Third Might Be Best Starting Spot at Fontana

California 500 is a multifaceted event By Dave Rodman FONTANA, Calif. (April 28, 1999) Jeff Burton is one to watch at this weekend's California 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. Bud Pole Awards -- and their contingent spot in the next ...

California 500 is a multifaceted event By Dave Rodman

FONTANA, Calif. (April 28, 1999) Jeff Burton is one to watch at this weekend's California 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. Bud Pole Awards -- and their contingent spot in the next year's Bud Shootout -- are highly prized commodities on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But when Friday's Bud Pole Qualifying session for Sunday's California 500 presented by NAPA gets under way at the California Speedway, drivers may be angling for the third spot in the 43-car lineup. Say what?

For the first two editions of the $2.7 million event, the 10th round of the 34-race NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the winner has come from the third hole on the grid. That would be a tough sell to either defending champion Mark Martin or inaugural winner Jeff Gordon.

Gordon won the Bud Pole a year ago with a lap of 181.772 mph -- well off the track's Bud Qualifying record of 183.753 mph set in 1997 by Greg Sacks in Bud Second Round Qualifying. But it may not be sheer speed that counts in the 250-lap event on the moderately banked two-mile oval that resembles its sister Penske Motorsports facility -- Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn.

"The Winston Cup races at California Speedway for the past two years have turned out to be fuel mileage contests," said Tony Freund, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s lead engineer for stock cars. "Actually, both good fuel mileage and durable motors have been major factors influencing the outcome."

While last year's event, won by Martin in the Valvoline/Cummins Ford, at an average speed of 140.220 mph, was hardly an economy run, it wasn't near the race record, either. Gordon set that in the DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet in the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup race at California Speedway on June 22, 1997 when he averaged 155.012 mph for 3 hours, 13 minutes and 32 seconds.

Though he's far from a prohibitive favorite, Gordon would certainly rate some notice. While the three-time and defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion already has three DNF's this season -- his most since 1996 -- Gordon (1st and 4th) is one of only two drivers, along with teammate Terry Labonte (2nd and 3rd) in the Kellogg's Chevrolet, who has posted top-5 finishes in both NWC races at California.

Martin (10th and 1st) is the only other driver to post two top-10 finishes here. It will be interesting to see if his teammate, Exide Batteries Ford driver Jeff Burton, the NASCAR Winston Cup point leader, can improve on his 10th place of a year ago.

Interestingly enough, the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at California Speedway saw Chevrolets in the top two finishing positions. In the 1998 running of this race, Ford finished 1-2. Pontiac has yet to score a top-five finish at California, but with Bobby Labonte in the top-5 in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings in the Interstate Batteries Pontiac and Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Tony Stewart on an absolute tear in the Home Depot Pontiac, that could change on Sunday.

Another stupendous crowd is expected at track president Greg Penske's complex, which sits on 529 acres within the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains. There are 16 million people living within 150 miles of California Speedway, which is the only superspeedway in Southern California. The region is the second largest economic area in the United States and has the largest automotive and trucking sales area in the world. The California 500 is scheduled to get under way at 2 p.m. ET. Live television coverage will be provided by ABC Sports, with MRN Radio offering the live radio broadcast at 1:30 ET.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Greg Sacks , Mark Martin