Driver Handicaps: California

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This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to California Speedway for the Auto Club 500. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 250-lap event.

Who's HOT at California
  • Kyle Busch made NASCAR history at California Speedway in 2005 as he became the series' youngest pole and race winner
  • Carl Edwards, the 2005 September pole winner, has the best finishing average (5.0) among all drivers that have entered three or more races.
  • Jeff Gordon is the only driver that has scored multiple victories at California Speedway. His three victories, five top fives, and 410 laps led currently leads all drivers.
  • Greg Biffle has finished first and second, respectively, in his last two starts.
  • Jimmie Johnson has one victory and is the only driver to complete all the laps in every race over the past five years.
  • Mark Martin has led in eight races at California and is second to Jeff Gordon in laps led with 267.
  • Although this will be his first start in a Ford, Jamie McMurray has the best average finish (7.2) over the last five years.

    Keep an Eye on
  • Elliott Sadler and crew chief Tommy Baldwin Jr. have had some success at Fontana. Sadler with a win in 2004 and Baldwin with driver Kasey Kahne (pole, two top-six finishes).
  • Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman will be driving the 2004 Dodge Intrepid body style. Both showed some speed in Las Vegas testing.
  • Joe Nemechek appeared to be headed to a solid finish at California Speedway in this event last year after he led the most laps (63) before losing the engine on lap 130. Nemechek rebounded with a 10th-place finish in September - his first top 10.
  • Matt Kenseth has a 13.5 average finish and has won three Busch races at California.
  • After a great run in Daytona, Casey Mears will be running his first Busch Series race since last April to try and learn some things for Sunday.
  • Reigning NEXTEL Cup champion Tony Stewart led 56 laps and finished fifth last September.
  • Brian Vickers finished third last September.

    Eye on the Rookies
    Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson and David Stremme have all posted at least one top-10 finish in the Busch Series at California Speedway. Leading 2006 rookie Bowyer has had the best results with one pole and two finishes of fourth or better. Although his two finishes were not that great, J.J. Yeley is the only rookie that has made a NEXTEL Cup start at the 2-mile speedway.

    Dale Jr Reality Cup Racing Tiebreakers

    Last Five Number of Lead Changes
    2005-30
    2005-26
    2004-29
    2004-23
    2003-19

    Last Five Number of Cautions
    2005-11
    2005-7
    2004-11
    2004-6
    2003-8

    Qualifying Tidbits: Brian Vickers possesses the best starting average (4.5) among all drivers with four or more starts at California Speedway. There have been 10 different pole winners in 11 races at California, and qualifying in 1999 was rained out. Kyle Busch is the current track record holder with a lap of 188.435 mph.

    RacingOne Staff Picks

    Jeff Wackerlin (Senior Editor) -- Jamie McMurray -- A Roush car will win at California, but this time it will be with their newest driver.
    Pete Pistone (Managing Editor) -- Greg Biffle -- Dominated at Fontana last February and a return to the intermediate tracks should spell instant success for Roush Racing.
    Jorge Mondaca (Assistant Editor) -- Greg Biffle -- After previous disastrous results in California, Biffle appeared to have figured it out last year. Look for his momentum to continue this weekend.
    J.J. O'Malley (RacingOne Contributor) -- Greg Biffle -- Will pull off his second straight spring victory in the non-restricted season opener.
    Shawn Akers (RacingOne Columnist) -- Jeff Gordon -- California's his track, and it's the first of many victories this year.

    More Driver Notes

    1. Jimmie Johnson (Points: 185) - This weekend Johnson returns to the site of his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win, which was scored back on April 28, 2002, in his first start at California Speedway. Since then, Johnson has finished no worse than 16th and has two second-place finishes, one of which was captured in this event last year. The 2005 Labor Day race marked the second time in six starts that Johnson has not led a lap at the 2-mile speedway. Overall, Johnson has led a total of 104 laps, with the most (62) coming in the race that he won. Johnson's primary chassis (No. 48297) is the same car that finished 12th at Pocono last June. The car was also tested at Las Vegas. Johnson will still be without crew chief Chad Knaus, who is serving a suspension for the next three races.

    2. Casey Mears (Points Behind Leader: -15) - Mears returns to his home state for his sixth Cup start at California Speedway. Mears has only posted one top-10 finish (eighth) on the 2-mile track, with all his other finishes being 22nd and worse. He does have some other unique experience at the track, having raced there in four different series; CART, Indy Lights, Busch and Cup. Mears will also be making a return to the Busch Series in a car that will look similar to his NEXTEL Cup ride.

    3. Ryan Newman (Points Behind Leader: -15) - Newman will make his seventh California Speedway start and his 154th career NEXTEL Cup Series start this Sunday. In his previous six starts at the speedway, Newman has posted three top-10 finishes. He won the pole in his first start at the track in 2002 and has gone on to post a total of three more starts of ninth or better. His worst start, of 28th, came in the last season's Labor Day event. Newman will race chassis PRS-20 with the 2004 Intrepid body style this weekend. This is the same chassis that finished 25th at Texas Motor Speedway

    4. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind Leader: -20) - Sadler posted his first top-20 finish at California in seven races when he drove the M&M's Ford to victory in the 2004 Labor Day event. He followed the win up with his second top-10 finish, eighth-place, in this event last year. The only time Sadler has led at the 2-mile speedway was when he led for 59 laps en route to his victory. His average finish (21.9) is the worst among all drivers that have at least one victory at the speedway.

    5. Tony Stewart (Points Behind Leader: -25 ) - Stewart, who will be making his 250th career NEXTEL Cup Series start, has two fourth-place finishes (1999, 2000) at California Speedway - his best effort at the track. In his last start at the Speedway, Stewart scored his third top-five - first in five races - with a fifth-place finish. He also led for the third time in career at the track in that event after keeping the No. 20 Chevrolet up front for 56 laps. Stewart dominated the 2003 event, leading three times for 100 laps, before a connecting rod broke within the engine, giving him a 41st-place finish - his only DNF at California.

    6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -33) - Earnhardt Jr. scored his career-best finish at California in 2001 (third) after crashing the primary car on Friday and changing the engine on Saturday. During the race Earnhardt ran out of fuel on lap 107 and was able to battle back from a lap down. Junior's only other top-10 came in 2003 after he brought the Budweiser Chevrolet home sixth after starting a career-best eighth at the 2-mile speedway. Junior finished 38th in the last event at California, which marked his fourth finish of 32nd or worse in eight starts. Earnhardt will be racing a brand new chassis (No. 42) in the Auto Club 500.

    7. Brian Vickers (Points Behind Leader: -34) - Vickers possesses the best starting average (4.5) among all drivers with four or more starts at California Speedway. Vickers, the 2004 pole winner, has led at least one lap in his first three starts for a total of 46 laps. His best finish, of third, came in his last start in September.

    8. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind Leader: -35) - Clint Bowyer will be making his first NEXTEL Cup Series start at California Speedway. Bowyer has been successful in the Busch Series at California. In two starts he has scored one pole and a fourth and third-place finish.

    9. Ken Schrader (Points Behind Leader: -47) - Ken Schrader has yet to post a top-10 finish at California Speedway. His best finish of 14th came on two occasions with two teams - Andy Petree and BAM Racing. After a successful debut with the Woods Brothers at Daytona, Schrader will make his 12th start at California with the fourth different team since the track opened in 1997. Scharder has led four times for 12 laps and has completed 89.0% of the laps at the 2-mile speedway.

    10. Dale Jarrett (Points Behind Leader: -51) - Jarrett has captured five top-10 finishes at California Speedway, with his best (fifth) coming in 1999. Jarrett's 17.9 finishing average is hampered by a 41st-place finish (engine) in 1998 and a 37th-place finish (accident) in 2003. He has led at least one lap in four different races at California for a total of 102 laps. Jarrett will race the same chassis (No. 56) that debuted at California last September, placing 24th. The car's best performance was a ninth-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway in November.

    11. Mark Martin (Points Behind Leader: -53) - Martin dominated the 1998 race leading 165 laps en route to his only victory at California Speedway. In this event last year, Martin finished seventh for his fifth top-10 finish in 11 races. He is currently tied with Jeremy Mayfield with races led, with eight, and is second to Jeff Gordon in laps led with 267. The AAA team will be bringing the same car (chassis RK-315) that won at Kansas and finished second at Homestead last year. Martin leads all drivers with a 5.645 average running position in all California races. Average Running Positions

    12. Kasey Kahne (Points Behind Leader: -55) - Kahne scored his best finish (second) in his second of four starts at California Speedway. Last February, he suffered his first DNF and finished 40th. In his first two starts, Kahne has led a combined 116 laps, won a pole and posted a finishing average of 7.5. Kahne, who finished sixth in his last start at California, will be driving the same car (chassis No. 116) that his teammate Jeremy Mayfield raced to a fourth-place finish at Indy last year.

    13. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind Leader: -59) - In four out of seven races at California Speedway, Harvick has failed to finish in the top-25. His best performance (sixth) and second top-10 came in this event one-year ago. Harvick will carry a special paint scheme on the No. 29 at Fontana that will feature Hershey’s Ice Breakers Ice Cubes Gum.

    15. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind Leader: -62) - Kenseth finished seventh in the last event at California Speedway marking his fourth top 10 in eight starts. He has led in six races for a total of 206 laps, which ranks third among all drivers. Kenseth has won three Busch races at Fontana with crew chief Robbie Reiser.

    19. Michael Waltrip (Points Behind Leader: -76) - Waltrip has raced in every race at California Speedway, posting two top-10s. Waltrip, who posted his second DNF at Fontana in this event last year, will pilot chassis No. 94 in the Auto Club 500. This is a brand new race car and is not the one that was tested at Las Vegas.

    22. Kyle Busch (Points Behind Leader: -86) - Busch made NASCAR history at California Speedway in 2005 as he became the series' youngest pole and race winner. He won the pole in this event last year after setting a track record of 188.245 mph. In September, Busch set the mark for the youngest winner at 20 years, four months and two days, after leading 95 laps en route to his first career NEXTEL Cup win. In his first two starts at the track he finished 24th and 23rd, respectively.

    26. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -95) - Gordon is the only driver that has scored multiple victories at California Speedway. His three victories, five top fives, and 410 laps led currently leads all drivers, and his finishing average (12.3) is the best among all drivers that have raced in every event since 1997. Gordon will have a special Chip Foose designed paint scheme on his No. 24 Chevrolet this weekend.

    30. Greg Biffle (Points Behind Leader: -110) - Biffle, who swept both Busch races in 2004 at California Speedway, won his first NEXTEL Cup race at the track in this event last season. He led 46 laps en route to the win and it was his first finish of 13th or better in five starts at the 2-mile speedway. Last September Biffle scored another top-five with a runner-up finish after leading 16 laps. The only other time Biffle has led a lap(s) at Fontana came in this event in 2004 when he led for 28 laps before mechanical problems struck the No. 16 Ford. Biffle will race the same car (chassis RK-239) that last went to Victory Lane at Homestead. The No. 16 will carry a special Jackson Hewitt paint scheme this weekend. Biffle currently has the highest driver rating at California Speedway at 118.6. Driver Ratings

    31. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind Leader: -112) - Hamlin will be making his first NEXTEL Cup start at California Speedway this weekend. Hamlin has made two starts at the 2-mile speedway in the Busch Series finishing 18th and 20th, respectively.

    32. Jeff Burton (Points Behind Leader: -113) - Burton has finished 15th or worse in the last seven races at California Speedway. His best finishes came from 1998-2000 when he scored three consecutive top-10 finishes - with a career-best second in 1999. Burton will be behind the wheel of a brand new race car (chassis No. 164) in the Auto Club 500. This car was tested at Nashville Superspeedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    33. Joe Nemechek (Points Behind Leader: -121) - Nemechek appeared to be headed to his first top-10 finish at California Speedway in the event last year after he led the most laps (63) before losing the engine on lap 130. His 39th-place finish was his second DNF and eighth finish of 20th or worse at California. Nemechek, who won the inaugural pole at California, is coming off a 10th-place finish in the last race at the track.

    35. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind Leader: -127) - Labonte has raced in 11 races at California Speedway and has captured two runner-up finishes (2000, 2003) and a total of four top five's. Labonte, who has one pole at Fontana (2001), will be making his first non-restrictor plate start in a Dodge.

    36. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind Leader: -128) - McMurray has one finish (15th) outside the top five in five starts at California Speedway. Prior to McMurray's eighth-place finish in September, he finished a career-best fourth twice. The only time he led a lap at the 2-mile track came in his first start, in 2003, when he led for 41 laps. This will be McMurray's first non restictor-plate NEXTEL Cup race in a Ford and with Roush Racing. McMurray will pilot the same chassis (No. RK-72) that finished 21st with driver Kenny Wallace at Homestead.

    37. Jeremy Mayfield (Points Behind Leader: -130) - Mayfield earned his second career NEXTEL Cup victory at California Speedway in 2000 after battling an overheating car. Mayfield was able to deal with the heat and ignition problems in the closing laps to win the race with a laboring engine. His win was one of four top-10 finishes he compiled from 1998-2001. Last year he finished 28th in this event.

    38. Kurt Busch (Points Behind Leader: -131) Busch has one victory (2003) and one runner-up finish (2002) at California Speedway. In this event last year, Busch finished third for his third top 10. He followed that up with a 12th-place finish in September and led in his fifth race at the track. Busch, who is fourth in laps led (186) at California, will be driving his first race at the track in a Dodge. Along with his teammate Ryan Newman, Busch will be driving the 2004 body style.

    43. Carl Edwards (Points Behind Leader: -151) - Edwards will be shooting for his fourth top-10 finish at California Speedway in his fourth start. He bested last February's finish of fifth, by one position when he placed fourth from the pole in the Labor Day race. His 5.0 finishing average leads all drivers that have entered three or more races. Edwards has lead a combined 54 laps in the last two races at Fontana.
    
            
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    • 1994 Brickyard Winner: Jeff Gordon
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