Johnson: Wish They All Could Be California
Not surprisingly, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson muscles into the top of practically every track’s statistical run down.
But at Auto Club Speedway, there’s none better. Not even close.
The highlight reel: a series-high five wins (including three of the last five); a series-high 846 laps led (227 more than second-best Matt Kenseth…for comparison’s sake, Sunday’s Auto Club 400 is 200 laps); a Driver Rating of 124.2, which makes ACS his best track in terms of the Loop Data statistic; and series-highs in top fives (11) and top 10s (12, a lead he shares with Matt Kenseth).
If Johnson wins again, he would be the fifth different winner in the first five races, a first since 2005.
From nearby El Cajon, Johnson clearly relishes a trip home. Click here to watch a video of Johnson talking about racing at his home track.
Johnson is one of eight California natives scheduled to race this weekend. The others…
Jeff Gordon (Vallejo, Calif.): Gordon has three victories at ACS, most recently in 2004. He is one of four drivers (Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek) to run all 21 ACS races.
Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield, Calif.): Improves to 15th in points after a sixth-place finish at Bristol. Harvick has 17 starts at ACS with a top finish of second, last February. Watch him talk about coming home, here.
AJ Allmendinger (Los Gatos, Calif.): Allmendinger’s best finish at ACS was 14th in 2008, where he led his only lap thus far at the two-mile track.
David Gilliland (Riverside, Calif.): Gilliland’s best finish at ACS was 17th in February, 2008. Last October, he led his first ACS lap in a 20th-place finish. Gilliland discusses coming home, here.
Robby Gordon (Orange, Calif.): Has one top 10 at ACS – a ninth in 2004. He suffered DNFs in both races last season.
Casey Mears (Bakersfield, Calif.): Mears has two top 10s at ACS – an eighth in 2004 and a seventh in 2006.
Mike Skinner (Susanville, Calif.): Skinner has run two races in the No. 32 this season, with finishes of 24th at Phoenix and 29th at Las Vegas. His best ACS finish was seventh in 2000 after he won the Coors Light Pole.
RCR A Perfect Fit For Menard
Paul Menard’s first full seasons were with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He finished 34th in 2007, and 26th in 2008.
A year later, with Yates Racing, he finished 31st. That was 2009.
A year after that, last season, Menard enjoyed the best finish of his career, 23rd. That was in Richard Petty Motorsports equipment.
Now, with his fourth team in as many seasons, Menard has gotten the break of his career. He joined Richard Childress Racing, an operation that houses six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, and last year landed all three of its drivers – Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer – in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
This year, shirking predictions of another subpar points finish, Menard might be the next RCR driver in the Chase.
He currently sits fifth – the best points position of his career, and the best of any RCR driver. He has been the top-finishing Richard Childress Racing driver in three of the four races this season.
And at Bristol, he led 35 laps, the highest single-race total of his career.
But this weekend presents another new challenge for Menard. In eight career Auto Club Speedway races, Menard has just one finish in the top 20 – an 18th last February.
Surprises – And Storylines – Throughout The Standings
From top to bottom, the points contain a multitude of storylines – some expected, others definitely surprising.
• Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and Carl Edwards are separated by a single point. Busch is the only driver to post top-10 finishes in each of the four races. Edwards has a victory and a pair of second-place performances.
• Stewart-Haas Racing appears to have rebounded from last year’s so-so finish. Tony Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman – who missed last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – rank a solid three-four in current points.
• Has Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to form? Three consecutive top-15 finishes – two in the top 10 – send Earnhardt to ninth in points, four spots higher than he ranked after four races in 2010. Earnhardt and new crew chief Steve Letarte appear to be bonding quite well.
• Mark Martin made headlines in 2009 when he nearly won the championship finishing second to teammate Jimmie Johnson. At age 52, Martin is a tie-breaker away from a top-10 ranking.
• On the bounce-back trail but not there yet: Kevin Harvick. He was 22nd after Phoenix, and 20th and still without a top-10 after Las Vegas. A sixth-place run at Bristol in a smashed up car moves Harvick to 15th, a manageable 13 points out of 10th.
• Last season’s championship runner up Denny Hamlin has just one top-10 finish, limped to a 33rd-place finish at Bristol and fell out of the top 10 to 17th.
• And sand is quickly running through the hour glass for a number of preseason favorites, among them Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton and Joey Logano, all of whom are outside the top 20. Biffle, in 23rd, is the highest ranked of the five, and the only one with a top-10 finish.
A New Day: After Sunday, 2011 Points Decide Top 35
For the first five races, the 2010 owner points are used when awarding top 35 teams guaranteed status to each race.
Auto Club Speedway hosts race No. 5. After Sunday, the 2011 points will be used.
That presents some interesting angles all around the top-35 bubble. Casey Mears and his No. 13 Germain Racing Toyota has had to qualify on speed for the first five races, and now sits directly on the bubble, in 35th. Mears is one point ahead of Dave Blaney and the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet, in 36th.
A few marquee teams are perilously close to the bubble. Jeff Burton and the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet sit 30th, 23 points ahead of the cut-off. Joey Logano and the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota are also 23 points up. Brian Vickers and the No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota are just 18 points ahead of the cut-off.
The polls open Tuesday, March 23 at 12:01 a.m. for the Sprint Fan Vote, a last-chance for drivers to make the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Sprint customers can vote using the NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile application on their Sprint or Nextel devices. Fans also may cast votes on to NASCAR.COM or visiting the Sprint Experience display, located in the midway at all NSCS races. … Both Auto Club Speedway races in 2010 featured Loop Data-era highs in passing. The first race saw a total of 3,849 green flag passes, the most since the inception of Loop Data in 2005. In October, there were 3,839 passes. Passing up front was also high. In the February event, there were 35 green flag passes for the lead all around the track. In October, there were 30. The 65 combined green flag passes for the lead last season at ACS was the highest two-race total since NASCAR started taking passing stats in 2005. … California Marine Matthew Hansen will serve as an honorary pit crew member of the No. 17 team this Sunday. The San Marcos resident was awarded naming rights to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway on April 30. The race will be titled Crown Royal Presents the Matthew & Daniel Hansen 400 in honor of Matthew and his fallen twin brother. … Milestones: Juan Pablo Montoya will be making his 150th start; Regan Smith his 100th start, Kasey Kahne goes for his 50th top five. Tony Stewart will be going for his 250th top 10. … Jeff Gordon will be a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this Friday, March 25.
Points Leader Leffler Finally On Top
The Long Beach, Calif. native and series standings leader, Jason Leffler, goes home for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, Mar. 26.
“I always look forward to the chance to get back to the West Coast,” Leffler said. “To win at this track would be a huge deal for me. Of course, you want to win every race, but you especially want that win in front of the home crowd with your family and friends cheering you on.”
Leffler assumed the standings lead by two points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after posting his third top 10 of the season last weekend at Bristol. This is the first time in his 11-year series career that he has led the driver standings.
Click here to listen to Leffler talk about taking the points lead.
Leffler joined Turner Motorsports at the beginning of this season when team owner Steve Turner acquired select assets from Braun Racing during the offseason. Now all three series-only Turner Motorsports members are in the top five in the standings – Justin Allgaier (third) and Reed Sorenson (fourth).
Leffler’s career-high final standings finish was third in 2007. Leffler has made 14 starts at Auto Club Speedway, posting two top 10s and a pole. He has an average finish of 22.6 at Auto Club Speedway and ranks 22nd in the series with a Driver Rating of 74.1.
Martin And Busch Race To Be The First To 50 … Wins That Is
The playful trash talk has started, with wins volleying between the two NASCAR Nationwide Series behemoths.
Mark Martin is the leader; Kyle Busch the follower. But for how much longer?
Martin and Busch have set themselves apart from the rest, and it will be interesting to see who can get to 50 series wins first.
Martin leads the series in all-time wins with 49, increasing his lead with a victory at Las Vegas two races ago. But Busch caught up quickly, and is just four wins back after posting his 45th series victory this last weekend at Bristol. With 232 series starts, Martin’s winning percentage is 21.1%. Busch has made 206 – a 21.8% win clip. Listen to Kyle Busch talk about catching Mark Martin.
Martin has made two series starts at Auto Club Speedway posting a win and a third-place finish. Busch has made 12 starts at Auto Club Speedway posting four wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s and two poles. They are the only drivers to have won across all three NASCAR national series at ACS.
Martin and Busch are also ranked 1-2 in the pre-race Driver Rating, with 146.3 and 122.4 respectively. They both also scored perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 at ASC – Martin in 2005 and Busch in 2008-09.
Auto Club Speedway The Final Opportunity For 2010 Top 30
This weekend’s race will be the last event where 2010 owner points are used to set the top 30 automatic qualifiers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Only three points separate 27th to 31st position in the owner standings, with the 28th-30th positions all tied at 70 points. The 30th-position is held by Pat MacDonald and the No. 81 car with Blake Koch.
There are six teams within eight points of the cutoff position. Owner/driver Morgan Shepherd is two points back from 30th in 31st with his No. 89 car, and the No. 01 car, owned by Lori Davis with Mike Wallace behind the wheel, is nine points back in 32nd. Nine points out of the top 30 is the No. 23 car owned by Robert Richardson Sr. with son/driver Robert Richardson Jr. Of the three just outside the top 30, Mike Wallace has had the most success at Auto Club Speedway, posting a career best finish (12th) at the 2-mile track last season.
Riverside, Calif. native, Josh Wise, will be taking over the reins from Danica Patrick this weekend in the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Patrick will return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series June 4 at Chicagoland Speedway. Wise has made two starts at Auto Club Speedway, posting a best finish of 22nd in 2008. … Kenny Wallace’s countdown to 500 starts continues. Only seven starts shy of joining Jason Keller as the only two series drivers with 500 starts. Wallace is currently seventh in the points and has 15 career series starts at Auto Club Speedway with a best finish of eighth in 2005. … Alex Kennedy, a 19-year-old Aztec, N.M. native, will make his first race since last fall at Phoenix. His first six starts came last year with a best finish of 15th in his series debut at Road America. Kennedy is a product of the NASCAR ladder system, working his way up the ranks of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East & West.
International Flavor In 2011 For NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing has gone international in 2011, boasting a trio of foreign-born competitors who are competing full time.
Italy’s Max Papis and Brazil’s Miguel Paludo and Nelson Piquet Jr. continue a tradition that dates to the series’ very first race in 1995 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Canada’s Jerry Churchill was the first foreign-born competitor to take a NCWTS green flag, finishing 23rd in the inaugural race. The Churchill family, Jerry and Randy, made history several months later at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the first father and son to compete in the same race.
• More than 30 different foreign-born drivers have competed in NASCAR Camping World Truck races. Not surprisingly, the majority hail from Canada.
• Thirteen different countries are represented on the driver roster including Chile, India and Japan.
• The most successful foreign-born driver is Canada’s Ron Fellows, a two-time winner at Watkins Glen International, most recently in 1999. Fellows and current NASCAR Sprint Cup competitor Marcos Ambrose are the only non-U.S. born drivers to win a series pole.
• Canadian Randy MacDonald, who currently fields a NASCAR Nationwide Series team, has competed in the most NCWTS races – 94. MacDonald and his sister, Teri, are the only brother and sister to compete in the same event, at Memphis in 2002.
Papis, who has competed fulltime in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is off to the best start, ranking ninth in the standings after three races. Paludo owns the best finish – fourth in the season opener at Daytona. Piquet’s best finish, sixth, came in his series debut at Daytona in 2010.
"I took a lot gambles to come over and race NASCAR,” said Papis. “I made a promise to my father that I would do this, become the first ever Italian racer besides Mario Andretti to race and win in NASCAR. I am a determined guy and I will make this happen this year.”
Martinsville: First Of Season’s Five Short Track Races
Martinsville Speedway’s 25th running of one of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ longest-standing events on April 2 marks a return to the series’ roots. Martinsville is one of only four tracks on the 2011 schedule that were part of the series’ inaugural season in which 15 of 20 races were contested on tracks of less than one mile in length.
Five short track races are scheduled in 2011, the first being next week’s Kroger 250.
How challenging is Martinsville? Consider:
• Ron Hornaday Jr. has won the most short track races in series history – 22 – but needed 17 tries to finally conquer Martinsville last fall.
• Kyle Busch has won three consecutive NCWTS races at Bristol but is 0-for-7 at Martinsville. Busch finished second in October.
• Todd Bodine has started 14 NCWTS races at Martinsville without a victory. Five former series champions have won at Martinsville. Five have not.
• Joe Ruttman, age 50 when he won the inaugural Kroger 250 in 1995, didn’t know it at the time but he was a trend-setter. Hornaday, Jimmy Hensley and Mike Skinner also are post-50 Martinsville winners. Conversely, Jon Wood, Jamie McMurray and Timothy Peters are the only drivers under the age of 30 to post a Martinsville victory.
With a victory, Hornaday can match Joe Ruttman’s NCWTS record for most wins by a driver 50 years and older (13). That’s the most wins by any over-50 driver in a NASCAR national series. … Johnny Sauter and his wife Cortney are expecting their second child, due the Monday following Martinsville. … Johanna Long recently helped celebrate Women’s History Week at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Her fellow panel members included a NASA astronaut. … Dakoda Armstrong, a 19-year-old, fourth generation farmer from New Castle, Ind., will join ThorSport Racing as teammate to Crafton and Sauter. Armstrong and his family are one of the Midwest’s largest producers of corn for ethanol – 700,000 bushels equaling 1.9 million gallons annually. The 2010 ARCA rookie of the year expects to make his debut on July 16 at Iowa Speedway. NASCAR introduced Sunoco Green E15 fuel across all three national series in 2011. … Joey Coulter is spending the back-to-back open weeks on the schedule focusing on his classes at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He’s a mechanical engineering student and says his courses are helping him in his racing and his relationship with his crew chief and engineer.