By Bill Marx
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
(February 19, 2009)
Here’s a look at the top five in points and five drivers to watch in
Sunday’s Auto Club 500. All statistical references are for Sprint Cup
races at Fontana unless otherwise indicated. Driver rating is based on
the past eight races at the track.
1. Matt Kenseth, 110.8 driver rating. In his past seven races at
Fontana, Kenseth has two wins, two fifths and three sevenths. Last year
he finished 35th in the 500 and didn’t enter the top 10 in the
standings until the 18th race of the season. He’s No. 1 now, and
considering his consistency and perennial early-season strength, the
bet here is he’ll be in the top 10 all the way into the Chase.
2. Kevin Harvick, 89.2. Harvick finished eighth and fourth last year,
his first top-10 finishes at Fontana since 2005. Harvick is from
Bakersfield, Calif., and a good showing at Fontana carries extra
meaning. He has four top 10s in 13 starts but has been a non-factor
overall, leading 32 laps, four in the past seven races.
3. AJ Allmendinger, 79.1. The only driver riding the post-Daytona wave
more than 500 winner Kenseth is Allmendinger. He has been on a roll
since losing his ride with Red Bull late last year. In his two starts
at Fontana he has respectable finishes of 18th and 14th. Another top-10
finish would be huge for Allmendinger as he tries to secure sponsorship
beyond the eight races he has commitments.
4. Clint Bowyer, 84.6. Steady Bowyer has three top 10s in six starts,
with no finish worse than 20th. Finishing fourth last week in his first
start in the No. 33 car with an all-new team was a big confidence boost
that should carry over to Fontana.
5. Elliott Sadler, 60.8. Sadler was a half lap from winning the 500 and
was disappointed with his fifth-place finish. He needs to get that out
of his head and have another strong run. Although one of his three Cup
wins has come at Fontana (2004), his overall record at the track is
poor. He followed up the win with an eighth-place finish, but in the
other 13 races, his average finish is 26.2.
5 to watch:
18. Carl Edwards, 105.3. Edwards excels at Auto Club Speedway: eight
finishes sixth or better in nine starts with one win and six top fives.
His only blemish is 29th in this race in 2007. His victory came last
29. Kasey Kahne, 99.2. Kahne was the only Richard Petty Motorsports
driver who failed to finish in the top 10 at Daytona. Kahne has
performed well at Fontana with seven top 10s in 10 starts, including a
win in 2006. He has led the sixth-most laps among active drivers, and
his driver rating is fifth best.
31. Jimmie Johnson, 119.1. You look at what Kenseth has accomplished at
Fontana and wonder why he isn’t No. 1 in driver rating. The answer:
Because Johnson is in the Cup series. Johnson won the pole for both
races in 2008 and finished second (to Edwards) and first. In the fall
race he led all but 22 of 250 laps. Johnson has three wins and four
second-place finishes among his eight top fives in 12 starts.
36. Ryan Newman, 77.3. Newman finished 36th last week and had troubles
throughout Speedweeks. Is it too early to start looking at drivers on
the bubble for top 35 in owner points? Not at all. Newman has one top
10 in his past seven starts at Fontana, and another bad outing will
really put Newman in a hole.
38. Kyle Busch, 107.6. Busch finished 23rd and 24th in his first two
races at Fontana. Since, it has been seven top 10s, including his first
career win in 2005. He consistently runs among the leaders and should
do so again Sunday.