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* Title hunt: Former champion Kenseth may be title favorite * History in the Making: Bill Lester attempts third NEXTEL Cup start NEWS AND NOTES Kenseth Inches Toward First Place ... For much of the season, Matt Kenseth has looked like a...

* Title hunt: Former champion Kenseth may be title favorite

* History in the Making: Bill Lester attempts third NEXTEL Cup start


Kenseth Inches Toward First Place ... For much of the season, Matt Kenseth has looked like a strong title contender, right behind Jimmie Johnson. Kenseth has been in the top three in points since the second race of the season, and has been second to Johnson since the Coca-Cola 600 in May. On the heels of back-to-back victories, Kenseth appears to have the momentum necessary to be considered the favorite to win the series championship.

"I feel like we're definitely a contender, but in this business you've got to prove your worth each and every week," Kenseth said. "What you did the first 26 races is important, but it's not as important as what you're gonna do the last 10, so we're in the Chase. We're only seven points behind Jimmie. I would love to be able to lead the points going in. Of course it's only five points, but it's still five points, so I feel right now like my team is operating at a championship level."

Saturday's victory at Bristol Motor Speedway gave Kenseth back-to-back victories for just the second time in his career (the others coming at North Carolina Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004.) The 2003 series champion is only seven points behind Johnson and has passed the points leader in several key Loop Data statistics. Kenseth currently leads all drivers in Driver Rating (104.6), Laps in the Top 15 (5,430 laps, or 80.1% of all laps run) and Percentage of Laps Run on the Lead Lap (6,320 of 6,777 laps, 93.3%.) Johnson, by contrast, is second in Driver Rating (100.6), fourth in Laps in Top 15 (4,852, 71.6%) and 11th in Laps Run on the Lead Lap (5,642, 83.3%).

These stats may show Kenseth's consistency, but the Wisc.-native has also been one of the fastest cars on the race track. He is tied with Johnson and Kasey Kahne for the series lead in wins (four) and has 13 top-five finishes, the most of any driver. Kenseth is third in Laps Led with 853 and fourth in Fastest Laps Run with 373. The combination of consistency and domination could make Kenseth the title favorite heading into the final 10 races of the season.

Lester Turns Focus To Results ... A few months after becoming the first African-American to race in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series in 20 years, Bill Lester (No. 23 Waste Management Dodge) is hoping he can raise his performance level at California. Lester finished 38th at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, his first effort in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. He spent most of the race making the adjustment from a truck to a stock car and learning how to race with veterans. A few months later, Lester made the field at Michigan International Speedway and finished 32nd, but on the lead lap. That was the first time an African-American driver finished on the lead lap of a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race since Wendell Scott's victory at Jacksonville Speedway Park in 1963. Now, as he attempts to qualify for his third race of the season, Lester is ready to be more competitive.

"I'm greatly looking forward to my third NEXTEL Cup race," Lester said. "If testing our Waste Management Cup car at Kentucky (Speedway) recently was any indication, we should have a strong setup heading into the event. The fact is, I feel more comfortable competing with these guys with each successive Cup race so I'm really expecting a competitive run this weekend."

Keys To Victory: Proper Adjustments And Fuel Strategy Keys To California ...

California Speedway is a 2-mile track with 14 degrees of banking in the corners. There are several keys to consider when developing a game plan for California:

* Car setup must be flexible. Because Sunday's race starts in the afternoon and ends in the twilight, the track undergoes several changes throughout the race. Being able to adjust the car's setup throughout the day to keep up with changes is vital.

* Drivers must find their comfort zone. The track has wide sweeping turns and gives the driver different options on where to run. It is important that each driver finds a spot on the track that he is comfortable in.

* Fuel mileage strategy is in play. Crew chiefs must plan their pit stops wisely as fuel mileage is often a factor at the track. Some teams will gamble with fuel mileage and hope they make it to the checkered flag.

In The Loop: The Numbers Don't Lie -- Roush Drivers Know California ... Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) may be long shots to make the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, but both drivers have a good handle on what it takes to run well at California Speedway. The two drivers, along with Roush Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin comprise the top four in Driver Rating at the track (Biffle -- 117.7, Kenseth -- 112.0, Edwards -- 110.1 and Martin --- 109.5). The foursome has a few statistics of note in common.

Biffle (177.296 mph), Kenseth (176.797 mph) and Edwards (176.728 mph) are the top three Drivers Early in a Run at California Speedway. Kenseth led the pack in that category averaging 174.857 mph over the first 25% of a green-flag run during his win there in February. Not surprisingly, the four are also in the top five in Average Running Position at the track (Martin -- 5.784, Kenseth -- 7.462, Biffle -- 7.626 and Edwards -- 7.955).

The most interesting stat is how the four drivers stack up at different points on the track. All four have significantly better speeds in the turns than they do on either straightaway. Those four drivers are the top four Fastest Drivers in Turn 4. Turn 4 is also an important place on the track for passing. Of the 7,443 total passes in the last three races at California, 1,769 (23.77%) have taken place in Turn 4. That is a higher percentage than any other point on the track.

In addition to their Turn 4 dominance, at least three of those Roush drivers are among the top five in each of the other three turns on the track. This is a stark difference with their Speed on the Straightaways where only Edwards is among the top-five fastest drivers.

On The Right Track ... Carl Edwards finished in the top 10 in all four of his career starts at California Speedway. ... Mark Martin leads all drivers with six top-10 finishes in the 12 races at California. ... Rick Hendrick has five wins at the track, the most of any team owner. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) has three wins and Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet) each have one. ... There have been nine different race winners in the last nine races at California. Gordon is the only repeat winner in the track's history. ... Sterling Marlin (No. 14 Ginn Clubs & Resorts Chevrolet) is expected to make his 700th career start on Sunday. He is 11th on the all-time list.

Ford Captures Second Straight Win ... Matt Kenseth captured his second consecutive victory Saturday, giving Ford its fifth win of the season. Kenseth leads all Ford drivers with four victories.

Chevrolet has 14 wins on the season and leads the manufacturer's championship by 37 points over Ford, 180-143. Jimmie Johnson leads all Chevrolet drivers with four victories. Kasey Kahne is tied for the series lead in victories with Johnson. His four are the highest among Dodge drivers.

Setting The Field: Top 35 In 2006 Owner Points "Locked In" ... Each week, teams ranked in the top 35 of the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car owner point standings are guaranteed starting positions, creating a "bubble" between the top 35 and those teams outside of 35th, trying to reach that position. At this juncture the bubble remains a precarious place.

There continues to be a close battle among three teams for the 35th and final locked-in position. The No. 45 Schwan's Home Delivery Dodge owned and driven by Kyle Petty is 35th in the car owner standings for another week. Petty is only five points behind the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge owned by Ray Evernham and driven by Elliott Sadler. The No. 14 Ginn Clubs & Resorts Chevrolet owned by Bobby Ginn and driven by Sterling Marlin continues to sit in 36th place, 16 points behind Petty.

Pit Crew Spotlight: Robby Gordon Motorsports Has Ties Close To Home ... Robby Gordon (No. 7 World Series of Poker Chevrolet) will be a busy man this weekend when he returns home to Southern California. The Orange, Calif. native is running in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event on Sunday and the NASCAR Busch Series race on Friday. In addition, he has a race shop in Anaheim that houses his off-road racing program. Three Robby Gordon Motorsports employees have Southern California ties. Mechanic Nick DeFazio is from Newport Beach, tire specialist Glen Wheeler is from Orange and transport driver Randy Rodriguez is from Dana Point.

Raybestos Rookie Update ... Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Chevrolet) finished sixth in the Sharpie 500 to capture his 13th Raybestos Rookie of the Race Award of the season. Hamlin now has 12 top-10 finishes in 24 races this season and leads the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings by 53 points over Clint Bowyer's (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), 244-191. Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Diet Pepsi/Target Dodge) is third with 182 points, followed by Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) with 164 and J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Imitrex/GSK Chevrolet) with 161.

Where In The World Is Ken Schrader? ... Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) continues to be the busiest driver out there. In addition to the 24 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events thus far this year, Schrader has competed in 63 other events. ... This week is a relatively light one for Schrader; he will only race in one short-track event at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson, Iowa on Wednesday.

On Deck: Chevy Rock & Roll 400 ... Race No. 26 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule and the final "Race to the Chase" will be Saturday, Sept. 9 -- the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. It will be the final opportunity for drivers to gain entry to the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Kurt Busch is the defending champion of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) started the race on the pole.

Fast Facts

The race: Sony HD 500 (Race No. 25 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)

The place: California Speedway, Fontana, Calif.

The date/time: Sunday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m. (EDT)

TV: NBC, 7 p.m. (EDT).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite

Posted awards: $5,963,974

Race length: 500 miles, 250 laps
Track layout: 2-mile oval

2005 winner: Kyle Busch
2005 polesitter: Carl Edwards

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 3,499. 2. Matt Kenseth 3,492. 3. Kevin Harvick 3,178. 4. Kyle Busch 3,097. 5. Jeff Gordon 3,091. 6. Denny Hamlin 3,070. 7. Jeff Burton 3,064. 8. Tony Stewart 3,056. 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3,051. 10. Mark Martin 3,049.

Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:05 -- 1:35 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 1 -- 2 p.m. Final Practice, 2:35 -- 3:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kyle Petty , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Bill Lester , J.J. Yeley , Martin Truex Jr. , Ray Evernham , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Wendell Scott
Teams Robby Gordon Motorsports