California-NASCAR connection runs deep DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 28, 2004) -- The ever-altering NASCAR landscape is personified by this week's excursion to California Speedway. Consider this: A total of eight drivers who have raced in the...
California-NASCAR connection runs deep
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 28, 2004) -- The ever-altering NASCAR landscape is personified by this week's excursion to California Speedway. Consider this: A total of eight drivers who have raced in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series this year hail from California; that's the series high -- tied with North Carolina.
It's a fact that shelves yet another Southeastern-related stereotype, while illustrating NASCAR's undeniable national appeal. The Golden State is the home state for an increasing number of stock-car drivers, throughout the NASCAR competitive ranks.
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is the most visible California native and appropriately so, since he has won four championships in NASCAR's premier series. Others who will enjoy a homecoming this week include the man who drives the car owned by Gordon, Jimmie Johnson of El Cajon (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).
Two Richard Childress Racing drivers are Californians: Bakersfield's Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) and Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet).
Also, fast-improving Casey Mears (No. 41 Target Dodge) is from Bakersfield; Stanton Barrett of Hollywood (No., 94 AmericInn Chevrolet); Joe Ruttman of Upland, slated to drive the James Finch-owned No. 09 Dodge this weekend; and Mike Skinner, a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular who also raced in the season-opening Daytona 500, is from Susanville.
"California's been a good track for us for a few reasons," said Johnson, winner of the 2002 California event -- his first victory in NASCAR's premier series.
Johnson credited the hard work of crew chief Chad Knaus and the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports. He also credited the intangible "California factor."
"California is a track that I like," Johnson said. "My hometown is on fire [about the race]. It all clicks. ... It's great to go back to my home state, close to home, [site of] my first win. It's special."
Johnson added that it's tough to balance personal commitments with the demands of a race weekend, when you've returned home. Harvick can relate.
"The hardest part is really trying to have that good weekend because you want to run well in front of all the fans," Harvick said. "I always put a little extra pressure on myself being that [this race is] close to home."