Mash The Gas: Fontana Preview

After a successful first short track event of the season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series treks back out West to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the Auto Club 400. Auto Club Speedway is a wide two mile oval with sweeping turns that work engines hard while leaving plenty of room for three and sometimes four wide racing on the straightaways.

After this weekend and with the exception of a road course, NASCAR will have raced on basically all types of tracks with the Gen-6 racecar, providing a baseline for the teams to continue to improve on their setups as the 2013 schedule continues.

Two hundred laps totaling the 400 miles will get started when the green flag waves at 3:15pm EDT on Sunday, March 24th. Following this weekend’s race is an off weekend for the drivers on Easter Sunday and the Sprint Cup Series returns to action April 7th at the Martinsville Speedway

Here are some drivers to watch this weekend:

Jimmie Johnson
Dan Margetta: Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team are the clear cut favorites at Fontana with five victories in 18 races and an incredible 5.4 average finishing position. Johnson is so good here, he has finished in the top three in eight of the last ten races and hasn’t finished outside the top ten since 2006 when he was 11th. Strong race results this season, which already include a victory, suggest it will be business as usual for Johnson and Team 48 at California and anything less than a top five finish will be disappointing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
John Wiedemann: The Auto Club Speedway resembles the Michigan International Speedway with its two mile length and wide corners allowing multiple lanes to run. The last two races Junior has won have been at Michigan and his success at Michigan has not really translated to California with only four top five finishes out west. However, I think this weekend will be a good one for Junior. Junior loves a track where the driver has multiple grooves to run, Auto Club Speedway fits his style. Earnhardt is having arguably his best start to a season and that will continue at the Auto Club Speedway, I predict a win.

Kyle Busch
DM: Kyle Busch finished second in this race a year ago and he’s been quietly racking up strong finishes since the engine failure in the season opening Daytona 500. Increased downforce on the new Gen-6 cars means more time on the throttle and if the Joe Gibbs Toyota teams have their engine gremlins worked out, Busch should be right there to challenge for a much-needed win late in the race.

Kurt Busch
JW: Kurt Busch made a strong run on fresh tires and needed a little more race laps at Bristol to challenge for the win. Auto Club Speedway is another good track for Kurt who has a win, three poles and a 12.7 average finish. Kurt finished ninth in this race last year after qualifying twenty-third. Look for a top ten weekend as Kurt continues to climb the standings.

Matt Kenseth
DM: Matt Kenseth has had a rocket ship in every event so far this season, only to be derailed by mechanical failure and bad luck in two races while racking up a top ten finish and a win in the other two. If this team can avoid the bad luck syndrome and have the car hold together while the pit crew maintains position on pit road, Kenseth should run well at Fontana where he has three wins and an averaging finishing position of 10.3, third best among active drivers.

Greg Biffle
JW: Greg Biffle visited the Texas Motor Speedway and got to play with some dogs as he promoted the Greg Biffle Foundation and the SPCA of Texas. If that doesn’t put him in a good mood heading into the Auto Club 400, I don’t know what would. Well, statistics that show one win, four top fives and six top tens at the speedway should help also. Biffle is quietly sitting in the top five in points and this weekend might just be the one where he makes a little more noise.

Carl Edwards
DM: Carl Edwards has a Fontana win to his credit along with the second best averaging finishing position of 8.7 and Roush-Fenway cars have a history of producing great results on the 2 mile oval. Edwards is also backed up by one of if not the fastest pit crews on pit road which could be crucial late in the race when track position could provide the key to victory.

Kevin Harvick
JW: Dubbed “The Closer” when he ran down Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson to take the win at the Auto Club 400 in 2011, Kevin Harvick has a average finish of 15.5 at the speedway. Currently sixteenth in the point standings, Harvick has yet to score a top five in a points paying race this year. This weekend gives him a good shot at fixing that statistic.

Brad Keselowski
DM: Fontana was the place Keselowski ran poorly in his championship season a year ago and he has never finished inside the top 20 at this track. However, since we were last here, this team has gelled magnificently and Keselowski has opened this season with four straight top five finishes which leaves him with the point lead. This is one of the elite teams on the circuit and a fifth straight top five result is not out of the question, but it’s getting time for the #2 bunch to start racking up victories.

Tony Stewart
JW: Among the top drivers that started poorly at Daytona, Stewart is still struggling to climb up the ladder and a flat tire sending into the Bristol wall didn’t help matters. Turning things around could be on tap for the Chevy driver this weekend. Stewart has two victories in the last three Auto Club Speedway races and is the defending champion of this race. The big worry is all of the Stewart-Haas drivers are occupying the same real estate in the point standings – so has it been bad luck or do they have more work to do figuring out the Gen-6 car?

Clint Bowyer
DM: Clint Bowyer and the #15 team are another group out to make a statement at Fontana. Currently fourth in the points, but nearly a full race behind the top three, Bowyer has quietly put together some consistent runs this season. Fontana presents an opportunity for this team to let everyone know they’re not to be underestimated as Bowyer owns a 10.8 averaging finishing position over twelve races.

Kasey Kahne
JW: How about two wins in a row for Kasey Kahne? It is a real possibility. Hendrick Motorsports is ready and strong with the Gen-6 car posting two wins, six top fives and ten top ten finishes with their four drivers in the first four races. Kahne moved into a tie for seventh in the standings with his Bristol win and looks to continue his climb after finishing 36th in the Daytona 500. Kahne has one win, a pole, four top five and nine top ten finishes in sixteen starts at the Auto Club Speedway. On a roll that should continue this weekend, Kahne will be padding those stats.

Joey Logano
DM: The Penske #22 team ought to hire someone to just make Joey Logano mad every week as he drove with a sense of determination we haven’t seen out of him in a long time last weekend after being spun by Denny Hamlin. When Logano’s on a mission, he can get the job done and I’m going to make him my long shot pick this week, especially if Hamlin stops by the car to give his regards before they go green.

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