Big Week For The Hamiltons

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FONTANA, Calif. – California Speedway may be a track that’s easy to pass on, but that’s not what the drivers were thinking going into Friday’s qualifying for the NASCAR Busch Series Auto Club 300 on Saturday.

Unlike last weekend’s race at Talladega, where drafting and staying in line are the most important things, starting up front at California is important, and leading the field to the green flag on Saturday will be Bobby Hamilton Jr., thanks to his quick lap of 179.198 mph Friday afternoon at the two-mile oval.

“That was a good lap for us,” Hamilton Jr. said. “I knew we had a good car in practice, and really it was up to me to go out and get the job done. This does a lot for my confidence – a lot – but starting up front and finishing there are two different stories.

"I feel like I’ve come a long way, and if we can keep everything from falling off the car and be there at the end, we have a chance at this thing.”

Just five days after his father won the Talladega 500 Winston Cup race, Hamilton Jr. will start Saturday’s race from the inside of Row 1 after winning his second career pole (the first came at Homestead last November). Tony Raines qualified second with his lap at 178.936 mph, followed by Greg Biffle, Jeff Green and Kevin Harvick.

Rounding out the Top 10 are: Mike Skinner, Joe Nemechek, Kevin Lepage, Mike McLaughlin and Kenny Wallace.

"It was the best feeling lap I’d run all day,” Raines said. "The track had slowed down a lot so we were happy with what we got. It worked out well and we have a good car that should be around Saturday. Maybe we can change our luck here Saturday. We’ve only raced this car three times, and everytime it’s qualified in the Top 10, so I want to hang on to this car.”

If you’re looking for a favorite heading into Saturday’s race, it might be Matt Kenseth, who is gunning for his third straight Busch Series victory at California. In fact, in his three previous trips to California, Kenseth has finished no lower than third.

“California is one of my better tracks,” Kenseth says. “I like the high speeds and the pavement is real nice and smooth. This track has a lot of grip and we always seem to run real well out here.”

If Kenseth is to win, however, he’s going to have to be patient and move his way up. He qualified a disappointing 22nd.

This weekend marks a homecoming for Harvick, a native of Bakersfield, Calif. Harvick is second in the Busch Series standings coming into Saturday’s race.

“This is a track where we didn’t run very well last year in the Busch race,” said Harvick, who was caught up in an early wreck but still managed to finish 14th. “I feel like this track owes me one. We want to improve this time around and be able to run for the victory.

“If we learned anything here last year, it’s that we need to get the chassis as close to perfect as we can. To be able to compete with the Fords, which have a lot more downforce, we’re going to have to have the car handling all day long.”

Green recently tested at California Speedway with his Richard Childress Racing Winston Cup car. Present at that test session was Harvick’s Busch Series crew chief, Todd Berrier, and other members of the Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing AC/Delco Busch Series team.

“We did figure out some chassis stuff and we found some things that helped us in the Busch car,” Berrier said. “It’s really amazing how similar Jeff’s driving style is to Kevin’s because they seem to like the same things in their cars.”

Green won the pole for last year’s California Busch Series event and followed that up with a solid third-place finish.

“The key to success at California is having a great handling car that also runs great down the straightaway,” Green says. “This car had never made one lap at any kind of track, it wasn’t even tested or shaken down. The first lap this car made was in practice this morning.”

Biffle heads into Saturday’s race with a three-point lead over Harvick in the points standings.

“I’ve always enjoyed racing at California Speedway for a number of reasons,” Biffle said. “I really like the track and my team has always finished real well there with Mark Martin. We had a good handle on this place in the truck series, and I think some of that’s carried over to the Busch car.”

Skinner is another driver to watch Saturday. In the three races he’s participated in since taking over the seat of the No. 21 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet, he’s had three top-10 finishes.

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