As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the California coast, there are a few drivers who excel in the warm weather.
One driver to keep an eye on this weekend is California native Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, whose hometown of El Cajon, California is about 2 miles South of Auto Club Speedway, definitely has this track figured out. He has five wins and two pole positions here in Fontana; add that in with his strong start this season and he is definitely one you will want to bet on. He has an average finish of 5.4 and has completed every lap he has run. Although he hasn’t won a race here since 2010, he hasn’t finished outside of the top-10 since 2006. If his pattern holds up, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be strong this weekend.
Johnson’s Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon is another driver to watch this weekend. With three wins under his belt along with two pole positions, the No. 24 Chevrolet is used to being in the front in California. Gordon’s average finish in Fontana is just outside the Top-10: 11.8. Although he has finished outside the top-10 in three of the last six races at Auto Club Speedway, two of his top-10s were in the runner up position. Gordon hasn’t won in Fontana since 2004 and is itching to get back to victory lane in California.
Having already won this season despite moving to a new team, Matt Kenseth is definitely on a roll. Moving from the No.17 Roush Fenway Ford to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, it was uncertain how long it would take Kenseth to reach Victory Lane but no one saw it coming in the third race of the season. With his win in Las Vegas, Kenseth is off to a hot start. He has three wins in Fontana going into this weekend with his last win coming in 2009. Although he runs well in California, his qualifying efforts need a little work. His average qualifying place is outside the top-20 yet he seems to make his way to the front rather quickly. Look for Kenseth and his new team to run as well as they have been this season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in Victory Lane again.
As an organization, Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled since leaving Daytona, but co-owner Tony Stewart seems to have gotten some of his speed back and he will need that in Fontana. Stewart has two wins at Auto Club Speedway, 2010 and 2012. Being the most recent race winner in California could play into Stewart’s favor, especially since he has not finished outside the top-10 here since forming his own race team. Could this be the weekend the SHR turns things around and winds up in Victory Lane?
The last driver to really keep an eye on this weekend is Kevin Harvick. He has one win at Auto Club Speedway and has finished in the top-10 in all of the last five races here. In 2011, he proved that he doesn’t need to start from the front to win when he charged through the field from his 24th starting position. He seems to have a handle on the new Gen-6 cars and shouldn’t be overlooked this weekend.
This is the only time the Sprint Cup Series hits the track at Auto Club Speedway during the season and if tradition continues, it should be a great race to watch. So take a break on Sunday and watch 43 great drivers battle it out for the win and see if one of the favorites comes out on top.