NASCAR Preview

Last Updated Monday, Oct 19, 2009 1:19 am, EDT

Race Capsule

Auto Club Speedway
  • What:

    Race 30 of 36 on Sprint Cup circuit

  • Where:

    Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, CA

  • When:

    October 11, 2009 3:31 pm EDT

  • Laps:

    250

  • Track Length:

    2. miles

  • Race Length:

    500.00 miles

  • Purse:

    $6,204,988

Drivers to Watch

Denny Hamlin Hamlin remains sixth, 99 points out of first, an improvement of nine points from last week. Hamlin has no wins, one top-five finish and three top-10s in seven California starts. His lone top-five came in this race last year. He was sixth in February.
Greg Biffle Biffle is another driver who moved up a position; he is 114 points out of the lead, down 24 from last week. Biffle has one win (2005), four top-five finishes and no other top-10s in 13 California starts. He was second in this race last year and fourth in February. "I have always loved racing at California," Biffle said. "I think we could have won the last two races there. We just ran out of time last fall, and I made a mistake in the pits earlier this year. The team is at the top of their game, and we should have had the win last weekend at Kansas. I made a decision to put on four tires at the end, and it didn't work out for us. I guess the way I'm looking at this weekend is that I owe these guys one, so I'm going to do everything I can to get the 16 car into Victory Lane."
Jimmie Johnson Johnson, who is eight points behind, has won the second California race the last two seasons. Johnson also won the spring race at California in 2002 when he was a rookie. Those are three of his eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts. He finished ninth in February. Since this race in 2005, Johnson has five top-five and six top-10 finishes in seven Fontana starts. "Last week and really the last couple of weeks we've been talking about our strategy and the tracks, directions with setup, and things that we're going to try, things for certain tracks and not other tracks," Johnson said. "I feel very confident with the approach we have and the setups we're going to be taking, the cars we're going to be taking. We're pretty well organized, so hopefully it pays off. I am hopeful that it's helpful for us to have a track in the Chase that we are able to win at -- being California. I think the season comes to us, in a way. I know that we perform well in the Chase, but I think the schedule is helpful for the No. 48 car. We have great results and it gives us a lot of hope going into these tracks, but we still have to show up and get the job done. So we have a positive mindset looking forward to those tracks. It will make the week easier leading into those tracks, but we still have to go in there and get to work. I'm excited for it."
Juan Pablo Montoya Montoya was able to chop 14 points off his points deficit and is 51 points out of first. Montoya has never finished in the top 10 at California in five starts. His best finish was 11th in February. "I would rather have Atlanta as the next race, to be honest," Montoya said. "I always run really well at Atlanta. At the same time we ran pretty good there last time we were there. It was very early in the season, and even then I think we had decent cars. Right now we've got much more competitive cars. Going to California, it's going to be exciting. You've got to be very open-minded. We're bringing our best stuff every week, and you've got to hope what you bring is good enough. Some weeks you're good enough for a top-five and some weeks maybe good enough to win and some weeks you kind of look at yourself and, you know, finish 12th or 15th. Everybody is going to go through it right now."
Martin Truex Jr. Truex has two top-10 finishes in seven starts at California. "We didn't run too well there in February (he finished 27th), but I think we'll be a lot better this time around," said Truex. "We've had a couple of good runs there (both sixth-place finishes), so I know we can run well there. We just want to finish the year on a high note." Truex is leaving the team at the end of the season.
Joey Logano Logano finished 26th in his first Sprint Cup start at California in February. "I'm actually really looking forward to getting back to California," said Logano. "It was only the second race of the season, so I was still trying to figure these cars out. We started out pretty bad but got much better at the end."
Kevin Harvick Harvick has four top-10 finishes in 14 starts at his home track. "It's nice to go out there," the Bakersfield, Calif. Native said, "but I don't treat it as time to get to see my family and friends. I treat it as a job. We get there the day before everything starts on the track, so I don't spend a lot of time with them."
Clint Bowyer Bowyer has three top-10 finishes in seven starts at California. "We've run better there than our record shows," said Bowyer. "It always seems that pit strategy or something else will come into play. I've been burned on that a couple of times. We've run up front out there and know how to do it. We've just got to get a better finish."
Mark Martin Martin leads the standings by 18 points, an increase of eight points from a week ago. Martin's 1998 victory at California is his only win there among four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 16 starts. This will be the first time he has competed in the second California race since he finished 12th in 2006. He ran a part-time schedule in 2007 and 2008 and finished fifth in '07 and 16th in '08 -- both in the February races. "There is a lot of pressure off of me now," Martin said. "We had to fight our way into the Chase with all the trouble that we had at the beginning of the year, but now that we are in here we are having fun again ... it's a dream come true and I certainly never thought we would be having this kind of year. Right now, there is no pressure. Everyone is talking about the Chase and how each winner, each weekend is suddenly the top contender. I'll say it again: Ask me with four races to go. Last week this team could have succumbed to the pressure of not having a perfect race car, but we didn't do it. I watched my guys dig and scratch and claw to the best finish we could possibly get. And it was enough. It wasn't a great day, and I know there is not a guy on this team that was happy with a seventh-place finish. But for where we could have finished, it was great."
Jeff Gordon Gordon climbed one position and has gone from 122 points out last week to 103 points back. Gordon has three victories at California, including the first Cup race at the track in 1997. He also won in 1999 and 2004. Those are three of his nine top-five finishes (he has no other top-10s) in 18 starts. He was 15th last September and second in February, In two of his last three California starts, Gordon has finished no lower than third. "We've improved a lot on these types of tracks since last year," Gordon said. "And we had a great run here earlier this year, but we feel like we let that one slip away. Hopefully we can get that one back this weekend. It's going to take strong runs like that and like the finish we had at Kansas each and every weekend in the final seven races. There are six guys ahead of us right now, so it's highly unlikely that we'll make up a 100-point deficit and pass all those guys in one race. But there are still a lot of laps and races left to chip away. We can't control what the other guys do and where they finish. We've got to focus on our team, our program and our finishes. The competition is as even as I've ever seen it, so we must make the most of our bad days. And we definitely need to take advantage of tracks where we should be good -- like this weekend at Fontana."
Carl Edwards Edwards gained a spot in the standings but is 165 points out of the lead. Edwards has one win (February 2008), six top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 10 California starts. He was sixth in this race last year and seventh in February, which was his lowest finish at Fontana in his last four starts. "California has been one of my best race tracks in the Cup Series," Edwards said. "My first start there I ran really well, and ever since then I've really enjoyed it. It's one of the most fun race tracks to drive on because there's so many options there as a driver you can race all the way down on the apron or right up against the fence. It's a 500-mile race. It's a long race, and it gives the drivers and teams a lot of opportunity to work on the car. We ran really well at Kansas. Greg (Biffle) was fast, I was fast, Jamie McMurray was fast and Matt Kenseth was fast. I guess all of us were fast. The whole team was fast at Kansas, and if we can apply some of what we learned there, we're going to go to California and be aggressive. It couldn't come at a better time."
AJ Allmendinger In three starts at Auto Club Speedway, Allmendinger's best finish is 14th. The Los Gatos, Calif., native said he wants to do well this weekend in front of his family and friends. "At least I'll get a few more cheers during driver introductions in California," he said, smiling.
Casey Mears Mears has only two top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Auto Club Speedway. "It's been a horrible track for me as far as the racing part goes," said Mears. "I've never really ran well there in a Cup car, and I don't know why. Maybe this will be the weekend I get to really enjoy running in front of my family and friends." Mears is from Bakersfield, Calif.
Matt Kenseth Kenseth won the race at California in February, his third victory at the two-mile speedway. He has not finished worse than eighth in the last eight races at the track and also has won four Nationwide races there. "California has been one of our best tracks over the years, and we always look forward to going out there," he said.
Jeff Burton Burton has only six top-10 finishes in 18 starts at California, including a second in the spring of 1999. He finished 32nd in February. "That was an awful race for us," said Burton. "I hope we don't run that badly again. It was a race where we set the car up with new stuff that we thought would've been better. We quickly learned that wasn't what we needed to be doing. I think we'll be a lot better this time."
Kyle Busch Busch will be seeking his ninth straight top-10 finish at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. He began this impressive streak with a win on Sept. 4, 2005. In the Nationwide Series, Busch will be shooting for his third consecutive victory and sixth straight finish of third or better. "I feel like we got some good tracks coming up that we could do some damage at," said Busch. "And California is one of them."
Tony Stewart Stewart gained a position in the points and has gone from 106 to 67 points out of the lead. Despite some dominating races in the past, Stewart has never won at California. He has three top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 16 starts. He led 100 laps for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2003 before the engine blew up. He led 56 laps in this race in 2005 before finishing fifth. Stewart has five top-10 finishes in the last eight California starts, including 22nd in this race last year and eighth in February. "We (Stewart and Darian Grubb, crew chief) were still just learning each other going into California in the spring," Stewart said. "So going around this time, we obviously know each other better. We've had time to make mistakes and make decisions that worked for me, and we've learned the feel that I like together, and that's something that will help us definitely help us."
Kurt Busch Busch, who lost one position in the standings and is 91 points out, has one win (2003), four top-five finishes and six top-10s in 14 Fontana starts. He was 39th last year and fifth in February. He has three top-10 finishes in his last five starts at the two-mile oval. "I'm always looking forward to a West Coast trip," said Busch, who is from Las Vegas.
Kasey Kahne Kahne has three top-10 finishes in the last four races at California. He won the Labor Day weekend event in 2006. "Fontana is a good track for us," said Kahne. "We seem to have a pretty good package there every time we go with Kenny Francis (his crew chief). I think we have a shot at getting a lot of them (points) back this weekend."
Marcos Ambrose Ambrose has made two Sprint Cup starts at California, and 22nd is his best finish. "We had been struggling at the mile-and-a-halves, but we ran good at Kansas so I feel good about this weekend," said Ambrose. "I think our team has finally figured out what we need to do to run good at places like Kansas and California."
Jamie McMurray McMurray has five top-10 finishes in 12 starts at California. He started third and finished 16th in February. "Fontana is a great track for Jamie statistically, so going into this weekend we just need to be positive about our chances," said crew chief Donnie Wingo. "It is a great track for the Roush organization and for Jamie as well."
Brian Vickers Vickers won the pole and finished 10th in the February race at California. After winning the pole, Vickers was forced to change engines and started last. Vickers admits he is perplexed by how poorly the team has run in the Chase. "We were one of the best teams leading up to the Chase; now we're struggling," said Vickers, who has finished 11th, 18th and 37th in the first three races.
Ryan Newman Newman dropped two positions in the standings and is 164 points out. He was seventh in the standings and 110 out last week. Newman has never won at California and has only two top-five and four top-10 finishes in 13 starts. He was 16th in last year's contest and 28th this past February, including just one top-10 finish in his last eight starts. "All year, this team has proved that they don't give up, that they have a lot of fight, and I think we're going to have to keep proving that each week of the Chase," Newman said. "There are seven races to go. Yes, we have some ground to make up, but we can do it. I have faith in (crew chief) Tony Gibson, my team and in Stewart-Haas Racing. We just need to be better."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt has only four top-10 finishes in 15 starts at California, but he and car owner Rick Hendrick believe the team is making a lot of headway and could have a good weekend. "They've (Earnhardt and crew chief Lance McGrew) really clicked together, and the car is running well," said Hendrick. "He's just had some really bad luck. But I think they're gaining on it and I'm really happy."
David Reutimann Reutimann has one top-10 finish in five starts at Auto Club Speedway. "We ran good at Michigan (he finished ninth in the August event), so we feel good about this weekend," said Reutimann. "If we improve just a little bit over how we ran at Michigan, we can have a real good weekend."