Going into Auto Club Speedway, you hear many people saying that this is where the season begins. In my opinion I do not really agree. I have heard that arguments about restrictor plate ?racing? and just come to the conclusion that it is what it is. There is an art to being successful on a consistent basis, but anyone can have their run at their front.
The one thing that it does that I like is allow teams in inferior equipment to compete for a Top 10. The downside is that twenty cars can be torn up in the blink of an eye. But with all that being said, it gets me at the edge of my seat in the final laps. For entertainment value I am a fan of Daytona and Talladega, but as a ?race? I can understand where the debate comes from.
Now going back to California, I am not really a fan of the track. I understand they need a race in the market and whatnot but after receiving the second race of the year from Darlington (or Rockingham, I really cannot remember) attendance figures have suffered and holding two races a year there is getting harder to justify. The track promotes some exciting action on the track after restarts but after 10 laps of green flag it can turn into a snoozer real fast.
Taking a glance at qualifying EGR stole the front row as it appears that the momentum has been carried over from Sunday at least for the time being. RCR had a strong performance. Kasey Kahne left his team in the dust it seemed when he grabbed the 4th spot on the grid and the other three cars are starting 29th, 36th, and 37th respectively. Martin and Johnson out-qualified their team cars as well with top ten efforts by the 5 and 48 and Gordon and Jr. starting back in Row 14.
Of the people who had to qualify into the show, Dave Blaney put up a heck of a lap and grabbed the 5th starting spot. Team owner Phil Parsons already said that if the quarter panels are blank when the race starts that the team does not intend to run the race. 8 of the 11 cars that need to qualify on time this weekend showed up unsponsored. The three with funding all made the race, with Papis grabbing the 43rd spot on the grid. Cars that failed to make the race were Casey Mears (#90), Johnny Sauter (#35), and Terry Cook (#46).
Come the drop of the green flag on Sunday here are my 5 drivers to watch at Auto Club Speedway:
? Jimmie Johnson: He has run 14 races here and has an average finish of 5.8 and in the last 6 trips there he has 3 wins and 5 top 3?s.
? Carl Edwards: Edwards has run 11 races at the track and outside of a 29th place result in 2007, Carl has always finished in the Top 10, but has only found victory lane once.
? Jeff Gordon: In Gordon?s last 7 races at the track he has ended the race in the Top 5 on 5 occasions. One of four drivers this weekend to be making their twentieth start at the track since it opened in 1997.
? Jamie McMurray: Two things going for him; momentum from last week and a starting the race from the pole. Looking at Jamie?s history at the track, one thing stands out. The first 5 races McMurray ran at Auto Club were in the 42 car. In those races with Ganassi, Jamie collected 4 Top 10?s and a 15th place finish. Back with Ganassi now, look for the 1 car to compete.
? Dark Horse Pick of the Week- David Ragan: David has run 6 races at the track in his short career. All 6 races ended with finishes of 17th or better with one Top 10 which came last year (his only non-RP Top 10 of the year). He has a decent starting spot and Roush power which always seems to be a factor in the race.
Switching to the Nationwide series, Danica-mania continues for a second week. She spent much of the day Friday just trying to get a feel for the car and slowly increasing her speed as the sessions went on. I do not expect much from her as a contender to win, but hopefully she will complete all the laps and record a lead lap finish. As far as who will win the race it is hard to look past four Cup regulars.
? Joey Logano: Three races out at California and has finishes 6th, 3rd, and won.
? Kyle Busch: Before last October?s race where Kyle had to be relieved by Denny Hamlin for illness, Kyle had finished no worse than 3rd in the 5 previous races and won two of the races. Gibbs Racing had actually led around 85% of the laps at the track in the last 4 races, so obviously they have something figured out.
? Kevin Harvick: 14 races for Kevin at the track where he has 12 Top 10?s and the worst he has done was 14th in his first trip out there. Despite these numbers Harvick has yet to find victory lane.
? Carl Edwards: I know, I am taking the obvious four drivers but their numbers speak for itself. Carl has finish in the Top 5 each of the last 4 races but has not found victory lane either.
? Non-Cup Pick of the Race- Colin Braun: Top 5 in both practices, first time at the track in the Nationwide series, just a gut feeling really. Also watch out for Brian Scott, his car looked fast in practice as well.
My Prediction for the cars in Victory Lane: I hate to say it but Kyle Busch on Saturday and Jimmie Johnson on Sunday because Chevy looks good this weekend.
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