Mash The Gas – California Preview

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels west to California to the track four times larger than this last weekends’ racetrack at Bristol Motor Speedway. There is lots of real estate and normally few cautions with drivers able to use multiple lines around the speedway.

We look at who’s hot in the season so far combined with who runs well at the upcoming track as well as hunches to come up with the following list and discussion.


#17-Matt Kenseth
Dan Margetta: This team has picked up right where they left off after a strong 2011. They have been strong contenders for every race this season, having already scored a win at Daytona. They’re worst finish this season is a 22nd place at Las Vegas that came as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a scramble for the lead in the closing laps. Kenseth has a solid history at California with three wins and thirteen top ten finishes in nineteen starts.

John Wiedemann: With three wins and a better than 10th place average finish, Auto Club Speedway suits Kenseth just fine. Only 12 points behind points leader and teammate Biffle, one could argue that Kenesth would be in the points lead without that little incident on the final restart in Las Vegas. Following California, Kenseth may very well be on top of the standings.

#48-Jimmie Johnson
JW: Johnson was passed through turns three and four by “the closer” Kevin Harvick on the final lap of the race at Auto Club Speedway last year after battling with Kyle Busch in the closing laps. This year Johnson was climbing through the standings following his early crash and exit from the Daytona 500 and points penalty for body work that NASCAR disapproved of. Now with the penalty reduced and the return of 25 points, Johnson is 61 points from the lead in 11th place. A 4th, 2nd and 9th place finish following Daytona has Johnson on the rise and California will continue the climb.

DM: Even without Crew Chief Chad Knaus and Car Chief Ron Malec, who would have had to begin serving their NASCAR imposed six race suspension this week, California is one of Johnson’s most successful tracks. In seventeen races, Johnson has five victories and the Hendrick Motorsports operation is deep with talent. With Knaus and Malec’s suspension overturned, look for the #48 team to perform well with the weight off their back and the team at full strength.

#16-Greg Biffle
DM: This team is on a roll and leads the Sprint Cup points heading into California. Following three third place finishes to begin the season, they raced up front at Bristol before fading to 13th at the end. Most of the crew members from the #6 car from last season are now working on this team and they are loyally behind their new driver. When the team chemistry is this good, they are a threat to win every week and should be a favorite at California, where Biffle has won in the past.

JW: Biffle’s Bristol result, 13th, ruined his 3rd place finish streak that started at the Daytona 500 and ran for three races, at least his Bristol finish still had a 3 in it. Heading into California’s Auto Club Speedway, Biffle is going to a track that Roush Fenway Racing has had a lot of success. Biffle himself has a win, two second place finishes and a 18th place average at Auto Club Speedway but has been super hot to start out 2012.

Front Runners
#29-Kevin Harvick
DM – The California native has a knack for closing the deal late in races and the 2-mile California track with its historical fuel mileage challenges, favors closers. The #29 team is second in Sprint Cup points, having raced up front in every event this season while piling up consistent finishes. Harvick has had top ten finishes in the last four races here and there is a good chance his first victory of the season could come this weekend.

#18-Kyle Busch
JW – Busch was leading the race at Auto Club Speedway with three laps to go last year, but when the checkers flew he was the third driver to cross the line. Getting caught up in a wreck not of his doing 24 laps into the race this last weekend at Bristol adds to the frustration of a driver that needs no motivation to want to win at any track he races at. Busch is looking to get his season started and California will be a great place to do it.

#88-Dale Earnhardt Jr
JW – Junior is on his way to putting together a solid Chase making season. It’s still early but Earnhardt has been running well throughout each race and has all top-15 finishes so far. Auto Club Speedway resembles Michigan International Speedway, the site of Earnhardt last win and Hendrick Motorsports does well there. Look for a solid top 10 out of the 88 with a shot at the win.

Sleeper Picks
#15-Clint Bowyer and #55-Mark Martin
Michael Waltrip Racing looks to be for real.

Stories to Watch:
# 5-Kasey Kahne—2012 has been disastrous for this team that came into the season with very high expectations. While they have had one of the fastest cars week in and week out, they have been bitten by accidents and other bad luck. Currently hanging on in 34th place in the all-important top 35, another bad weekend could derail the whole season and put them out of the title chase just five weeks into the season.

#22-A.J. Allmendinger—Similar to Kasey Kahne, Allmendinger also entered 2012 with high expectations only to be saddled with poor finishes to start the year. Allmendinger showed some promise at Bristol and led many laps but a wheel left loose on a pit stop took them out of contention early. Last season, Kurt Busch expressed his frustration numerous times with this team’s fundamental slip-ups which led to tension in the pits. Allmendinger needs to show that his “potential” is real and the team needs to have a mistake free race before this new relationship really gets off on the wrong foot.

#2- Brad Keselowski — Keselowski has been known to get on hot streaks. Just look back at his results last year after messing up his ankle in a practice crash at Road Atlanta: two wins, a second and third place finish pushing him into the Chase. This year has been a mixed bag of results with two 32nd place finishes weaved between a top five and a win. A top finish at Auto Club Speedway following his win at Bristol will move Keselowski to the hot list.

#10-David Reutimann—This team currently sits just outside of the top 35 in points with this being the final weekend it has a guaranteed starting spot. Reutimann’s job is to keep the car inside the top 35 to lock Danica Patrick in the events she is scheduled to drive. If they leave California still outside the top 35, it will be interesting to see if a Stewart-Haas car shows up at Martinsville for Reutimann as missing an event could be devastating to the team. They don’t want to put Danica Patrick in the pressure cooker of having to qualify on time in her first ever trip to Darlington in a few weeks.

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