Driver Handicaps: California

    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 Speedway
  • Roush Fenway Racing - Both Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle have the best driver ratings at California, and Carl Edwards is tops in finishing average at 4.4. Jamie McMurray also finished sixth in this event last season.
  • Hendrick Motorsports - Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each have a win at California, with Gordon's three leading all drivers.
  • Kasey Kahne performs well on 1.5 and 2-mile speedways and is the most recent winner at California.
  • Clint Bowyer scored his career-best NEXTEL Cup finish at California last year.

    Keep an Eye on at California Speedway
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming off his best finish at California with a second-place finish last September.
  • Both Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing early end at Daytona.
  • Harvick looks to carry his momentum from Daytona to California Speedway where he is in search of his first top five.
  • Casey Mears will also get to chance to perform for the first time on a non restrictor-plate track using Hendrick horsepower.
  • Mark Martin will compete in his first race at California driving a Chevrolet.
  • Ricky Rudd posted an average finish of 4.3 when he raced last (2001-2003) at California with Robert Yates Racing.
  • Although the track is now configured much differently than California, Elliott Sadler, Scott Riggs and David Gilliland were the fastest in preseason testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    Track Performers
    Jeff Gordon leads all active full-time drivers among wins (5), top fives (22) and poles (6) on 2-mile speedways. Mark Martin, who won the 1998 California race driving a Roush Ford, is second with five wins and leads all with 34 top 10s. Dale Jarrett is third in wins with four, and Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte are tied with three victories each. Ricky Rudd is second in top 10s with 28 and Carl Edwards is tops with an average finish of 6.5 in 10 races.

    Rookie Report
    Paul Menard has the most experience among the Raybestos Rookies at California Speedway. Menard had competed in six Busch Series races with DEI at the 2-mile speedway capturing top 10s, including a fourth-place finish in his last attempt where he led for seven laps. Menard is the only rookie that has made one NEXTEL Cup start on a 2-mile track, finishing 20th on California's sister track, Michigan International Speedway last August. David Ragan, who was the highest finishing rookie in the Daytona 500, competed in one Busch race at California, finishing 41st in last year's September Busch race driving the No. 50 for Roush Fenway Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya has yet to start a NEXTEL Cup or Busch race on a 2-mile speedway among his seven combined starts. AJ Allmendinger is still seeking his first Cup start with the new Red Bull Racing team.

    Qualifying Tidbits
    Kurt Busch swept both poles at California Speedway and posted a speed of 187.086 mph in qualifying for this event. The pole was the third for Dodge at the track. Busch's brother, Kyle, set the qualifying record at 188.435 mph driving a Chevrolet in this event in 2005. Ford's last pole at California came in the second race in 2005 with Carl Edwards. Seven of the 13 races have been won from outside the top 10 and no one has yet to win from the pole.

    California Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2006 season)
  • Greg Biffle is the fastest driver early in a run during the first 25 percent of a green flag run since a pit stop. Biffle's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of 1.2538 leads all active drivers. Kyle Busch (1.0815), Jimmie Johnson (1.0471), Matt Kenseth (1.0229) and Carl Edwards (.9705) round out the top five.
  • Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin, respectively, hold average running positions of 7.5 and 8.2. They are closely followed by Jimmie Johnson (8.7), Carl Edwards (9.0) and Denny Hamlin (9.5).
  • Mark Martin is the fastest driver late in a run since a pit stop. Johnson's relative speed percentage (average of how much faster or slower a driver raced versus the average speed of all drivers) of .8175 leads all active drivers. Matt Kenseth (.7197), Reed Sorenson (.7129), Kasey Kahne (.6989) and Tony Stewart (.6484) round out the top five.
  • Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, respectively, have completed 230 and 207 quality passes (Passing a car running in the top 15 while under a green flag).
  • Matt Kenseth has the best average Driver Rating at 110.1.

    Dale Jr. Reality Cup Tiebreakers

    Last Five Number of Lead Changes

    Average: 25.8

    Last Five Number of Cautions Laps

    Average: 37.8

    More Driver Notes

    1. Kevin Harvick (Points: 190): Harvick looks to carry his momentum from Daytona to California Speedway where he is in search of his first top five. In five out of nine races at the 2-mile speedway, Harvick has failed to finish inside the top 25. His best performance (sixth), and second top 10, came in the 2005 February race.

    2. Mark Martin (Points Behind Leader: -15): Martin dominated the 1998 race leading 165 laps en route to his only victory at California Speedway. In this event last year, Martin finished ninth for his series tying sixth top-10 finish in 13 races. He is currently the leader in races led, with 10, and is second to Jeff Gordon in laps led with 271. This weekend will be Martin's first Cup start in a Chevrolet at California.

    3. Jeff Burton (Points Behind Leader: -25): Last year in this event, Burton broke a streak of finishing 15th or worse in the seven races prior at California Speedway when he finished fifth. Burton's other top-10 finishes came with Roush Racing from 1998-2000. His career best was a runner-up finish in 1999. Last September, Burton finished 16th in his fifth race with Richard Childress racing at the track, giving him a finishing average of 18.0 in that span.

    6. David Gilliland (Points Behind Leader: -43): Gilliland started 20th and finished 32nd in his only start at California Speedway.

    7. Joe Nemechek (Points Behind Leader: -52): Nemechek appeared to be headed to his first top-10 finish at California Speedway in the 2005 February event after he led the most laps (63) before losing the engine on lap 130. His 39th-place finish was his second DNF and 10th finish of 20th or worse at California. Nemechek, who won the inaugural pole at California, finished 10th in the 2005 September race - his only top 10 at the track.

    8. Jeff Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -56): Gordon is the only driver that has scored multiple victories at California Speedway. His three victories, six top fives, and 455 laps led currently leads all drivers. His finishing average (11.8) is the best among all drivers that have raced in every event since 1997.

    9. David Stremme (Points Behind Leader: -60): Stremme is still searching for his first top-30 finish at California Speedway. This weekend will mark his third career Cup start at the track.

    10. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind Leader: -63): Yeley has two top-10 starts and one top-10 finish at California Speedway in four starts.

    11. Elliott Sadler (Points Behind Leader: -65): This weekend will mark Sadler's second California Speedway start with Evernham Motorsports. Last September he led eight laps and finished 13th. Sadler posted his first top-20 finish at California in seven races when he drove the Robert Yates Racing Ford to victory in the 2004 Labor Day event. He followed the win up with his second top-10 finish (8th) in the 2005 February event. His average finish (21.2) is the worst among all drivers that have at least one victory at the speedway.

    12. Reed Sorenson (Points Behind Leader: -66): Sorenson has a pair of 21st-place finishes at California Speedway. He did lead for the first time at the track last September for eight laps.

    14. Robby Gordon (Points Behind Leader: -72): Last February, Gordon captured his best finish (26th) in his four starts at California Speedway with his No. 7 Team. In his last attempt at California, he finished 43rd after transmission problems knocked him out of contention on lap 193.

    15. Johnny Sauter (Points Behind Leader: -75): Sauter's only Cup start at California Speedway came in 2004 when he finished 21st with Richard Childress Racing.

    16. Sterling Marlin (Points Behind Leader: -78): Marlin has made two starts with his current team Ginn Racing at California Speedway posting an average finish of 30.5. His best finish at the track came in 2002 with Chip Ganassi Racing when he came home seventh. His overall average finish in 13 starts is 20.9.

    17. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind Leader: -81): California Speedway is the site of Bowyer's career-best Cup finish. Last September, Bowyer started third and finished third in his second start at the track.

    19. Casey Mears (Points Behind Leader: -87): Mears returns to his home state for his eighth Cup start at California Speedway. Mears has posted two top-10 finishes on the 2-mile speedway, with all his other finishes being 14th or worse. His best finish at Fontana came last February when he finished seventh. Mears does have some other unique experience at the track, having raced there in four different series; CART, Indy Lights, Busch and Cup. This weekend will mark Mears' first track start with Hendrick Motorsports.

    20. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind Leader: -90): Labonte has raced in 13 races at California Speedway and has captured two runner-up finishes (2000, 2003) and a total of four top fives. Labonte, who has one pole at Fontana (2001), finished 31st and 26th, respectively, in his first track starts with Petty Enterprises.

    21. Dale Jarrett (Points Behind Leader: -93): Jarrett has captured six top-10 finishes at California Speedway, with his best (fifth) coming in 1999. Jarrett's 17.2 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. This weekend Jarrett will make his first track start driving a Toyota.

    22. Kasey Kahne (Points Behind Leader: -94): Last September, Kahne scored his first win at California Speedway after leading 130 laps from the ninth starting position. The win marked his third consecutive finish of sixth or better. Kahne's DNF in this event in 2005 marked his only finish outside the top 15 in six starts. In his first two starts, Kahne led a combined 116 laps, won a pole and posted a finishing average of 7.5.

    23. Kyle Busch (Points Behind Leader: -94): Busch made NASCAR history at California Speedway in 2005 as he became the series' youngest pole and race winner. He won the pole in the 2005 February event after setting a track record of 188.245 mph. In September 2005, 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. He finished 10th and eighth, respectively, last season at California. Busch will be back in the same car (chassis No. 394) that finished seventh at Kansas last season.

    24. Carl Edwards (Points Behind Leader: -96): Edwards will be shooting for his sixth consecutive top-10 finish at California Speedway in as many starts. Edwards' third-place finish in this event last year is his career best and fourth top five at the track. His 4.4 finishing average leads all drivers.

    25. Greg Biffle (Points Behind Leader: -102): Biffle, who swept both Busch races in 2004 at California Speedway, won his first NEXTEL Cup race at the track in the February event in 2005. 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. He followed the win up with a another top-five, a runner-up finish after leading 16 laps. In this event last year, Biffle looked to be the man to beat again. Coming off a win in the Busch race on Saturday, Biffle dominated the Cup race, leading 168 laps before a part failure took him out of the race.

    26. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind Leader: -103): Kenseth is the defending Auto Club 500 race winner. Along with the victory, Kenseth scored a seventh-place finish in the September race, marking his sixth top 10 in 10 starts at California Speedway. He has led in seven races for a total of 246 laps, which ranks fifth among all drivers. Kenseth, who also has won three Busch races at Fontana, will still be without his primary crew chief Robbie Reiser as he is on race two of his four-race suspension.

    27. Ricky Rudd (Points Behind Leader: -105): Rudd will be making his first start with Robert Yates Racing at California Speedway since 2002. Rudd enjoyed success with the team in three starts posting an average finish of 4.3. Rudd finished inside the top 10 on two other occasions, most recently in 2005 with the Wood Brothers.

    28. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -109): Last year Truex Jr. competed in his first two NEXTEL Cup Series races at California Speedway where he finished 15th and 18th, respectively.

    29. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind Leader: -111): Hamlin finished 12th and sixth, respectively, in his first two starts at California Speedway in 2006. In the second race he led for the first time for 29 laps.

    30. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind Leader: -120): McMurray has two finishes outside the top eight in seven starts at California Speedway, most recently in September when he came home 20th - his worst finish at the track. In this event last year, McMurray finished sixth in his first track start with Roush Racing. The only time McMurray led a lap at the 2-mile track came in his first start, in 2003, when he led for 41 laps.

    31. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind Leader: -123): After five consecutive races, Earnhardt Jr. was finally able to break back into the top 10 category at California Speedway when he scored a career-best start (sixth) and finish (second) in the September race in 2006. Junior's other top-five finish (third) came in 2001 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. Earnhardt's only other top-10 came in 2003 after he brought the Budweiser Chevrolet home sixth.

    34. Ken Schrader (Points Behind Leader: -132): 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.

    36. Ryan Newman (Points Behind Leader: -136): Newman will make his ninth California Speedway start and his 190th career NEXTEL Cup Series start this Sunday. In his previous starts at the speedway, Newman has posted three top-10 finishes - his last coming in this event in 2005. 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 2005 September race. Last year Newman finished 20th and 33rd, respectively.

    37. Kurt Busch (Points Behind Leader: -140): Busch has one victory (2003) and one runner-up finish (2002) at California Speedway. His last top 10 came in the 2005 February event when he finished third. Last year, Busch swept both poles at California and an average finish of 21.5 in his first two track starts with Penske Racing.

    38. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind Leader: -144): 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 three second-place finishes, one of which was captured in this event last season. Last September marked the fourth time Johnson did not lead a lap at California. Overall, Johnson has led a total of 104 laps, with the most (62) coming in the race that he won.

    40. Tony Stewart (Points Behind Leader: -151): In this event last year, Stewart suffered a flat tire but was still able to lead 28 laps and challenge for the win until he blew an engine on lap 214. The 43rd-place finish was his worst in 11 starts at the 2-mile speedway. Stewart, who finished ninth last September, saw his best finishes at the track come in 1999 and 2001 with a pair of fourth-place efforts. In the 2005 September race, Stewart scored his third top five - first in five races - with a fifth-place finish. 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.

    42. Scott Riggs (Points Behind Leader: -163): Riggs has yet to finish inside the top 15 in two starts at California Speedway with Evernham Motorsports. His best finish came in the 2005 September race when he placed seventh with MB2 Motorsports. Riggs, the 2002 California Busch winner, has never led a lap in Cup competition at the 2-mile speedway.

    43. Michael Waltrip (Points Behind Leader: -217): If Waltrip qualifies for Sunday's race it will mark his 14th start, and first in a Toyota, at California Speedway. Waltrip has yet to post a top 10 at the track since leaving DEI after the 2005 season.

    Brian Vickers: Vickers, the 2004 pole winner, captured his best finish - and only top 10 - at California Speedway in the 2005 September race. He led a combined 46 laps in his first three of five starts at the 2-mile speedway. This weekend Vickers will attempt to qualify for his first race with Team Red Bull.

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