Auto Club 400: Predictions for Top 5

Michael DesjardinsCorrespondent IIMarch 24, 2012

Auto Club 400: Predictions for Top 5

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    From the half-mile bullring to Bristol to the wide, two-mile Auto Club Speedway we go for this Sunday's race.

    Personally, like a lot of people, I'm not a huge fan of the track formerly known as California Speedway, but at least it's different from the one-and-a-half mile cookie-cutter tracks that we like to harp on, right? Plus, NASCAR only races here once a year, which makes this track and this race a bit more special.

    In addition, for several drivers, it's home sweet home at this track. Guys like Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were all born in California.

    Who will win this year's race? Here are the predictions for the top five.

5. Mark Martin

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    I don't know what's in that 55 car, but whatever it is, it's been working. Both Mark Martin and Brian Vickers have driven very well in this car so far this season.

    Martin is back in the car this time around, and I have him as a dark horse contender for this race.

    He's only won here once—back in 1998, when he was still with Roush Racing—but he has six top-fives, 10 top-10s and an average finish of 13.6 at this track.

    He didn't so well last year, finishing 20th, but his three previous finishes before that were fourth, sixth and fourth.

4. Jeff Gordon

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    It's been a while since Jeff Gordon won at California (his last one was in 2004), but he does have three wins at this track to his credit.

    He also has four runner-up finishes here as well.

    Add the fact that he needs a solid bounce-back performance after what happened at Bristol last week, and I think you'll see him finish solidly in this race.

3. Tony Stewart

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    Oddly, Stewart has been recording mediocre finishes so far this season. He does have a win at Las Vegas, but it's also his only top-10 this season.

    But I believe Stewart will turn things around and have a solid finish at California.

    He won here in 2010 and has finished in the top 15 in all but one race (second race in 2008) since 2007.

2. Kevin Harvick

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    Kevin Harvick has raced excellently at this track.

    He won last year's race, and he'll contend for a second straight in this race. In addition, his three previous finishes here were seventh, second and fourth.

    Also, while he is second in the standings, he hasn't finished in the top 10 since Phoenix, where he finished second. He's finished 11th in the last two races, and he needs to get a top-5 to truly solidify himself in the standings.

1. Jimmie Johnson

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    Nobody races better at Auto Club Speedway than Jimmie Johnson.

    He has five wins here, including one during his rookie season. The last time he won here was in the spring 2010 race.

    Here's more: He has 12 top-fives, 13 top-10s and an average finish of 5.1. Last time Johnson even finished outside the top 10 was in 2006.

    In addition, Chad Knaus will not be suspended for six races, and Johnson got back the 25 points that NASCAR took. That has to give them some positive momentum going into this race.