FONTANA, CA - With just two of the "regular-season" races remaining before the Chase for the championship begins, Team Chevy drivers are eager to take a second run at California Speedway this Labor Day weekend when the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series...
FONTANA, CA - With just two of the "regular-season" races remaining before the Chase for the championship begins, Team Chevy drivers are eager to take a second run at California Speedway this Labor Day weekend when the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series tour returns for the Sharp AQUOS 500 Sunday, September 2.
Even though nine of the top 12 drivers on the current leader board are members of the Red Bowtie Brigade, only Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS and Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Monte Carlo SS have secured berths in the final 10-round playoffs set to begin Sept. 16.
Gordon, who has led the standings since Round Five at Bristol in the Spring race, has scored three wins (1997, '99, and spring '04), seven top fives, and two poles at the metropolitan Los Angeles two-mile venue -- more than any other driver. Earlier this year Gordon sat on the pole and finished second at California Speedway, a track that he enjoys visiting twice a year.
"In the spring, we had a good race car and battled for the lead," said Gordon, who has earned four wins this year thus far. "We came away from Fontana with some pretty good momentum and that helped us to begin to build for a championship. I'm looking forward to trying having another good run there this time."
Stewart, behind Gordon by 349 points, took an 8th place finish at California in the spring. His Fontana record boasts three top fives and six top 10's; and although he has scored three wins this year, he has yet to visit victory lane at the southern California track.
"It seems a lot slicker than Michigan does," said Stewart about the speedway's surface. "It may be the mix of asphalt that they use there. It seems like you can still move around like you can at Michigan but it seems like you're either all the way down or all the way the up. It's one or the other."
California favorite, Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, scored his first of 27 NASCAR Cup career wins at his home track in California in 2002. Although the Labor Day race takes an early evening green flag, Johnson says there is not a huge difference between racing there early in the year compared to the end of summer.
"I don't think it changes as much as some other tracks, especially comparing it to Daytona and how different it is there in February versus July," said Johnson, who finished third at California in February and is currently sixth in the points. "It always seems a little slick and we always end up at the wall regardless if it is the spring or fall race. It is certainly a little hotter. Maybe the temperature swing isn't as severe from the spring race to the fall race and that keeps the track a little more balanced.
"California has been a good track for me," Johnson added. "I look forward to going there. With the things we have with the (Jimmie Johnson) Foundation car in the Cup race that Lowe's is letting us do, going back home, and all the things I am doing around that race, it is really cool and special to me. I am running the Busch car and a Cup car; I love the track that is where I won my first Cup race. The groove is widening out, we are getting more competitive racing there. I am excited to go back."
Other Team Chevy drivers positioned to earn a place in the Chase, and who sit in seventh through 11th in the standings, respectively, are: Jeff Burton, No. 31 AT&T Monte Carlo SS, Kyle Busch, No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Monte Carlo SS, Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Jack Daniels Monte Carlo SS, Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Monte Carlo SS, and Martin Truex, Jr., No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Monte Carlo SS.
Holding the 13th spot, just outside the top 12 drivers who will transfer to the 10-race run for the title, is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS. With just two races left to go before the Chase begins - California this weekend and the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 the weekend following -- Earnhardt Jr. trails 12th place driver, Kurt Busch, by 158 points. If the gap between the 12th and 13th place drivers is more than 161 points after the California race, the 12th ranked driver will make the Chase simply by starting the Richmond race.
"I was pretty stoked about finishing fifth at Bristol last weekend," said the popular Earnhardt Jr. "I'll be more upset if I don't win a race this year. I want to win. If I can't get in the Chase, I just want to win a race."
Junior continued by saying: "We have really hit upon a set-up that works great here and at Michigan (the sister-track to California). We had a cut tire early in the race here in Feb. and we hurt the engine so we really couldn't show our cards. But, we were second at this race last year, so I'm confident. The race is one of those rough late-afternoon starts, so the track starts off in the sunlight and the heat of the day, and then as it cools, we have to fight a wicked, blinding sunset as we head down the backstretch and the track cools and changes as the darkness comes in. That makes it a challenge to keep making adjustments to the car that match what the track surface is doing."
-credit: gm racing