Driver Handicaps: California

    This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to California Speedway for the Sharp AQUOS 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
  • Roush Fenway Racing - Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle have combined to win three of the last five races. Carl Edwards also has finished sixth or better in five of the last six events.
  • Hendrick Motorsports - Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each have a win at California, with Gordon's three leading all drivers. Also Casey Mears will be driving the same car that won the Coca-Cola 600 and finished fourth at Michigan.
  • Clint Bowyer has a 7.7 average finish in three starts - his best among all tracks.
  • Tony Stewart is coming off two consecutive top 10 finishes.
  • Defending race winner Kasey Kahne has finished sixth or better in four of his last six starts.

    Keep an Eye on at California
  • Kurt Busch has dominated the last two non-COT races at Michigan and Pocono leading 66.3 percent of all the laps en route to victories in those events.
  • If the engine will stay running, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be back behind the wheel of the same car that was strong at Indianapolis.
  • Kevin Harvick will drive the same car that appeared to be on his way to a top five at California in February before a flat tire took him out contention.
  • Denny Hamlin has a 9.7 average finish in three starts at California.

    Track Performers
    Jeff Gordon leads all active full-time drivers with five wins, 28 top 10s, eight poles and 1,411 laps led on 2-mile speedways. Carl Edwards, who has made 13 starts, holds the best finishing average on 2-mile tracks at 7.8. Denny Hamlin is second in average at 9.9 and Matt Kenseth (10.4), Gordon (10.5) and Jimmie Johnson (11.7) round out the top five. Part-time driver Bill Elliott, who will make his 13th start of the season with the Woods Brothers, has seven wins and 32 top 10s on tracks 2 miles in length. In 2007, Tony Stewart has the best average finish in the three races contested at California and Michigan at 7.0.

    California Rookie Report
    Paul Menard has the most experience among the Raybestos Rookies at California Speedway. Menard has competed in seven Busch Series races with DEI at the 2-mile speedway capturing two top 10s, including a fourth-place finish last September. Menard's first NEXTEL Cup start at the track came in February where he finished 20th. David Ragan, who was the top rookie earlier this season at California in 16th, holds the best average finish (18.3) among the group on 2-mile tracks in 2007. Juan Pablo Montoya's first career Cup start on a 2-mile speedway was at California, where he finished 26th. A.J. Allmendinger was the only rookie that failed to qualify at California this year, but he does have one finish (31st) at Michigan. Also this weekend Aric Almirola will make his third career Cup start and first at California. Rookie Standings

    Qualifying Tidbits
    In February, Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet) became the second driver to win two poles at California Speedway following Kurt Busch's (Dodge) two poles in 2006. Busch's brother, Kyle, set the qualifying record at 188.425 mph driving in the 2005 February event. Ford's last pole at California came in this event in 2005 with Carl Edwards. Kasey Kahne, the 2004 February pole winner, holds the best starting average among all drivers at 7.7. Eight of the 14 races have been won from outside the top 10 and no one has yet to win from the pole. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of California Winners

    Race to The Chase
    Jeff Gordon leads all drivers that are currently seeded for "The Chase" with three wins, seven top fives and 457 laps led at California Speedway, while Jimmie Johnson leads all with a 7.4 average finish. Click Here to view a video to see how the eligible Chase drivers stack up at California.

    California Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2007)

    *Fastest Early in a Run
    *Fastest Late in a Run
    Avg. Running Position
    1. Jimmie Johnson
    1. Mark Martin
    1. Matt Kenseth - 6.7
    2. Matt Kenseth
    2. Tony Stewart
    2. Jimmie Johnson - 8.4
    3. Greg Biffle
    3. Matt Kenseth
    3. Mark Martin - 8.8
    4. Kyle Busch
    4. Reed Sorenson
    4. Tony Stewart - 10.4
    5. Carl Edwards
    5. Jeff Gordon
    5. Kyle Busch - 10.7
    Laps in Top 15
    *Quality Passes
    *Driver Rating
    1. Jimmie Johnson - 1140
    1. Jeff Gordon - 266
    1. Matt Kenseth - 116.4
    2. Matt Kenseth - 1120
    2. Jimmie Johnson - 257
    2. Jimmie Johnson - 106.5
    3. Mark Martin - 1050
    3. Kasey Kahne - 248
    3. Kyle Busch - 103.7
    4. Kyle Busch - 1016
    4. Kyle Busch - 134
    4. Mark Martin - 103.6
    5. Kurt Busch - 903
    5. Jeff Burton - 223
    5. Tony Stewart - 103.1

    *Fastest Early In a Run: Ranks each driver during the first 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
    *Fastest Late In a Run: Ranks each driver during last 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
    *Quality Passes: Passing a car running in the Top 15 while under a green flag.
    *Driver Rating : Formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race.

    Dale Jr. Reality Cup Tiebreakers

    Last Five Number of Lead Changes

    Average: 25.6

    Last Five Number of Cautions Laps

    Average: 35.0

    *RacingOne Staff Picks

    Jeff Wackerlin: Clint Bowyer
    Pete Pistone: Kasey Kahne
    Rachael West: Kevin Harvick

    *Note: Drivers can be selected only one time per season. Race points will be added up each week. This is the 22nd race of the season for this section of the handicaps. Standings

    Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings

    1. Jeff Gordon (Points: 3582): Gordon is one of two drivers that has scored multiple victories at California Speedway. His three victories, seven top fives, and 457 laps led currently leads all drivers. His finishing average (11.1) is the best among all drivers that have competed in every event since 1997. In February, Gordon tied Kurt Busch for most poles at the track with two.

    2. Tony Stewart (Points Behind: -349): Stewart has finished ninth and eighth, respectively, in his last two races at California Speedway. Stewart saw his worst finish (43rd) at California come in the 2006 February race after the No. 20 Chevrolet lost an engine on lap 214. Stewart 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. This weekend Stewart will be behind the wheel of the same car (chassis No. 120) that has posted a 6.7 average finish in three starts on 2-mile tracks.

    3. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind: -353): With three starts at California Speedway, Denny Hamlin has an average finish of 9.6, having scored 12th-place, sixth-place and 11th-place finishes, respectively. In this event last year, he led 29 laps after starting eighth. During the spring Cup race in February, Hamlin flew through the field early in the race to move from 17th to third before handling issues became an issue. The team's primary car for the weekend is chassis 121. This car has seen fifteen Cup starts for 10 top-10 finishes, five top-five finishes and both Pocono wins.

    4. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind: -419): Kenseth has won the last two races in February and has finished seventh in both Labor Day events at California Speedway. His 10.6 average finish leads all drivers that have made more than 10 starts at the track and his 379 laps led is only second to Jeff Gordon. Kenseth, who also has won four Busch races at Fontana, will be racing the same car (chassis No. Rk-317) that has posted four top fives in 2007, including the win at California.

    5. Carl Edwards (Points Behind: -422): In February, Edwards ended a streak of five consecutive top 10s at California Speedway after finishing 29th. The finish was his worst of the season in all races that he has been running at the finish. Edwards, who has finished fourth in the last two Labor Day races, will pilot the same car (chassis No. RK-320) in Sunday's race that last finished seventh at Atlanta in 2006.

    6. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind: -523): 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. Last September marked the fourth time Johnson did not lead a lap at California. Overall, Johnson has led a total of 135 laps, with the most (62) coming in the race that he won. On Sunday, Johnson will race the same car (chassis No. 363) that won at Las Vegas in March.

    7. Jeff Burton (Points Behind: -528): Burton has made six starts with Richard Childress Racing at California Speedway. Burton has yet to post a top-10 finish with the team in the Labor Day race. However, Burton is coming off his best finish, and second top 10 at the track with RCR, with a fourth-place run in February. Burton's other top-10 finishes came with Roush Racing from 1998-2000. His career best was a runner-up finish in 1999. This weekend Burton will return in the car (chassis No. 155) that he ran at California earlier this year. This is also the car that went to victory lane at Texas in April.

    8. Kyle Busch (Points Behind: -558): Early in his driving career, Kyle Busch had some trouble at California Speedway. He made his debut at the track in this event in 2004, finishing 24th after starting 18th. The following spring, he captured the pole position for the race, but only led three laps en route to a 23rd-place finish. But in the fall of 2005, the tide turned for Busch at California. In that event, he led 95 laps en route to his first career Cup victory. Since then, he has posted three more top-10 finishes and led another 20 laps.

    9. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind: -638): California Speedway is Bowyer's best track on the circuit based on finishing average. In three starts Bowyer has yet to finish worse than 14th. Last weekend at Bristol he finished third to equal his finish in this event at California from last year, which is his best NEXTEL Cup finish to date. This weekend Bowyer will pilot the same car (chassis No. 165) that finished 10th and eighth, respectively, at Pocono this season.

    10. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind: -694): California Speedway is one of three tracks on the circuit where Harvick has yet to post a top-five finish. In seven out of 10 races at the 2-mile speedway, Harvick has failed to finish inside the top 15. His best performance (sixth), and second top 10, came in the 2005 February race. Harvick will be back in the same car (Chassis No. 174) that appeared to be on the way to a top five at California in February before a flat tire took him out of contention. This car most recently raced at Michigan where it finished 15th.

    11. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind: -695): Martin Truex Jr. suffered a disappointing DNF, resulting in a 42nd-place finish, at California Speedway in the spring due to engine problems. In three previous starts at the track, Truex Jr. has yet to finish in the top 10 despite having started in the top 10 twice. His best start at the track came in his debut there, when he finished 15th after starting 23rd. In an effort to improve upon its California finishing average of 25.0, the No. 1 team is bringing its "workhorse" car, chassis No. 053 this weekend. The car has been raced at least seven times this season, with a best finish of second two races ago at Michigan.

    12. Kurt Busch (Points Behind: -703): In 10 Cup starts at California Speedway, Kurt Busch has captured one victory, three top fives and four top-10 finishes, including a seventh-place finish this spring, coming from the 18th-starting position. His win there came in April of 2003 with Roush Racing. Last year, Busch started on the pole for both of the California races and finished 27th in this event last year. Busch has led at least one lap in all but three of his Cup starts at California, for a total of 203 laps. As the No. 2 team tries to hold onto a spot in the Chase, it's debating about which car to bring to the track this weekend. Neither of its choices is disastrous, since they have to choose between either the car driven to Busch's recent Michigan win or the car driven to his August Pocono victory.

    13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind: -861): 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. In February he recorded his worst finish at the track after the engine in the Budweiser Chevrolet let go on lap 74. This weekend he will look to rebound driving the same car (chassis No. 042) that was strong at Indianapolis, leading 33 laps, before the engine also expired.

    14. Ryan Newman (Points Behind: -878): Newman will make his 10th California Speedway start and his 213th 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 the 2005 February race. 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 finish, of 42nd, came in the 2003 race when a crash took him out of contention. Newman will be driving the same car (Chassis PRS-108) in the Sharp AQUOS 500 that finished 16th last week at Michigan.

    15. Greg Biffle (Points Behind: -1020): 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 another top-five, a runner-up finish after leading 16 laps. In the 2006 February race, 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. In the last two races, Biffle has finished 24th and 15th, respectively. This weekend he will be back in the same car (chassis RK-314) that finished 23rd in July at Pocono.

    16. Casey Mears (Points Behind: -1124): Mears has made eight starts at California Speedway and has finished in the top 10 twice with Chip Ganassi Racing. In February, he finished 31st in his first track start with Hendrick Motorsports. Mears also has competed in the CART and Busch Series at the two-mile track. His best finishes in a stock car there came in the Busch Series where he took the runner-up spot twice. This weekend Mears will be piloting his favorite car - chassis No. 357. This is the same car that won the Coca-Cola 600 and finished fourth at Michigan in June.

    17. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind: -1176): Labonte is looking to continue his success of recent finishes of ninth and eighth on the season by capturing his first top 10 at California Speedway with Petty Enterprises. All of Labonte's five top 10s at California came with Joe Gibbs Racing. He also won the pole for the 2001 race.

    18. Juan Pablo Montoya (Points Behind: -1207): Juan Pablo Montoya will be making his second start at California Speedway in a NASCAR stock car. The Cup rookie started ninth there in the spring but finished 26th after falling a lap down due to an untimely caution. Montoya clinched the 1999 CART championship with Chip Ganassi Racing with a fourth-place finish at California Speedway. In addition, he made another start there in the 2000 CART Series finale. The No. 42 team is running the Wrigley's Big Red paint scheme for the last time this season on chassis No. 707. This is the fifth time the team is racing this car. Montoya raced it to a second-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    19. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind: -1211): McMurray's worst finishes at California Speedway have come in the last two respective events in 20th and 37th. His best finish with Roush Fenway Racing came in his first track start with the team in 2006 when he scored his fifth overall top 10 with a sixth-place finish. His previous five starts came with Chip Ganassi Racing where he posted an average finish of 7.2. The only time McMurray has led at California came in his first start in 2003 when he held the No. 42 Dodge out front for 41 laps. This weekend he will climb into the same car (chassis No. RK-393) that finished 33rd at Indianapolis.

    20. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind: -1286): Yeley has put together three consecutive solid finishes at California Speedway that includes an eighth-place finish in the 2006 February race. Last year in this event, Yeley finished 19th because he was forced to pit in the closing laps for fuel. This weekend, chassis No. 124 will hit the track, with Yeley behind the wheel, in its fifth points paying race. This car saw its best finish come at Atlanta last fall in 16th.

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