Fontana II: Series round 30 preview

*Johnson Comes Home To California With Lead, Momentum *Roush Fenway, Ford Back In The Game *Climbing The Standings Could Continue For Gordon, Edwards Johnson In The Lead, Back At A Favorite Track He's his rivals worst nightmare, in the Chase...

*Johnson Comes Home To California With Lead, Momentum
*Roush Fenway, Ford Back In The Game
*Climbing The Standings Could Continue For Gordon, Edwards

Johnson In The Lead, Back At A Favorite Track

He's his rivals worst nightmare, in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- and at Auto Club Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet) has taken the points lead from Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) just in time for the series to roll into Auto Club Speedway where the El Cajon, Calif. native has been virtually unstoppable.

That would be double motivation for Johnson's Chase rivals. Johnson's lead is tenuous -- eight points.

But unless a rare misfire occurs in Sunday's Pepsi MAX 400, statistics indicate the margin will grow.

Johnson, who last month celebrated his 35th birthday, won February's Auto Club 500 to give the four-time champion back-to-back victories and wins in four of his past six starts at the two-mile track. He's the three-time defending champion of this weekend's event, which will be run at a 400-mile distance for the first time in 2010. The track will host just one race in 2011, on March 27.

Johnson, whose Auto Club Speedway average finish of 4.5 and Driver Rating of 124.0 lead all competitors, has led seven consecutive races in Southern California.

Johnson and his team remain wary, regardless of their position in both points and at Auto Club Speedway.

"It's a great position to be in, but it's way too early to think about it, to worry about defending," he said following a runner-up finish at Kansas Speedway. "You have Chase guys running so good each and every week. It is way too early to think about those things. Way, way too early."

Hamlin has yet to show his potential at Auto Club Speedway, finishing 29th in February. He won the Coors Light Pole for last fall's race but an accident relegated the Virginia competitor to a 37th-place finish.

California, West Coast Drivers Look For Auto Club Riches

Don't hand the Pepsi MAX 400 trophy to a "left coaster" just yet, but the odds are good for their continuing success at Auto Club Speedway.

Drivers from the West Coast have had a major impact on races at the two-mile speedway. Five drivers native to California, Nevada and Washington have won 11 of 20 previous NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway.

All of them -- Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont/Pepsi MAX Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) and Kurt (No. 2 Operations Home Front/Miller Lite Dodge) and Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota) -- are battling in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup giving the fourth of 10 Chase races a decidedly West Coast flavor.

Johnson edged Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) for the victory in February, a favor that the Bakersfield, Calif. driver would like to return.

"It's been a good race track for us over the last couple years and we're really looking forward to going back," said Harvick. "We need to capitalize over the next couple of weeks on making something happen."

The Chase Has Never Been Closer

Yes, Jimmie Johnson, winner of four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles has taken the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

He continues to set the standard as the competitor to beat.

But with three of 10 races in the books, the overall standings never have been closer at this point of the Chase.

Johnson's lead of eight points over previous leader Denny Hamlin marks just the third time the difference between first and second places has been in single digits. The standard remains 2005 when Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) led current Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman (No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet) by four points.

Third through eighth represents an unprecedented logjam. There never have been more than five drivers within 100 points of the lead after three races. This year the top eight positions are covered by 85 points -- Johnson to Kansas winner Greg Biffle.

The same holds true for the top-10 positions. Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) is just 101 points behind Johnson in ninth. Stewart is 127 out in 10th.

The previous closest 10th-place driver was Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) -- 165 points behind Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com/CARQUEST Chevrolet) a year ago.

Since going to a 12-qualifier Chase format in 2007, positions one through 11 in current standings -- a difference of 149 points -- are 41 points closer than the previous best.

The points leader after three races has won the championship in four of six seasons of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Martin (2009) and Burton (2006) are the only exceptions.

Johnson's rebound in 2006 remains the largest comeback in Chase history. Johnson trailed by 165 points, nearly a full race, before winning his first championship.

By that measure, 11 of 12 Chase participants remain very much in contention as the scene shifts to Southern California.

Five Have Early Grip On Chase

There are a record number of drivers within striking distance of the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead.

Five, however, statistically have pulled away from their pursuers.

Three -- Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon -- have gained points on the lead since the reset following the season's 26th race at Richmond last month. Johnson is the current leader, making up a 10-point deficit and adding eight points. Edwards, then ninth seed (now fourth), is plus-seven after trailing leader

Denny Hamlin by 60 points. Gordon, the eighth seed (now fifth), is plus-two.

Kevin Harvick has held serve so to speak.

The pre-Chase leader opened as the third seed, 30 points behind Hamlin and trails Johnson by the same margin and in the same points position.

Among Chase participants, Hamlin has lost the fewest points -- 18 -- but still holds the No. 2 position.

Others, however, haven't been so fortunate. Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch, drivers within 85 points of the lead, have lost 30, 35 and 50 points, respectively, to the No. 1 position in just three races.

None are out of contention by any measure.

But, like Biffle at Kansas Speedway, they've got to win races and add bonus points if they hope to trump consistent finishes by their five rivals.

Roush Fenway, Ford Back in the Game

Roush Fenway Racing and Ford counted exactly one victory, Greg Biffle at Pocono Raceway in August, in the 26 races leading up to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Many doubted the organization's impact on the Chase.

With Biffle's victory last weekend at Kansas Speedway, that conclusion has been turned on its head.

Roush Fenway not only is back, but three of its drivers remain solid championship contenders.

Carl Edwards, sixth in Kansas, climbed to fourth in the standings, 53 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, while Biffle and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) trail by 85 and 149 points, respectively.

More important, all three of the Roush Fenway drivers have victories at Auto Club Speedway, led by Kenseth with three wins, the most recent in the spring of 2009.

"My confidence is really high coming in here," said Biffle, winner of the 2005 Auto Club 500.

Biffle also is bidding to become NASCAR's first national triple crown winner, having won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title in 2000 and NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in 2002.

"I'm proud to carry the flag for Roush Fenway right now," he said. "I'm glad to see Matt, Carl and David (Ragan, No. 6 UPS Freight Ford) all running well and the other Ford cars.

(And) it's great to have Jack (Roush) back at the race track."

Ironically, the last team victory Roush witnessed was Kenseth's most recent Auto Club Speedway win. He remained hospitalized recovering from a July aircraft accident in Wisconsin when Biffle won in Pocono.

Ford flexed its muscles on another front in Kansas as Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) and Paul Menard (No. 98 Vertis/Menards Ford) shared the front row for the Price Chopper 400.

It marked the first time that Richard Petty Motorsports swept the top two qualifying positions. Menard finished eighth as the highest ranked non-Chase competitor.

A third RPM driver, AJ Allmendinger (No. 43 Valvoline Ford) finished 10th, his second top 10 in as many races.

In The Loop: Climbing the Standings Could Continue For Gordon and Edwards

The three biggest movers in the point standings after the third race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup are Kevin Harvick, who moved from fifth to third, Carl Edwards, who moved from sixth to fourth, and Jeff Gordon, who moved from eighth to fifth. The trend of advancement in the standings could continue for two of three aforementioned contenders.

While Harvick leads Edwards and Gordon in the Chase standings by 23 and 28 points respectively, he doesn't have the same strong hold on the NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data stats going into Auto Club Speedway. That bodes well for the other two contenders, especially with how tight the Chase standings have been this season.

One NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data stat that stands out is Driver Rating. Edwards leads the trio ranked fourth (102.3) with Gordon close behind in sixth (99.0), but Harvick is mired in 11th with a rating of 91.5.

Gordon and Edwards also outrank Harvick in Average Running Position with Gordon ranked third (9.439) and Edwards ranked sixth (11.084). Harvick is ranked ninth (12.866).

Harvick also lags behind Gordon and Edwards in his percentage of Laps in the Top 15 where he is ranked ninth with 71.3% of his laps completed at Auto Club Speedway in the top 15.

Gordon leads the three, ranked third in the series with 78.9% of his laps completed in the top 15.

Edwards is ranked fourth, right behind Gordon, with a percentage of 78.0%.

The Chase contender needing to rebound this week is Kyle Busch. He dropped four spots in the standings, from third to seventh, after Kansas.

At Auto Club Speedway he has posted one win, four top fives and eight top 10s in 12 starts.

His NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data has him third in Driver Rating (102.4) behind standings leader

Jimmie Johnson (124.0) and Matt Kenseth (108.3).

Busch ranks fifth in the series in both Average Running Position (10.553) and Laps in the Top 15 with a percentage


On The Line: Greg Biffle Talks About Kansas Win, Renewed Title HopesGreg Biffle was this week's guest on the NASCAR Video Teleconference on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts from the teleconference.

Q: With some momentum from last week, you're probably anticipating this week's trip to Auto Club Speedway where you and your Roush Fenway teammates really seem to thrive.

Greg Biffle: "Auto Club has been a great race track for us. We qualified well there last year. Ran well. I like going out West. I've got family in the area and it feels more like home. So, looking forward to a good run this weekend."

Q: Winning the championships in all three NASCAR national series (NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series) - what would something like that mean to you to be the only guy to do that?

Greg Biffle: "I feel like the other two championships have helped me. But it would mean so much to be able to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Not only with it being my third title … but just to win the title itself … so much goes with that.

"It would be a dream come true for me. And certainly fulfill my career. I plan on racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for a lot of years to come. But certainly that would kind of complete, if you will, a trifecta or make your career complete."

Q: Knowing Jimmie Johnson's experience and success in the Chase, how concerned are you that he's in first place and no one's going to catch him now?

Greg Biffle: "I don't think that's going to be the case. I mean, they didn't get off to a good start at Loudon. And certainly everybody is vulnerable. They've had a lot of races or they've had more races this year hit and miss than the 48 team normally has.

"So I feel they're not clearly running away with this thing yet. So it's not - we're not going to throw in the towel. And I don't think any of those other guys a lot closer are.

"So we'll just wait and see. I think we're going to have to wait three or four more races before we get a clearer picture of how they're going to be.

"They're going to have to perform. Obviously they're good at performing at these race tracks. Jimmie's won a lot in California. So we'll have to wait and see. Maybe California, he doesn't come out of there with a win or even a top five. So we'll just have to see how this shakes out.

"But we're going to continue to try to do the best thing we can as the 16 team and try and close in on him."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc. ...

Greg Biffle ended a streak of eight consecutive different winners when he went to Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway. The streak began on Aug. 1 with Biffle's victory at Pocono Raceway. The winners included drivers from five different teams: Roush Fenway Racing, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates,

Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Biffle is the only repeat winner in the past 11 races, dating to David Reutimann's (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) win at Chicagoland Speedway on July 10.

There were no spoilers in Kansas where the cream definitely rose to the top of the glass. After non-Chase qualifiers landed top-five finishes at New Hampshire and Dover, only three managed top 10s at Kansas Speedway. Chase contenders finished in the top seven positions with 10 of 12 among the top 15. Only Kyle Busch was outside the top 20 in 21st.

Milestones at Auto Club Speedway: Three drivers are in pursuit of notable top-10 finishes: Jeff Gordon, No. 275; Bobby Labonte (No. 09 Phoenix Construction/Graceway Chevrolet, No. 200) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, No. 150). Sunday also is Earnhardt's 36th birthday. Mark Martin continues to seek his 50th Coors Light Pole.

Wednesday, Oct. 13 is "Voting Day" to determine 2011 Inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The second class of five inductees will be selected by 53 NASCAR Hall of Fame voters and by a national fan ballot. The five inductees will be announced in ceremonies beginning at 4 p.m. ET in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall. Media members wishing to attend should RSVP to NHOFmedia@nascar.com.

Two-time Grammy winner Kenny Loggins will perform a pre-race concert at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday then sing the National Anthem. Fans attending the Pepsi MAX 400 also can enjoy A.B. Quintanilla's All Starz during Viva La Fiesta, part of Hispanic Heritage Month. The group performs in the track's DiscoverIE FanZone. Quintanilla also will be an honorary race official.

Auto Club Speedway's Stater Bros.

Racefest will take place from 5--9 p.m. PT Thursday in the track's FanZone with an even dozen NASCAR Sprint Cup driver slated to attend. The event also includes a freestyle motocross stunt show with Rockstar Metal Mulisha, live music, rides and games.

A NASCAR hauler parade is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. PT from Citizens Bank Arena and visit Fontana, Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga before ending at the Auto Club Speedway garages.

School will be in session Friday when hundreds of local middle school students will spend a day at the speedway to learn about the applications of math and science in racing. Speakers will include Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway, Dr. Gary Thomas, San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools and Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, Ph.D., author of the "Physics of NASCAR: How to Make Steel + Gas + Rubber Speed."

More than 40 couples will marry or renew vows prior to the Pepsi MAX 400. Gillian Zucker will officiate with Michael Waltrip serving as groomsman and Miss Sprint Cup as maid of honor.Up Next: CharlotteThe Bank of America 500 marks the midpoint of the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Charlotte Motor Speedway has seen seven consecutive different winners since the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. Four of them -- Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson -- are current Chase qualifiers.

Johnson, with six victories, bids to break the CMS all-time victory record he shares with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Gordon, with five wins, could make it a four-way record. Burton is the only other Chase participant with multiple Charlotte victories (three) while Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 in May as well as the Sprint All-Star Race.

Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne can be seen as the most obvious "spoilers." Martin has won four times at CMS; Kahne three times. Kahne collected all of his victories over the most recent five seasons beginning with a sweep in 2006.

Fast Facts

The Race: Pepsi MAX 400


The Place: Auto Club Speedway; Fontana, Calif. (2-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, Oct. 10
The Time: 3 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400 miles / 200 laps

TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/Sirius NASCAR Radio, Channel 128.

2009 Polesitter: Denny Hamlin

2009 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Schedule Prior To Race Day: (Times local/PT)
Friday--Practice, 12-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday--Practice, 10:30-11:15 a.m. and 11:50 a.m.-12:50 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Bobby Allison , Denny Hamlin , Felix Sabates , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Richard Childress Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , Richard Petty Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing