Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup stands, plus five additional drivers of note.
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski moved into first place in the Sprint Cup standings for the first time this season. He leads second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by nine points and third-ranked and former points leader Jimmie Johnson by 15 points.
FONTANA RECORD: 4 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: 18th in 2012. Finished 18th in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski has had the best start to the season of any driver in the Sprint Cup series. Keselowski has finished no lower than fourth in any of the first four races, with two fourth-place finishes (Daytona and Phoenix) and third-place finishes in the last two races (Las Vegas and Bristol), a trend he hopes to continue at Fontana.
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led 62 laps at Bristol but eventual winner Kasey Kahne was just too strong. Still, there's nothing to be ashamed of to finish third at Bristol. Here are his thoughts on last Sunday's race: "I don't think I had anything for (race winner) Kasey (Kahne). I don't know if anyone did. He was so good through the middle and, really, everywhere. He was kind of in a league of his own."
ETC.: Keselowski has completed 99.7 percent (777) of the 779 total laps contested in six career starts at Fontana. His average start is 21.0 and average finish is 22.8. He has zero DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping back to third place after Las Vegas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed back into after Bristol. He is nine points behind series leader Brad Keselowski and six points ahead of third-ranked Jimmie Johnson.
FONTANA RECORD: 20 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: second in fall 2006. Finished third in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt has had a love-hate relationship at Fontana. While he has four top-fives there, he also has an uncharacteristically high five DNFs there. He would love to win at the high-speed two-mile track, especially coming off a third-place finish there in last year's race.
LOOKING BACK: After finishing second in the season-opening Daytona 500, and fifth at Phoenix, Earnhardt was seventh at Las Vegas and sixth at Bristol. He did not lead any laps but stayed close to the leaders most of the race. Here are his thoughts about Bristol: "I have to give all the credit to Steve Letarte (crew chief). He made a couple, two, three great pit calls there at the end, and gave us the opportunity to get some guys on some old tires, and beat a few guys that we probably weren't going to beat. Great call by him. We drove a pretty good race."
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.0 percent (4,401) of the 4,784 total laps contested in 20 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 20.0 and average finish is 20.8. He has five DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson fell out of first place in the Sprint Cup standings for the first time this season after Bristol, dropping two positions to third place. He trails new points leader Brad Keselowski by 15 points, second-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by six points and leads fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by 23.
FONTANA RECORD: 18 career starts, 5 wins, 12 top-5s, 14 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: first in 2002, fall 2007, fall 2008, fall 2009 and spring 2010. Finished 10th in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson has enjoyed outstanding success at Fontana over the years and looks to continue it this Sunday. In fact, he's finished in the top three finishing positions at Fontana in eight of his last 10 races there - and was ninth and 10th in the other two races.
LOOKING BACK: Johnson struggled to his worst finish of the season at Bristol, ending up 22nd, two laps off the lead lap. Johnson won the season-opening Daytona 500, was second at Phoenix and sixth at Las Vegas.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 100 percent (4,284) of the 4,284 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 9.1 and average finish is an outstanding 5.4. He has zero DNFs there.
5 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer has been on a bit of a yo-yo ride the last few races. After jumping from 10th to fourth place after Phoenix, he dropped five spots to ninth after Las Vegas, only to regain all of those five spots and climb back to fourth after Bristol. He trails series leader Brad Keselowski by 38 points, third-ranked Jimmie Johnson by 23 points, and leads fifth-ranked Greg Biffle by two points.
FONTANA RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-five, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2010. Finished 13th in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has had a decent career run at Fontana, but he's still looking for his first win there. He typically runs strong for much of the race before fading near the end, a trend that he hopes to stop Sunday. Sunday is also Bowyer's first as an owner of the new Clint Bowyer Autoplex in his native Emporia, Kansas. "This is really a dream come true for me in so many ways. I used to work at that dealership before I ever got to the Sprint Cup Series. I was the young guy running around doing anything and everything that needed to be done. Now I'm in a position to ... to buy the dealership and continue giving back to the community that I grew up in. This is where I'm from. It's where my parents still live. I couldn't be any prouder or happier to be in this position and to continue to support my hometown community."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer loves short track racing and it doesn't get much better than Bristol, where he finished fifth.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 99.9 percent (2,778) of the 2,780 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 14.3 and average finish is 10.8. He has zero DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle climbed two spots to fifth place after Bristol. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 40 points, fourth-ranked Clint Bowyer by two points and leads sixth-ranked Denny Hamlin by one point.
FONTANA RECORD: 18 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 6 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: first in spring 2005. Finished sixth in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has had an up-and-down career record at Fontana. After finishing 41st in the last fall race there in 2010, he's been back on the upswing with finishes of 11th and sixth in his last two starts there. Here's Biffle's thoughts on Sunday: "I can't wait for California, I love that race track and I love going out west. That track is big, fast and bumpy but I don't know how it will be with the Gen 6 car. We are working on getting over the bumps, which obviously didn't work out well for us in Las Vegas. So we have a new plan for California. I look forward to picking up our first win of the season; I think we can do it at California."
LOOKING BACK: Biffle had a decent run at Bristol, finishing 11th. He almost made it into the top-10 but came up one spot short.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 94.2 percent (4,035) of the 4,284 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 14.0 and average finish is 17.2. He has three DNFs there.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin dropped two spots, from fourth to sixth position after Bristol. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 41 points, fifth-ranked Greg Biffle by one point and leads Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne, both tied for seventh, by one point.
FONTANA RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five, 4 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: third in fall 2008. Finished 11th in this race last year after starting from the pole.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin has never won at Fontana, but has twice started from the pole, so he knows how to get around the high-speed two-mile track. He's run strong at times there, but he has not shown the kind of consistency that he typically displays at tracks that are slightly shorter at 1.5 miles.
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin looked like he was a lock to win at Bristol, leading 117 laps, but got into trouble late and finished 23rd, two laps off the lead lap. Hamlin had trouble with former teammate Joey Logano, saying, "Really, you've got to control your car and he slid up into me and really he
would have been in the garage with no radiator in it had I not checked up twice, so I just -- I meant to run into him. Didn't mean to spin him out, but his day was fine. He still had a bad day anyway for whatever reason. We finished bad. He
finished bad. It's even."
ETC.: Hamlin has completed 92.4 percent (2,570) of the 2,780 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 13.2 and average finish is 18.5. He has two DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards dropped two spots in the standings after Bristol, falling into a tie for seventh place with race winner Kasey Kahne. The duo trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 42 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Denny Hamlin and leads ninth-ranked Paul Menard by six points.
FONTANA RECORD: 15 career starts, 1 wins, 7 top-five, 12 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008. Finished fifth in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards has an outstanding record at Fontana and is to be considered one of the top favorites this Sunday. For whatever reason, it seems that whenever Edwards has a strong finish at Fontana, he winds up having a good overall season, too. Happenstance or kismet? We'll find out if that's the case again with this Sunday's race.
LOOKING BACK: Edwards finished 18th at Bristol, the first driver one lap down from the leaders. He dealt with an ill-handling car much of the race, which only added to his problems at a place he typically does fairly well at.
ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.5 percent (3,518) of the 3,534 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 18.8 and average finish is an outstanding 8.7. He has zero DNFs there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne climbed seven spots in the standings and into a tie with Carl Edwards for seventh place after Kahne's win at Bristol. The duo trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 42 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Denny Hamlin and leads ninth-ranked Paul Menard by six points.
FONTANA RECORD: 16 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-five, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2006. Finished 14th in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne is hoping to build on the momentum from his win at Bristol and potentially make it two wins in a row at California. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "The championship is still a long ways away, but I think it's a good start. Just off to a much better start than last year. ... I feel good about where we're at, feel good about the speed of our car and our team, and that's what it's all about is just being on the right page, same page with all the guys. Right now we're really working well together and enjoying it, and we have some momentum and confidence after Bristol and really looking forward to Fontana."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne finished first at Bristol, driving a strong race and holding off key challengers including Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
ETC.: Kahne has completed 93.7 percent (3,545) of the 3,784 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Fontana. His average start is an outstanding 10.2 and average finish is 14.9. He has three DNFs there.
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Paul Menard is a bona fide surprise this early in the season, climbing three spots into ninth place after Bristol. He trails points leader Brad Keselowski by 48 points, is six points behind the seventh-place tie between Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne, and leads the 10th-ranked tie between Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by three points.
FONTANA RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-five, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 16th in 2011. Finished 19th in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard is hoping to continue his surprising upward climb in the standings after a strong ninth-place showing at Bristol. But it won't be easy, as Fontana is one of Menard's worst tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit.
LOOKING BACK: Menard finished ninth at Bristol, drove an intelligent race and stayed out of trouble, something a lot of other drivers couldn't say. Here are his thoughts on Bristol: "It was a wild one. It was all about track position again. We had it at the start and our biggest problem all day was that we couldn't go on restarts. It took us 20 laps to get going on new tires. So, when we got to the point where we could stay out on fuel, we just stayed out. We stayed on old tires that were pumped-up and so we could actually half-way get going."
ETC.: Menard has completed 98.3 percent (2,241) of the 2,279 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Fontana. His average start is a mediocre 27.0 and average finish isn't much better at 24.7. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch climbed seven positions and into a tie for 10th place with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after Busch's runner-up finish at Bristol. Busch and Stenhouse trail points leader Brad Keselowski by 51 points, are three points behind ninth-ranked Paul Menard and is 11 points ahead of 12th-ranked Joey Logano.
FONTANA RECORD: 15 career starts, 1 wins, 6 top-five, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2005. Finished second in this race last year.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is looking to keep his momentum going following a runner-up finish at Bristol. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We've had really fast racecars everywhere we've gone so far. Fontana is another place where I've always fared well over the years, and I'm hoping we can finally get that victory we've been looking for this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Busch finished second at Bristol, just narrowly losing to Kasey Kahne.
ETC.: Busch has completed 98.6 percent (3,486) of the 3,534 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Fontana. His average start is 11.7 and average finish is 11.3. He has one DNF there.
17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Tied for 10th with Kyle Busch.
FONTANA RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Finished second in the Nationwide Series race a year ago.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "We are bringing the same car that we tested with at Las Vegas. We had a lot of speed during the test so I feel confident going into this weekend. Plus we've been strong at the other mile-and-a-half tracks (in various tests) so I feel we should have a strong showing in our NOS Energy Drink Ford Fusion this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse was forced to start at the back of the field after changing engines. "On that one run we passed a lot of cars and got into 12th there, and then I got into the wall," said Stenhouse. "That kind of ruined our day. The car wasn't quite as good after that, but all in all, to start last and finish 16th is not terrible for us."
ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves admits, "We are still learning the new Gen-6 car, but I feel that as a new team in 2013 that we have done a great job so far. During our mile-and-half tests, we have showed speed in the 17 Ford. I think if we keep building on what we learn each week that we will be strong contenders (for a win) soon. As for Fontana, we hopefully will leave there with a strong top-10 run."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 11 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: One top-10 finish in six starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano knows he is going to get a lot of questions about last week, but he wants to concentrate on having a good weekend in California. "We are not far out of the top 10, and if we can run like we did in Bristol and not have any problems, we can have a real good day and jump into the top 10," said Logano. "That is our goal this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Logano spent 20 laps trying to get around Jeff Gordon in a spirited duel for the lead. But on lap 347 as Logano slid back up the track after failing to get by Gordon once again, he was clipped by a fast-closing Denny Hamlin. A second hit by Hamlin send Logano spinning backwards into the wall. Logano recovered from the incident to finish 17th, but he was still livid as he climbed out of his car after the race. He raced over to Hamlin's car and stuck his head in the window to express his displeasure with his former teammate. One of Hamlin's crew pushed Logano away from the car and the two teams got into a shoving match before NASCAR officials cooled things down. "I'm not putting up with that," said Logano. "What goes around comes around. I was racing for the lead. I have a car that could have won."
ETC.: Hamlin was asked what Logano said to him. "He said he was coming for me," replied Hamlin. "I usually don't see him, so it's usually not a factor." The dispute continued an hour after the race when the two traded messages on Twitter. "Hey Denny Hamlin great job protecting that genius brain of yours by keeping your helmet on," tweeted Logano. "Why's that. What would u do," replied Hamlin. This is the second time in four races this season that the two former teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing have swapped insults on Twitter following a race. Logano moved to Penske Racing following the 2012 season.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 12 points out of the top 10. Lost six spots last week to fall out of the top 10.
FONTANA RECORD: Three wins and 13 top-10 finishes including eight top-five's in 20 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth feels "Fontana has really changed a lot over the last three or four years. The grooves have moved around and everyone always talks about the seams in the pavement. Those seams can get a little tricky since you can't really run across them. You have to pick a lane in between them. I think one of the biggest challenges at Fontana is to try different lines constantly in order to find the most grip throughout the race."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led once for 85 laps early in the race and had moved into second place and was chasing down leader Jeff Gordon when disaster struck on lap 390. Gordon's right-front tire blew sending him up to the wall and into Kenseth. "There was not a lot either one of us could have done about that," said Kenseth, who slammed so hard into Gordon that it lifted Gordon's rear wheels off the ground and tore off the front of Kenseth's Toyota. "We had a great car again today," added Kenseth. "We just didn't make it to the end." He ended up 35th.
ETC.: Crew chief Jason Ratcliff is looking forward to this weekend. "Matt's had a lot of success at Auto Club Speedway in the past, and I really feel like we've had some strong cars this season already, so I'm looking ahead to this weekend to see what our Dollar General Toyota can do at our first two-mile track of the season."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 15 points out of the top 10. Gained seven spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said he is "really energized about going to Auto Club Speedway this weekend. I feel like our team is taking some positive momentum to California. We have had a really strong car the last two races in particular and I think we can carry that into this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray was running third when he got "too high" and spun on lap 70. He was able to bounce back from this miscue to finish 10th at Bristol, the 100th top-10 finish of his career. "The Cessna team did a great job this weekend," said McMurray. "When we unloaded Friday, we were fast right off the truck. That is a testament to all the hard work from everyone on this team. We got behind early with a spin today and worked hard to overcome that mishap. We knew we had a fast car so it was just a matter of staying focused and making the right calls to battle back to the front."
ETC.: McMurray said he is not a superstitious person, but "I'm a schedule person. I just like to have a schedule and the same type of schedule every weekend. I don't like breaking it. But that's my life, too. Every day that I wake up I do the same thing for the first three hours."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 16 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. His best finish in seven starts is 21st.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose knows "historically it (Fontana) hasn't been one of my better places. But I got the pole at Michigan (another two-mile track) last year and I feel like I can run those big tracks. We just have to get there and see how we shape up. We're looking for a top-10 here in the next couple of weeks and that will calm us all down and get us ready for the focus of the summer."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose got caught up in an early wreck at Bristol, but he was able to battle back and finish 19th. "The guys did a really nice job of putting all the parts and pieces back in place on our DeWalt Ford," said Ambrose. "And we were able to come all the way back from the back of the pack to get a top-20 finish. We just need a race where we have no problems."
ETC.: Ambrose calls his start to the season "a quiet one. I feel like we haven't done as well as we should have. But while it's been a quiet start it has also been consistent. We've finished all of the races and have made our car better by the end of the races, but we just haven't finished as well as we should have. So, for me, I've been disappointed with my start. We just haven't been as fast as we needed. Hopefully that will change this weekend."
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 17 points out of the top 10. Gained 13 spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Finished ninth a year ago. Has one win and nine top-10 finishes in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch feels "Auto Club Speedway will test us on the drag that we have built into our cars because the straightaways are really long there. It's a fast track, especially going into turn one over 200 miles per hour. You definitely feel the speed there. The Furniture Row team is coming off a solid performance in Bristol and we want to continue to build momentum with finishes that we're capable of producing."
LOOKING BACK: Busch made a late-race charge to finish fourth at Bristol, his best finish since joining Furniture Row Racing late last year. "We had to battle back from a couple of loose wheels," said Busch. "We made good changes (to the car). The 78 Beauty Rest Chevy was fast at the end. A top-five at Bristol and to be the fastest car on the track with less than 10 to go makes you feel really good. This is exactly what we needed."
ETC.: Busch, surprisingly, still gets butterflies before each race. "Each qualifying day is (also) pretty stressful," said Busch. "Each race, the start of the race, you have the national anthem, then it really settles in on all the weekend's preparations, all the setup notes just start flashing through your mind. It makes you a little nervous until they throw the green flag. Then it's business as usual."
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 17 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Finished fourth in 2012 after winning the race in 2011. Will be seeking his sixth straight top-10 finish.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick believes this will be another good weekend at Auto Club Speedway. "We've just figured some things out there, where I want to be on the race track, and the team has learned what I'm looking for in the car. To be able to go to a track where you expect to race for the win is always fun. It seems like Auto Club Speedway has been a very consistent race track for us."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick ran in the top 10 for the vast majority of the race, but a late-race decision to gamble on a four-tire stop while most of his counterparts changed only two tires backfired as he ended the day in 14th place. "This was not the result we were looking for today," said Harvick. "Our Budweiser Chevrolet was fast, but we lost track position when pit strategy late in the race didn't work in our favor. We'll learn from our mistakes and move on to the next race."
ETC.: Harvick doesn't feel the test at Las Vegas earlier this month will help him when he gets to California. "I think you have two totally different styles of track between Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway," said Harvick. "You'll take the same family of car that we would race at Las Vegas to California, but that is really the only similarity. Auto Club Speedway has become pretty worn out over the last several years. You have to really pay attention to what your car is doing, to try and get it balanced throughout the whole race because there is so much fall off (in speeds) from start to finish."
56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 19 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Finished eighth last year for his third top-10 finish in 12 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex hopes a return to California means a return to running and finishing in the top 10. "We ran real well at Fontana a year ago, so we feel good about going back," said Truex. "We need to put together some back-to-back top-10s to get back in the hunt (for the Chase). We've run good so far this year, but we haven't gotten the finishes we deserve. Hopefully that will change this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Truex was not pleased with his 12th-place finish at Bristol. "It should have been a top-10," said Truex. "We got jumbled on the restart and that cost us some positions. Plus it was so tight on the restart. I drove my butt off today. We learned a lot and gained a few spots (in the point standings) so we'll take it and head back out west to Fontana (California) and hopefully get us that top-10 finish we deserve."
ETC.: Tom German is the new Chief Technical Officer for Michael Waltrip Racing. German spent nearly 15 years with Penske Racing most recently serving as technical director for Penske's NASCAR teams. "This is such a bitter-sweet announcement for MWR," said co-owner Michael Waltrip. "It is so rare that a person of Tom German's experience and education comes along, period. It is even more remarkable that he became available at the perfect time. Nick (Hughes, who is returning to his native Australia) has done an amazing job and we hate to see him leave."
55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 20 points out of the top 10. Lost 13 spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: One win and 10 top-10 finishes in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Martin has been extremely pleased with how well he has run this season, and he expects that trend to continue this weekend at Fontana. "I'm very proud of how we've raced so far this season," said Martin. "We're fourth in owner points so that shows that we have been doing a lot of things right. And all of us believe we can run even better."
LOOKING BACK: Martin took the weekend off with Brian Vickers taking over as the driver of the 55 car. Vickers started fourth but ran into major handling problems during the first half of the race and fell a lap down. But he battled back to finish eighth for his third straight top-eight finish at Bristol. "Crew chief Rodney Childers and the guys did a great job working throughout the race to get the RK Motors Toyota up front by the end of the race," said Vickers. "We struggled throughout the day to get a handle on the car in traffic, but we did what we had to do to get the best finish we could when it counted."
ETC.: Martin has been spending a lot of time at the race shop overseeing the construction of the new 7,500-square-foot training facility. "I've been consulting with the strength staff and the coaching staff (for the pit crews) picking out equipment and designing the layout," said Martin. "We hope to have the nicest facility in the sport."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 20 points out of the top 10. Lost 10 spots to fall out of the top 10.
FONTANA RECORD: His best finish in five starts is 25th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola feels "California is all about handling. Being two miles (long) and (with) low banking, you have to have a good handling car to be fast. We tested this car (that he will run this weekend) in Vegas and feel good about it. That will help us unload well and hopefully have a good weekend."
LOOKING BACK: It was a trouble-filled day for Almirola at Bristol. He was involved in two early accidents and then a flat left-rear tire sent him spinning on lap 228. After a quick stop for repairs, he returned to the track. But moments later, the back panel on his Ford fell off taking the spoiler with it as Almirola was sent spinning into the turn-three wall. The damage was too severe for Almirola to continue as he finished 37th.
ETC.: Almirola admits "last weekend (at Bristol) was a hard hit to our team. We fell (10 spots) in the point standings, but I have a lot of confidence in Todd (Parrott, crew chief) and in this 43 team. I really believe that we can still come back and get into a position to make the Chase. We just have a hole to dig out of, but it's early in the season. I'm confident that we can continue to bring good cars to the track and put together solid finishes."
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendricks Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 25 points out of the top 10. Lost eight spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Three wins and 11 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 23 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon has high hopes for this weekend. "My team gave me a heck of a race car there (Auto Club Speedway) last year," said Gordon, who was running in the top five when a pit-road penalty resulted in a 26th-place finish in the rain-shortened event. "Even though it's a new car, we're hoping to have that speed and handling again this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: A decision to change only left-side tires during a caution on lap 323 vaulted Gordon into the lead. And he was able to stay out front for the next 66 laps before disaster struck. On lap 390, Gordon went low to pass a lapped car. "As soon as I got into the banking, I felt the right front (tire) go," said Gordon. "I really hate that we collected Matt Kenseth in that; he had a great car." As Gordon shot up and into the wall, he was slammed into by Kenseth. The contact was so hard that it lifted Gordon's rear wheels off the ground. The accident left Gordon in 34th place. "The car was really good out front," added Gordon. "This really hurt us points-wise."
ETC.: Even though Gordon has only one finish better than 20th this season, he is still ahead of last year's pace when it comes to his quest to make the Chase. Gordon was 23rd after four races in 2012 and he was still able to earn a spot in the Chase for the Championship. "We are a couple of spots better this year, and we have run a lot better in 2013," said Gordon. "So it is way too early to get too excited or panic. We have plenty of time to get into the top 10. We have the speed to do it. Just need a little racing luck."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 28 points out of the top 10. Gained eight spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Will be seeking his fourth straight top-seven finish.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman can't wait to get to California. "That has really been a good track for us, and we are coming off a really good run at Bristol," said Newman. "We need to put together a number of runs like we had at Bristol. If we do, we can be right back in the thick of things (in the battle to be part of the 2013 Chase for the Championship)."
LOOKING BACK: Newman needed a good run and he got it at Bristol as he finished seventh. "It was a good day for the Haas/Quicken Loans Chevrolet," said crew chief Matt Borland. "Ryan did an awesome job driving the car, and the guys did a great job of making some changes to the car overnight. And we had great stops today in the pits. I can't say enough about the team. Hopefully we can keep that (the team's momentum) rolling."
ETC.: Newman still has high hopes for the year despite "obviously not having the start to the season we wanted. But we know what we're capable of," added Newman. "We turned things around at Bristol and hopefully we can have another good race at Fontana (California). It is still real early in the season. So there is a lot of time to accomplish our goals (making the Chase and winning races)."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 30 points out of the top 10. Lost six spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Is the defending race champion. Has won two of the last three races. Has five top-nine finishes in the last six events.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart feels last year's race "boiled down to Denny Hamlin and myself. We were at different times the fastest cars on the track. We didn't have to adjust very much with it (his car). Really from the drop of the green through to the part where we actually got rain, we had a dominant car. Just hope that is the case again this year."
LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long day for Stewart. A flat left-rear tire only nine laps into the 500-lap event send him spinning into the turn-one wall. The damage was extensive and it took a prolonged stay on pit road to make repairs. When Stewart returned to the track, he was listed in 42nd place. He spent the rest of the race limping around the track as he was able to finish 31st. "I felt the tire going down, but I just could not get down to the inside to get to pit road," said Stewart. "It made for a long day, but we got what we could out of it."
ETC.: At the beginning of the season, Stewart said he hoped to run 100 races this year. "We're definitely going to hit 100 this year," said Stewart. "We're actually going to be at between 65 and 70 Sprint Car races right now with the schedule the way it is. That's not counting three rainouts that we already had. So we have a pretty ambitious schedule this year and it will put us almost at 110 races total for the year if we get to run them all."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 37 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Seven top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 23 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton believes "tracks like Auto Club Speedway are why this new Gen-6 car was built. It is a slick two-mile race track. How do you make the racing more fun to watch? The decision was made to make more grip. If we leave there without seeing a better race than we have in the past, it will be disappointing."
LOOKING BACK: Burton got caught in the middle of a multi-car accident on lap 55 of the 500-lap event at Bristol to ruin any thoughts he had of contending for a top-10 finish. Instead, he was forced to spend considerable time in the garage area while the team made repairs to his car. He ended the day in 32nd place. "We had a good car in practice all weekend and bad luck just struck us early in the race," said Burton. "It was something out of our control which is very frustrating."
ETC.: Although Burton has spent almost his whole life around a race car, he was hoping son Harrison would follow a different path. "Honestly, we pushed him to do other things," said Burton. "I've raced since I was seven. It's all I've ever done. But to be honest, I didn't know if I wanted my kids to do it. I've been extremely blessed, but people don't see all of the things you sacrifice." But Harrison, 12, has decided to go racing. "I kept begging my parents to go racing and they finally gave in," said Harrison, who will be running late model cars this year.
10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE SHE STANDS: 28th, 46 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
FONTANA RECORD: Will be making her Sprint Cup debut. In three Nationwide Series races, her best finish was 30th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick said, "Fontana's pavement has not aged gracefully, so it makes for a challenging race. It's a challenge to set up the car -- the seams move the car around a lot. It's very fast, yet you still have to get the car to rotate and it seems really tight off of (turn) two. It's one of the tougher places to get the balance right. But if you do strike a good balance in practice, you have a chance to have a really good day on Sunday."
LOOKING BACK: It was another long afternoon for Patrick as she finished 28th at Bristol. "We've been really loose the last couple of races so we wanted to make sure we were tight," said Patrick. "So we decided that was our accomplishment today was to aim to be tight, and we were. We probably didn't need to and, in fact, we probably kind of knew we were over-compensating. But we just never really got it completely freed up like we needed to. It was better later in the race but by then the damage is done."
ETC.: Patrick admits she has a "whole bunch of things" to work on as the series heads to California. "I mean, I've never been there in a Cup car at Fontana, so just get up to speed, be smart and there are a lot of things that I have to work on at this point in time. So for us, the most important thing is to find a decent balance to start off the race so that we don't drop back."