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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Auto Club 500

2/22/2008 - NASCAR

A.J. Allmendinger

• Allmendinger has one start at Fontana, finishing 18th there last year and will have to qualify on time this year.

• Allmendinger has starts here in the Nationwide and Truck Series with finishes of 36th and 25th.

John Andretti

• Andretti must race his way into the race at Fontana based on his qualifying effort. His team was outside the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

• In 10 starts here, Andretti has one top-10 with an average finish of 25.2, two DNFs and an average finish of 24th in two Nationwide starts.

Greg Biffle

• In addition to Biffle's Cup win at California in 2005, he also has three Nationwide Series wins at the two-mile oval.

• His15th and 17th finishes at California last year makes Biffle one of my dark horse candidates for a top-10 run this weekend. He was relatively happy with his car after the recent Las Vegas-California test sessions, and this is one of his favorite tracks.

Dave Blaney

• Blaney has made 10 Cup Series starts at the two-mile speedway during his career, starting as high as 14th (2007) and finishing as high as 9th (2002). He has two top-15 finishes in Cup Series competition at the speedway.

• Blaney has three Nationwide starts at Fontana with a pole and one top-10.

• Look for Blaney to play things a little on the conservative side this week at Fontana. After his Daytona difficulties, Blaney is 36th in the owner points and needs to be 35th or better four races from now or he's back to qualifying for races on speed something he did a number of times last year and that really hurt the team's race performance.

Clint Bowyer

• In four Sprint Cup starts at California Speedway, Bowyer has one top-5 and two top-10 finishes, including a career-best third-place effort in September 2006 and finished 20th in the division's last stop at Fontana.

• Bowyer has a streak of 38 races in which he has completed.

• Questions remain about the RCR-DEI engines and whether or not they are down on horsepower. It makes Bowyer an "iffy" pick Sunday and I don't believe he's top-10 material.

Jeff Burton

• In 15 Cup starts at California Speedway, Burton has posted one pole, five top-5s and six top-10 finishes.

• Burton ranks eighth in NASCAR's Average Running Position category (13.8) and is currently the sport's fourth-best Quality Passer (303), a statistic that derives from the number of positions a driver improves while running in the top-15 during green-flag conditions. He is 10th in the Driver Rating category (92.8).

• Burton was fourth in both races last year in Fontana. He didn't test all that well here and I can't picture him running in the top-5 again this weekend. He'll have to fight really hard just to make the top-10.

Kurt Busch

• Busch has 11 starts with five top-10s, three top-5s, a win, three poles and an average finish of 11.3. Of active drivers with 10 or more starts here, Busch has the third-highest average finish.

• Busch has completed all but two of the possible laps here and has led 224.

• Kurt was 24th overall in the Fontana test. Not sure you can read too much into that because the Dodges were the big surprise at Daytona and their engine package likes this track length. Not to mention, the Dodges struggled last year but Kurt was top-10 in both races at California.

Kyle Busch

• In 11 total NASCAR starts here, Busch has only two finishes outside the top-10 and his first-ever Cup Series win was here. He sports an average finish of 11.1.

• I think this is one of the guys to beat this weekend. Second overall in the Fontana test and has led the most laps at Daytona. Kyle is going to "stir the pot" this weekend.

Patrick Carpentier

• The No. 10 Charter Dodge Charger went through tests at California Speedway this past January, which could be helpful in qualifying.

• After missing the Daytona 500 with a blown right front tire from the second Duel 150, they were out of contention and how he will have to qualify on time this week.

• He has three career Cup starts and has an average finish of 31.7.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

• In 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at California Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has three top-5 finishes and four top-10s, and his best finish is second in the fall race of 2006.

• Coming off a solid Speedweeks at Daytona, this is a defining race for Junior. This race and next week at Las Vegas will go a long ways towards showing how competitive he'll be this season. He'll be pushing hard to start the season with two top-10 runs. I think he gets it.

Carl Edwards

• Will make his eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at California Speedway this weekend in the Auto Club 500. In his previous Cup starts, Edwards boasts one pole, five top-five and six top-10 finishes. Edwards' best finish at Fontana is second place in September 2007.

• The No. 99 Dish Network team will be unloading chassis RK-540. This a brand new car that Edwards has posted some of the fastest lap times in earlier this month during Sprint Cup testing at Fontana. He ran the fifth fastest lap of the session.

• Carl Edwards, in my opinion, is one of the favorites to win this Sunday. When he left the recent California test session there was a consensus he had one of the best cars. Jack Roush has already won here with four other drivers; Kenseth, Biffle, Busch and Martin.

Bill Elliott

• Bill Elliott will have to make Sunday's race by the result of his qualifying speed, as his team finished outside the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

• Elliott has 12 starts here with two top-fives, four DNFs and an average finish of 25.9.

Dario Franchitti

• Franchitti is making his first-ever NASCAR start at Fontana. He has raced here in the IRL. Franchitti's only Cup Series start was last week's Daytona 500.

• He is guaranteed to make Sunday's field as his team finished in the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

David Gilliland

• Gilliland has an average starting position of 24.7, and an average finish of 27.3 at Fontana and has completed 745 of 750 career laps at Fontana (99.3 percent).

• The No. 38 FreeCreditReport.com team will be running chassis 509 this weekend for the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway. This is the same chassis the team has tested earlier in the year during the preseason testing sessions at California Speedway Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

Jeff Gordon

• A broken suspension part relegated Gordon to a 39th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 last Sunday.

• Along with three wins, Gordon has two poles and seven top-fives in 15 starts at the California track.

• Gordon was the runner-up last year in this race and is a lock for a top-10. Can he contend for the win? That's the big question.

Robby Gordon

• After a seventh-place finish at Daytona last week, Robby Gordon's team was docked 100 points for actions deemed detrimental to stock car racing (they mistakenly put the wrong nose on the car in their haste to switch their cars from Ford to Dodge just before Daytona) and his crew has been suspended for the next six Cup Series races.

• Gordon has 11 starts here with one top-10 and three DNFs with an average finish of 26.5.

• Robby is going to do something this weekend he doesn't do very well and that's be really, really careful. Instead of being eighth in the owner points and setting himself up well to be in the top 35 after the first five races and thus preserving to guarantee his starting spot, Robby is now 40th following the NASCAR penalty. He cannot afford another disaster and will have to be in the "play it safe mode."

Denny Hamlin

• Hamlin and his crew has used only one of the two test dates in Fontana earlier this year. At the beginning of the test, he laid down the lap that would be the fastest for the remaining of the test and is using that car this weekend.

• In four Fontana starts, Hamlin has one top-10 finish and has finished all the total possible laps here but one, with an average finish of 12th.

• Hamlin ran the fastest lap in the California test and I think he's top-10 or better material this week. Could be top-five potential with the Toyota horsepower under the hood. That will be a difference maker Sunday.

Kevin Harvick

• In 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at California Speedway, Harvick posts two top-10 finishes. Additionally, the 32-year-old driver completes 99 percent of all lap attempts and has led 31 laps.

• Harvick did not record a Did Not Finish (DNF) in 45 consecutive races. His last DNF recorded was at Dover in 2006. Additionally, he leads all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver in laps completed last season.

• Harvick could have won this race last year if not for getting a flat tire under the red with just a few laps to go. Prior to that he was easily reeling in leader Matt Kenseth. He admits this is one of his worst tracks and he'll have to scramble for a top-10 finish this week.

Sam Hornish Jr.

• Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger, had an impressive debut in the Daytona 500 last weekend. After starting in the 19th position, Hornish Jr. ran solidly in the top 10 for a majority of the race, finishing a respectable 15th.

• Hornish Jr. has one Nationwide Series start at California Speedway that came in February 2007. He qualified 16th, but was involved in an accident and finished 36th.

• Hornish has four IndyCar Series starts at California Speedway with an impressive record of two wins and four top-five finishes.

Dale Jarrett

• Dale Jarrett has competed in 14 of the 15 races that have taken place at California Speedway since the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series started racing at the two-mile track in 1997.

• Jarrett has six top-10 finishes at California and has failed to finish a race there only twice with his best finish fifth, in the spring of 1999.

Jimmie Johnson

• In 10 Cup Series starts at California Speedway, Johnson has completed all 2,505 laps of competition. Of the 24 drivers who've competed in 10 or more Cup races at California Speedway, Johnson is the only one to have completed every lap.

• Johnson owns two victories, six top-5 and six top-10 finishes at California Speedway. His average starting spot is 11.6 and average finish is 6.8. Johnson's average finish is the best among active drivers who have five or more starts at California Speedway.

• Johnson should contend for the win Sunday. He'll be pushing it hard to make a statement after last week's Daytona disaster. If I had to pick out five guys with a shot to win the Auto Club 500, Johnson would be one of them.

Kasey Kahne

• Kahne swept the weekend's events during the fall race at California Speedway in 2006, winning in the former NASCAR Busch Series on Saturday night then scoring the win in the Sprint Cup Series race the following night.

• Kahne has finished no worse than 13th at California Speedway during the 11 races in which he has finished including finishing in the top 10 during each of the four fall races that have taken place at California Speedway.

• Kahne has led at least one lap during five of the eight races in which he has competed.

• This is the race where we find out if Kahne, Gillette Evernham Motorsports and Dodge have caught up to the Chevys and Toyotas. Kahne was 10th here last fall in a car that wasn't as competitive as the one he'll drive Sunday. That should mean he has top-10 potential again, but you didn't have to factor in the Toyotas last fall and this time you do.

Matt Kenseth

• Kenseth, attempting to win the Auto Club 500 for a third-straight year, is the all-time leader in NASCAR wins at California Speedway, posting six wins total; four in the Nationwide Series and two in the Sprint Cup Series and he swept the February race weekend in 2007.

• In his career, Kenseth has led eight of his 12 Cup races at Fontana for a total of 379 laps, second most all time.

• Since entering the Cup Series in 2000, Kenseth's average finish at the two-mile tracks, (California and Michigan) is 10.2; tops among all drivers that have competed in all 29 Cup races at those tracks during that span.

• Kenseth had had a good California test and has to be considered one of the favorites Sunday. Even with an "average day," he'll finish no worse than 10th.

Travis Kvapil

• Kvapil has an average starting position of 35.7, an average finish of 30.3 at Fontana and has completed 746-of-754 career laps at Fontana (98.9 percent)

• Kvapil's best finish at Fontana is 24th which he has accomplished in the 2005 Auto Club 500.

Bobby Labonte

• Labonte has 15 starts here with five top-10s, four top-5s and an average finish of 17.4 with one DNF.

• He has two Nationwide Series starts here with a top-10 and two IROC starts with two top-fives.

• Labonte has had a solid 11th place run at Daytona, but there's no way he duplicates that this week. He was 44th overall at the test and was consistently near the bottom throughout the test of the speed charts.

Burney Lamar

• Lamar is attempting his first-ever Cup race at Fontana this weekend and has to qualify on time. Despite having no starts in the Sprint Cup Series, Lamar has two Nationwide starts here with an average finish of 17.5.

Mark Martin

• Mark Martin and the No. 8 Team head to California Speedway for what will be Martin's milestone 700th Sprint Cup start. Martin, who will make his second start in the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevy after a strong Daytona Speedweeks performance and a fast car in the Daytona 500, before getting caught up in a late accident.

• Martin is the only driver in track history to have won at California in the Cup, Busch, Truck and IROC series.

• This will be Martin's 15th start at the two-mile oval of California Speedway. He ran to victory there in the track's second Cup race in 1998. He has four top-5 finishes and seven top-10s. Martin has finished inside the top-10 in three of his past four starts at California, including a fifth-place finish last spring. Martin did not run the fall race at California Speedway.

• Martin should have a pretty good day at California. His Las Vegas test was so-so, but the California test went really well. His car was consistent and ran the fastest lap by the time it was over. Martin was impressed with his car and he's not a guy easily impressed or usually willing to talk about how good his car is.

Jeremy Mayfield

• Mayfield has 13 starts here with four top-10s, three top-5s, and a win, with an average finish of 18.6 and three DNFs. Mayfield also has three Nationwide starts here with an average finish of 27.5.

• Mayfield is top-25 potential and that's about it.

Jamie McMurray

• Statistically speaking, California Speedway is Jamie McMurray's best track on the Sprint Cup circuit. In nine career Sprint Cup starts at the two-mile speedway, McMurray has five top-10 finishes, including three top-five finishes and an average finishing position of 12.8 at California Speedway.

• Like all of the Roush-Fenway guys, McMurray has had a pretty good California test. Still, he has struggled here last year with finishes of 37th and 16th, and I don't see him any better than potential top-15 material.

Casey Mears

• Casey Mears will make his 10th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at California Speedway on Sunday. In his nine previous starts at the track, he has earned two top-10 finishes. His most recent top-10 finish was in 2006. Last year, in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, Mears led a lap for the first time at Fontana.

• Prior to starting his NASCAR career, Casey Mears also competed at California Speedway four times in the Indy Lights Series, posting one top-5 finish in 2000.

• The No. 5 team with Kyle Busch won at California Speedway in September 2005. In the past six races at the Fontana venue, the No. 5 Chevy has recorded two top-5 finishes and five top-10s.

• This is one of my "sleeper" picks this week. He's the forgotten man at Hendrick Motorsports, but he's got a shot at running top-10 this Sunday.

Paul Menard

• Menards Racing heads to California Speedway on the heels of a solid, 22nd-place run in the Daytona 500.

• The team arrives in California with a brand new racecar, specifically built for Sunday's 250-lap event.

• Menard, who has finished 20th and 24th, respectively in 2007's races at California Speedway, returns for his third Sprint Cup start at the track.

• Menard has seven Nationwide starts here with two top-10s and a top-5.

Juan Pablo Montoya

• Montoya is making his third Cup Series start here. His average finish is 29.5.

• Montoya also has a Nationwide start here with a 39th-place finish.

• Montoya was 26th and 33rd at Fontana last year, I'm not sure what we can expect from JP this weekend. He'd probably take a top-25 and be happy, and a top-20 would have him feel like he is over the moon.

Joe Nemechek

• Nemechek has 15 total starts here with a top-10 finish and a pole position that he earned for the inaugural event here, but he has to qualify on time this year. His average finish is 25th with three DNFs and has led 92 laps here.

• Nemechek also has 10 Nationwide starts here with two top-10s.

Ryan Newman

• Newman 81-race Cup winless streak was snapped with his victory at Daytona International Speedway and he comes to California Speedway as the current Cup points leader.

• Newman has one pole and three top-10s at California Speedway in his Cup career. His best finish was a third-place effort in 2004. Newman also holds the track qualifying record at California with a lap of 187.432 mph in 2002.

• Okay, here's the deal; Ryan Newman proves he's for real Sunday. I think he's got a shot to go two for two to open the season and it's not just because he won at Daytona. First, he had an outstanding Fontana test. Newman was consistently quick and ran the second fastest overall speed. Plus, what we are seeing now is just a continuation of last year's final races when Newman and Penske racing found some speed. Confidence-wise, Newman is off the charts after winning the 50th running of the Daytona 500. I think it adds up to a top-5 run with a chance to win.

Kyle Petty

• Petty has 15 starts here with an average finish of 29.9 as well as a starting average of 29.9 with four DNFs.

• Like teammate Bobby Labonte, Petty really struggled in the test out here and he is really going to struggle Sunday.

David Ragan

• Ragan has competed in his first race at California in the spring last year and he has earned a 16th-place finish. Ragan also finished 12th in September's California event.

• Ragan has also competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at California Speedway three times with his best finish being 10th.

• With runs of 16th and 12th Ragan was the highest finishing rookie in both 2007 California races. This is another solid "sleeper" pick this week in my opinion because I can see him finishing in the 9-12 range.

David Reutimann

• In his first time at California, Reutimann has qualified fourth (he has finished 11th in 2003) for a Nationwide Series race when he drove for Joe Nemechek. He also won a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series pole (2006) driving for Darrell Waltrip Motorsports.

• I think Reutimann is another one of the guys off the "radar" that potentially can have a great run this weekend. He ran the 15th fastest lap in the preseason test and I can see him finishing around 15th.

Scott Riggs

• Riggs has seven starts here with a top-10 finish and an average finish of 25.4 with three DNFs. He also has three Nationwide starts here with one win.

• This team is still in the getting to know you period. Riggs really likes this size track, but I don't see a strong finish Sunday. He'd probably take a top-25 and be happy.

Elliott Sadler

• GEM Dodge Charger No. 208 was last raced September 2007 at Dover International Speedway where Sadler started 12th and finished 17th. The car also ran at both Bristol Motor Speedway races starting third, led five laps to finish 27th in the Spring race and he has started 21st and has finished 29th in the Fall. The car also has raced the first Richmond International Raceway event starting 40th and finishing 27th. The car was used at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California Speedway preseason tests this year, as well.

• Won the 2004 Pop Secret 400 starting 17th and leading 59 laps en route to his third career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Has one top-5 and two top-10 finishes. Has led 67 laps in 13 starts.

• Is Sadler as good this week as his top-10 finish at Daytona? I don't think so. Sadler rolls in here, in my opinion, no better than top-15 capable and wanting to prove me wrong. Like Kahne, this race will show us just where Sadler and his team stand against the competition.

Ken Schrader

• Schrader must make Sunday's race by qualifying, as his team was outside the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

• In 15 starts here, Schrader has an average finish of 26.9 with four DNFs.

Mike Skinner

• Skinner must make Sunday's race by qualifying, as his team was outside the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

• Skinner has made six Cup Series starts at the two-mile speedway during his career, starting from the pole position in 2000 and finishing as high as seventh that same year. He has scored two top-10 finishes in Cup Series competition at the speedway. In addition, Skinner has had a great deal of success in California behind the wheel of a Craftsman Truck. In five starts, the California native has scored one pole and one victory. Skinner has never qualified outside the top eight in Truck Series competition at the track. He has also competed in three NASCAR Nationwide Series events there.

Regan Smith

• With just seven Cup starts in his career, the 24-year-old driver is beginning to encounter tracks where he has few, if any, miles under his belt, including California Speedway

• Crew Chief Doug Richert's record in Fontana includes a 2005 victory with driver Greg Biffle. He also has two runner-up finishes (September 2005, February 2006) and two top-10 results (February 2007, September 2007).

• Smith has five Nationwide starts here with a top-10 finish and a start in the Truck Series with a 32nd-place finish.

Reed Sorenson

• Sorenson is coming off a fifth-place finish at Daytona and a strong two-week outing during Speedweeks.

• He has four starts here with an average finish of 26.5. And in six Nationwide starts, Sorenson has one top-5 with an average finish of 15.7.

• This is a guy that is a "good buy" this week. He was rock solid at Daytona and eighth fastest in the California test. Sorenson has nearly won a race here and most importantly he's in the last year of his contract with Chip Ganassi. In other words, he's driving hard to "audition" for a new deal with Ganassi or a potential new suitor. He's top-10 or better in my opinion.

Tony Stewart

• Tony Stewart will race Toyotas this year in the Sprint Cup Series. The Camrys have worked well so far with Stewart finishing second in the Budweiser Shootout and third in the Daytona 500.

• Stewart comes into California in one of the best point positions he's ever had this early in the season since joining the Cup ranks in 1999. His third-place result at Daytona slotted him third in points.

• Stewart has 13 starts here with six top-10s and three top-5s with an average finish of 16.7 and two DNFs. He has led 225 laps here.

• Tony is one of my top-5 picks to win this race. He usually runs decent here and he's never run this track with this kind of horsepower. He'll be bad to the bone Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr.

• Truex finished this race last year in 42nd because of a blown engine, but came back and finished sixth in the fall race. In four starts here, Truex has one top-10 with an average finish of 20.2. Truex has four Nationwide starts here with one top-10.

• Here's the big concern for me when it comes to Truex and it's the same concern I have with Martin, Burton, Bowyer, and Harvick. All are running the new RCR-DEI engine package and they appear to be down on horsepower to the other top teams. If that's true, and I believe it is, that is going to be a big problem at a track where the drivers are standing on the gas for such a long period of time. In the corners, they "burp" the throttle and then hammer it down again halfway between the turns.

Brian Vickers

• Brian Vickers must make Sunday's race here by qualifying, as his team was outside the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

• In eight starts here, Vickers has three top-10s, a top-5 and a pole position, with an average finish of 17.9. In three Nationwide races here, Vickers has one top-10 finish.

• I like Brian to run between 13th and 18th and for him that would be a pretty nice payoff.

Kenny Wallace

• Wallace must make Sunday's race by qualifying as his team was outside the top-35 in owners' points in 2007.

• Wallace has seven starts here with an average of 31.6 with one DNF.

• Wallace has nine Nationwide starts here with two top-10s.

Michael Waltrip

• Michael Waltrip will be attempting to start in his 15th race at California Speedway. His best start at the track is sixth (April 28, 2002) and best finish is seventh (April 27, 2003).

• During his career at the 2-mile oval, Waltrip has earned two top-10 finishes. His average start is 24th and average finish is 26th. Waltrip has completed 3,131 of 3,505 laps (89.3 percent) at the track and has led a total of 15 laps in competition.

• Trying to secure a spot in the top-35 after five races so he doesn't have to qualify for every race on speed, Waltrip will be in the super-safe mode. He'll take a top-20 and be happy.

J.J. Yeley

• Yeley has six starts here with one top-10 and an average finish of 24.8 and one DNF. In seven Nationwide starts here, Yeley has one top-10 and an average finish of 27.6.

Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.