Fontana: Team Monte Carlo preview

Team Monte Carlo makes California connection. DETROIT, Mich. (April 24, 2002) - Riding high on its one-two sweep of the Talladega 500 last Sunday, Team Monte Carlo heads west to California Speedway in Fontana for the upcoming NAPA Auto Parts 500...

Team Monte Carlo makes California connection.

DETROIT, Mich. (April 24, 2002) - Riding high on its one-two sweep of the Talladega 500 last Sunday, Team Monte Carlo heads west to California Speedway in Fontana for the upcoming NAPA Auto Parts 500 in pursuit of a repeat performance.

Dale Earnhardt Jr's dominant run at Talladega Superspeedway marked his third win of the last four restrictor plate races, and the third time that he and DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.), teammate Michael Waltrip have finished first and second on restrictor plate tracks since the '01 Daytona 500. Little E's triumph gave the red bowtie its seventh straight Talladega victory and its 382nd race win in the Modern Era (1972 - present).

That pivoting win bounced Dale Jr. into fifth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings and tagged him as the series leader in total miles led (405 laps for more than 542 miles in 9 races). Those numbers have left Chevrolet, the most successful nameplate in NASCAR Winston Cup history, hungry for more.

"This just further demonstrates the strength of DEI's entire speedway program," said Doug Duchardt, GM Racing's Oval Track Group Manager. "They have taken full advantage of the internal resources offered by GM Racing, they've maximized the opportunities of our RAD program, and proved the power of teamwork. They have a very impressive body and chassis and engine package; and we are proud of how well Junior and Waltrip work together - it's tough to get around them on restrictor plate tracks. I hope we can keep this momentum going in California."

At last year's Fontana stop on the tour, perseverance was the theme for Dale Jr. and the Bud team. During Friday's practice session, a grinding crash forced them to a back-up car, and a blown engine during the final Happy Hour session mandated them to a 38th starting spot for Sunday's race. After running out of fuel and losing a lap just before the halfway point of the race, the team charged to the front, un-lapped themselves with 104 laps to go and sliced through the field to finish third.

"I'm ready for another good run," says Little E. "The race is the day before my dad's birthday, so it has some special meaning to me. I'm not that great with dates, but I will always remember April 29. It means so much to me - and I hope we can win one in his honor."

When Round 10 of 36 Winston Cup races gets underway on Sunday, Team Monte Carlo could also benefit from a hometown advantage. Five of its 12 full-time drivers were born in California and honed their skills on west coast racetracks.

A frontrunner of the California Connection is Jeff Gordon, four-time Winston Cup champion and two-time winner at California Speedway (1997 & '99), who was born near the Bay Area in Vallejo. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Jimmie Johnson, was born and raised near San Diego in El Cajon. Johnson won the Bud Pole at both the Daytona 500 and Talladega 500 this year - eliminating the notion of beginner's luck at his first-ever Winston Cup race on his home turf. Currently sixth in the standings, Johnson trails Dale Jr. by just four points; and Gordon trails Johnson by another four points in seventh.

The Richard Childress Racing (RCR) stable offers two California natives to the mix with Robby Gordon, whose family resides closest to the Fontana track in Orange; and Kevin Harvick, whose roots are in the desert community of Bakersfield.

Additional California talent comes from Mike Skinner of Morgan-McClure Motorsports, an Ontario transplant to Susanville - a city north of the popular Lake Tahoe / Reno area.

Chad Little will make his return to the Winston Cup Series this weekend behind the wheel of the No. 74 Staff America Chevrolet owned by Bill Baumgardner of BACE Motorsports. Although not a Californian, Little was west coast born and raised in Spokane, Washington.

Other Team Monte Carlo contenders eager to keep Chevrolet on the podium this weekend at California Speedway are Bobby Hamilton, Jeff Green, Jerry Nadeau, Terry Labonte, Steve Park, and Hermie Sadler.

The NAPA 500 begins at 3 p.m. ET and airs live on Fox on Sunday, April 28. Pre-race activities begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.

-tmc-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Terry Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Steve Park , Mike Skinner , Kevin Harvick , Jeff Green , Robby Gordon , Jerry Nadeau , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Little , Hermie Sadler
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports