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FONTANA, Calif. – The Chase for the 2010 Sprint Cup championship rolls on at Auto Club Speedway, a track where Jimmie Johnson has finished first, second or third in six of the last seven races.
Here are five questions heading into Sunday's Pepsi Max 400:
1. If Johnson is the favorite, who is his biggest challenger?
Not only is Biffle coming off a win at Kansas, an intermediate track similar to ACS, but he's been quick all weekend – qualifying seventh and finishing among the top-five fastest drivers in all three practices.
Ironically, Biffle and Johnson will start side by side in Row 4. Expect them both to move up quickly. The key will be who can get to the front and in clean air first. Whoever does will likely lead most of the race.
2. Which Chase driver has the most on the line this weekend?
All of them not named Jimmie Johnson.
Odds are very good that the four-time defending champion is going to finish somewhere in the top 10, and probably in the top five. Assuming he does, you're not going to make up any ground on him in the standings – not much anyway – but you could certainly lose some.
Denny Hamlin saw his title hopes dashed at ACS a year ago when, while leading the race, he inexplicably wrecked himself. He went into the race 81 points behind Johnson, left 219 back and was never heard from again.
Whoever doesn't finish in the top 10 Sunday will likely suffer a similar fate.
No, not this weekend anyway.
Busch has more important things to worry about, namely trying to climb back into the title hunt. The only way for him to climb out of the 80-point hole he's in is to win races, and he's not going to be in a position to do that if he's worrying about settling a grudge with Reutimann.
Now, if over the next few weeks Busch's title hopes become bleaker and bleaker, things will change. He's still not over what happened at Kansas, still feels like Reutimann was in the wrong, and if he's 200 points behind and has nothing to lose, Reutimann had better watch out.
4. Is polesitter Jamie McMurray a threat to win?
McMurray is better on the intermediate tracks than he's given credit for, and while his recent history at ACS is abysmal – he hasn't finished in the top 15 there since 2006 – he's been a different driver since rejoining Chip Ganassi.
That said, he won the pole at ACS back in February, too, yet didn't lead even one lap and wound up 17th. In two races at Michigan International Speedway, a track similar to ACS, McMurray finished 20th and 24th.
If he were to win, it would be an aberration, albeit an important one as he currently trails Ryan Newman by 22 points in the battle for the top spot among non Chasers.
5. Who's going to win?
Double J flexed his muscle by posting the fastest lap in the final practice on Saturday. To that point he'd been average to above average on the speed chart. But as he and crew chief Chad Knaus tend to do this time of year, they went about searching for whatever speed is out there and eventually found it.
He's won the last two races at ACS and four of the last six. The script here says he'll make it five of the last seven.