News & Media


Driver Reports: Previewing the Auto Club race

March 20, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson the favorite; can JGR trio spoil his day?

1. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 163 points.
Past four races: 14th at Bristol, 1st at Las Vegas, 3rd at Phoenix, 3rd at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Keselowski's average finish is 22.8 and his average running position is 19.9 over the past nine years. In five career starts at Auto Club, his best finish is 18th in 2012.
Quick hit: Based off his Fontana track history -- four of five career Cup starts have resulted in finishes outside the top 20 -- one might think Keselowski is in danger of losing the points lead. Here's why that might not be the case: His lead is 10 points, and Team Penske is far ahead of the 2014 field when it comes to setups.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is second with 153 points.
Past four races: 24th at Bristol, 2nd at Las Vegas, 2nd at Phoenix, 1st at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 20.5 and his average running position is 19.7 over the past nine years. In 21 career starts at Auto Club, he has five top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Earnhardt Jr.'s history at Auto Club Speedway shows this to be one of his weaker tracks, but his showing there has improved dramatically since joining Hendrick Motorsports. Junior shares a shop with Jimmie Johnson, the California king, so he's likely to have gleaned something over the years -- his last two finishes here were third in 2012 and second last year.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is third in the standings with 152 points.
Past four races: 1st at Bristol, 5th at Las Vegas, 8th at Phoenix, 17th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Edwards' average finish is 8.6 and his average running position is 12.2 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Auto Club, he has one win, eight top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Edwards has improved his finish over the previous week in every race this year. That'll be impossible Sunday, considering he won at Bristol, but he has shot at tying his first-place effort from last week. He's finished sixth, fifth and fourth at Fontana in the past three years.

4. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon is fourth in the standings with 152 points.
Past four races: 7th at Bristol, 9th at Las Vegas, 5th at Phoenix, 4th at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Fontana, Gordon's average finish is 13.3 and his average running position is 10.4 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Auto Club, he has three wins, 10 top-fives, 11 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Nearly half of Gordon's career starts here have resulted in a top-10, but four of the last five finishes have been 11th or worse. Either the veteran has lost a bit of an edge at the 2-mile track, or he's due for a strong showing.

5. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is fifth in the standings with 143 points.
Past four races: 19th at Bristol, 6th at Las Vegas, 6th at Phoenix, 5th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Johnson's average finish is 5.1 and his average running position is 6.1 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Auto Club, he has five wins, 12 top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Like so many tracks, Johnson dwarfs all other drivers here when you look at the Loop Data. His stretch from 2007-2010 is incredible -- four wins, one runner-up finish and two third-place efforts in eight races. As it seems so often to be the case before teams unload, he's the favorite to win.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Standing: Logano is sixth in the standings with 141 points.
Past four races: 20th at Bristol, 4th at Las Vegas, 4th at Phoenix, 11th at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Fontana, Logano's average finish is 15.4 and his average running position is 18.4 over the past nine years. In seven career starts at Auto Club, he has two top-fives and two top-10s.
Quick hit: It's easy to remember the battle with Denny Hamlin, the last-lap wreck and the pit-road brouhaha with Tony Stewart from last year. Remember, though, that Logano had one of the best cars last year, was fighting for the win and still finished third. Expect more of the same Sunday.

7. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is seventh in the standings with 140 points.
Past four races: 6th at Bristol, 12th at Las Vegas, 19th at Phoenix, 2nd at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Fontana, Hamlin's average finish is 19.0 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past nine years. In 13 career starts at Auto Club, he has one top-five, four top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Hamlin has finished outside the top 10 in the past three races here, with one finish of 25th (crash) and one finish of 39th (engine). In those same three races, he qualified second in 2011 and was on the pole in both 2012 and 2013. The big takeaway -- if he stays in the race, he could record his first top-five at the track since 2008.

8. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is eighth in the standings with 138 points.
Past four races: 13th at Bristol, 10th at Las Vegas, 12th at Phoenix, 6th at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Kenseth's average finish is 9.1 and his average running position is 9.4 over the past nine years. In 21 career starts at Auto Club, he has three wins, eight top-fives and 14 top-10s.
Quick hit: Kenseth is one of only three drivers to have a number lower than 10.0 in both average finish and average running position at Auto Club Speedway since the inception of Loop Data. With his strength here complementing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing as a team might be the favorite to come away with the win.

9. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is ninth in the standings with 125 points.
Past four races: 16th at Bristol, 7th at Las Vegas, 7th at Phoenix, 22nd at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Newman's average finish is 17.5 and his average running position is 16.6 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Auto Club, he has four top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Although Las Vegas isn't a true comparison to Fontana, it's the closest one we can make after just four races. Richard Childress Racing had two of its three drivers finish in the top 10 in the desert, which bodes well for the 'Rocket Man' this week.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Stenhouse Jr. is 10th in the standings with 122 points.
Past four races: 2nd at Bristol, 27th at Las Vegas, 18th at Phoenix, 7th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Stenhouse Jr.'s average finish is 20.0 and his average running position is 19.2 over the past nine years. In one career start at Auto Club, he finished 20th in 2013.
Quick hit: Until Stenhouse Jr. slips up, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He's improved his showing at two marquee tracks -- Daytona and Bristol -- from last year, so expect him to improve on his 20th-place finish at Auto Club in 2013.

11. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Kahne is 11th in the standings with 120 points.
Past four races: 8th at Bristol, 8th at Las Vegas, 11th at Phoenix, 31st at Daytona.
Season stats: 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Fontana, Kahne's average finish is 15.5 and his average running position is 14.4 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Auto Club, he has one win, four top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Kahne is another driver who has improved -- or at least equaled -- his finish in every race this year. He'll need to finish eighth or better to continue that trend, which is something he's accomplished in six of 17 starts at Auto Club.

12. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 12th in the standings with 118 points.
Past four races: 12th at Bristol, 22nd at Las Vegas, 17th at Phoenix, 8th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Fontana, Biffle's average finish is 14.4 and his average running position is 12.8 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at Auto Club, he has one win, four top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Biffle has been beyond frustrated at times this season, yet he's still 12th in the standings, which says something about his ability to overcome and adapt. With consecutive top-five starts and sixth-place finishes at Fontana, this could be the week he breaks out.

13. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 13th in the standings with 117 points.
Past four races: 11th at Bristol, 16th at Las Vegas, 24th at Phoenix, 9th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon has never started a Sprint Cup Series race at Fontana.
Quick hit: Dillon's best performance this year came in 2.5-mile Daytona, but Auto Club -- despite being 2 miles -- isn't a true comparison. The D-shaped oval in Fontana is low-banked, for one thing, and has old pavement. That means lots of bumps -- literally -- for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender.

14. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is 14th in the standings with 111 points.
Past four races: 29th at Bristol, 11th at Las Vegas, 9th at Phoenix, 19th at Daytona
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Fontana, Busch's average finish is 9.8 and his average running position is 9.1 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Auto Club, he has two wins, seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Last year, Busch became the first driver to win a Sprint Cup Series race at Fontana in a Toyota. This year, he could become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson (fall 2009, spring 2010) to go back-to-back at the track. Johnson is the only driver to accomplish that feat in 24 Cup races.

15. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Standing: Ambrose is 15th in the standings with 108 points.
Past four races: 5th at Bristol, 24th at Las Vegas, 21st at Phoenix, 18th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Fontana, Ambrose's average finish is 28.8 and his average running position is 26.1 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Auto Club, his best finish is 21st in 2012.
Quick hit: Fontana is one of five tracks on the tour in which Ambrose has not recorded a top 10. Among those five circuits, Auto Club is the only place in which the driver hasn't recorded a top-20.

16. Jamie McMurray (No. 1)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: McMurray is 16th in the standings with 100 points.
Past four races: 38th at Bristol, 15th at Las Vegas, 10th at Phoenix, 14th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 top-10.
Track history: At Fontana, McMurray's average finish is 19.8 and his average running position is 20.4 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Auto Club, he has three top-fives, five top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: McMurray's best stretches at Fontana came from 2003-2005, so it's been a while since he has consistently performed well there. The good news for the No. 1 team is that those showings came during his first iteration of driving for Chip Ganassi, his current team owner.

21. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 21st in the standings with 89 points.
Past four races: 39th at Bristol, 41st at Las Vegas, 1st at Phoenix, 13th at Daytona.
Season stats: 1 win, 1 top-five, 1 top-10.
Track history: At Fontana, Harvick's average finish is 12.1 and his average running position is 12.0 over the past nine years. In 20 career starts at Auto Club, he has one win, four top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Harvick is the first driver to truly bask in the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format. He's had one of the best cars for three consecutive weeks, yet issues have relegated him to consecutive finishes of 39th or worst. Because of his Phoenix win, though, he's currently in the postseason field. He and crew chief Rodney Childers have nothing to worry about at Auto Club.