a strange twist of sportsmanship and cross-manufacturer help, Richard Childress said his team will share notes with JGR to help solve the issue. Childress' engine co-op, Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines, had several engine failures in the season-opener at Daytona.

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