Dustin Off the Next Race: Pepsi 500 At California

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Dustin Off the Next Race:  Pepsi 500 At California
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Another trip out west is in order for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend. This time, what awaits the drivers is the Auto Club Speedway, the host of the Pepsi 500.

Built on the same design as Michigan, this track is wide, fast, and can produce some excellent side-by-side racing. Although the banking is not as high as Michigan, only 14 degrees, the drivers will race this track the same way.

This week's edition of "Dustin Off" will look at the drivers to watch for this weekend, along with the major story of the week coming from NASCAR.

Before getting into the picks for the race, the big news that was announced earlier this week was NASCAR is going with uniform start times for the Sprint Cup Series in 2010. All east coast races will start at 1 p.m, west coast will be 3 p.m. and all night races will start at 7:30 p.m. The lone exception is the Coca-Cola 600, which will be a 5:45 start.

This is a move that is long overdue for the series. There are now no questions of when a race starts and fans will be able to get out of the track earlier, which will help expenses for those at the track.

It is a great move on the part of NASCAR because again they have listened to the fans. That is key for the sport, because the fans have made the sport what it is.

And now onto this week's picks for Sunday's race.

 

FAVORITES

 

JEFF GORDON

He is not a favorite just because this is his sponsor's race. Gordon is a very hungry in this year's Chase for the Championship. To this point, Gordon has yet to lead a lap in the Chase.

Gordon's last win in a Chase race was 2007 at Charlotte. This team is hungry for a win in the Chase. Last week, they were so close to victory, but had to settle for second place.

California is a very good track for Gordon. Three wins, nine top fives and 14 top tens; it is hard to doubt that they will not be a contender.

The No. 24 Pepsi/DuPont Chevrolet is my pick for the race. Watch for this team to be really strong once the green flag drops.

 

JIMMIE JOHNSON

It is hard to bet against the two-time defending winner of this race. Johnson has put on a clinic at the Auto Club Speedway the last two years, but has also done well outside the track.

This is the weekend that Johnson does many fundraisers for his own foundation, and he honors them during the race. So far, having the fundraisers works like a good luck charm for the Lowe's team.

Let us not forget that Johnson got his first win at this track way back in 2002. The call by crew chief Chad Knaus for fuel only put the No. 48 out front, and got them the victory.

Johnson is right on the heels of getting the points lead, so this could be a make or break race for the team.

 

BRIAN VICKERS

Yes, that is not a typo. I really believe this is a car to watch out for. Vickers won at Michigan a few months ago. Similar race track, similar banking, and it is possible for a similar result.

This team really needs a good weekend. After the issues last week at Kansas, the Red Bull team is at the bottom of the Chase standings. It's unfortunate because this entire group ran so well to get into the Chase.

This could be the time to get some momentum. The No. 83 could surprise a lot of people.

 

SLEEPERS

 

KASEY KAHNE

It is not often that I put the No. 9 car in this category, but there is always an exception. Kahne is starting to get back in the swing of the Chase after a slow start at New Hampshire and Dover.

Kahne has won this particular race before, back in 2006, but it has consistently been a good track for this team.

There could be a toast at the end of the race. Watch out for the Budweiser Dodge.

 

CARL EDWARDS

Here's another guy who I rarely put in the sleeper category, but he's not one who will be sleeping for long. Edwards has dealt with his broken foot for nearly a month now, but has made steady progress.

This week he took the next step in healing and has stopped using the crutches to get around.

Although his foot has not healed completely, Edwards has downplayed it and has done well. Now he comes to a track where he won at last season.

With no wins in the Cup Series this year, Edwards and team are hungry to get to victory lane. The Aflac Fusion could make some noise come Sunday.

 

Sunday's Pepsi 500 will be on ABC. Coverage starts at 2:30 p.m.

 

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