Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway Preview

Mike JonesCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2009

Now that the Daytona 380 is complete, the NASCAR boys move on to the Auto Club speedway in Fontana, California.

The 2.0-mile track has been home to some less-than-exciting racing over the years, but somehow always produces drama at the end.

Unlike Daytona, California is keen to long, extended green-flag runs.

Green-flag pit stops are usually key, but fuel mileage is the most important factor when it comes to California.

Several drivers have won and lost at Fontana in the past on risky fuel strategies, and we certainly could see this again.

Besides fuel, tires could very well be another X-factor in this race. Several sets of tires failed at Daytona for Speedweeks, which suggests that the tire problems from last year have yet to be resolved or worked out.

The ability to turn the car midcorner is important at Fontana. Crew Cheifs may be resorting to aggressive setups to make the drivers happy, and as a result it's likely we could see some more tire failures.

Going into California, several teams and drivers are looking to rebound. The driver most happy to leave Daytona is Ryan Newman and his #39 Stewart-Haas group. California could be good to Newman, as the Stewart-Haas operation looked quick out of the gate at Daytona.

If the Stewart-Haas cars are even half as good as the Hendrick cars (whom they have a partnership with) have for the last few years at superspeedways, then Stewart and Newman should be pretty happy come the end of Sunday. Look for Newman to finish in the top 15 on Sunday.

The most dangerous driver is without a doubt, Kyle Busch. Busch looked like his form at mid-summer last year when it seemed Busch couldn't loose a race. His #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota looks to be the team to possibly beat once again.

Assuming Toyota hasn't done too much to their engine package, Busch should run in the top five without a problem. Look for him to contend for the win early and often while leading a lot of laps.

A driver who was quiet this last week but has proved he can win at tracks like this is Carl Edwards in the No. 99 Aflac-sponsored Roush-Fenway Ford. Many have picked Edwards to take the title this year, and California might be a good location for him to kick it off at.

He's won at Michigan before which is very similar to California. He also knows how to drive a car when it's low on fuel mileage and bring it home.

But, the big pick of the week has got to be Jeff Gordon. This is almost his home race and without a doubt, he has to feel he lost out on a strong chance to win the Daytona 500 this past weekend.

Gordon has a certain swagger to him right now. His 42-race winless streak is starting to get to him, as you could see in several moves he made on Sunday at Daytona. Gordon has won at California several times before, on fuel mileage too.

He should be the favorite heading into this weekend; don't expect him to qualify in the top 10, but watch for him to be around at the front when the race is winding down.

This weekend will also be crucial for the Petty Motorsports operation. Was their strong Daytona showing a fluke, or is this team for real? AJ Allmendinger must qualify on time which will put an extra burden on him.

And, what about Jimmie Johnson? Was his poor Daytona 500 performance due to the new no testing policy, or is everyone else starting to step up their game? Johnson is a previous winner at California, so don't count him out of running near the front. Only time shall tell!