Dustin Off The Next Race: Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway

Dustin ParksAnalyst IFebruary 19, 2010

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, leads teammate Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Pepsi Chevrolet, on a restart during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 11, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Now that all the hype, excitement, and happiness of Speedweeks in Daytona has settled, the time has come to regroup and get going with the rest of the season. Up next, the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.

No restrictor plates will be on the cars this time, so it's going to be full throttle and driver control that will get the victory.

Normally known for fuel mileage, California's wide racing surface has provided a lot of great moments. But it seems to come down to the two top teams in the sport right now for the win—Hendrick Motorsports and Roush-Fenway Racing.

I don't expect much different this year, so let's dust off my picks for the 2010 Auto Club 500.



Matt Kenseth —You have to first look at the defending champion of this race, but for more reasons than the obvious.

Sure, he wants to defend his win, but Sunday it will be a full season since Kenseth has won a Sprint Cup race. Coming back to the track where his last win came is motivation for the entire No. 17 team to get back to victory lane.

But now there's a new man at the helm of the pit crew. Todd Parrott is taking over the crew chief duties from Drew Blickensderfer, who won with Kenseth at this race last year. Here's a man familiar with the Roush-Yates engine package, and someone who is definitely a proven leader.

I say watch for the Crown Royal Ford Fusion to be up front rather quickly come Sunday afternoon.

Jimmie Johnson —Why overlook the guy that seems to get to the front each race when the series comes here.

Johnson is very fond of this track, not just because it's his home track, but because this is where he got his first Sprint Cup victory way back in 2002. He is now the winner of the last three fall races at the track.

The surprising fact is that he has not won this race since that first win, something I find odd. That doesn't mean the No. 48 won't be up front most of the day, because usually, when it's time to get down to business, this team steps up.

After a disappointing end to Speedweeks, the Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevy will be on the rebound.

Greg Biffle —Simply put, this track owes him.

Twice in the last few years, Biffle has dominated at this track only to fall victim to bad luck. He's had engine failure right before a restart, then gotten caught in traffic and involved in accidents.

He's long overdue for a win, as he has not been to victory lane since Dover in 2008, 45 races ago.

Biffle is my pick for Sunday, so keep an eye on the No. 16 3M Ford.



Carl Edwards —It seems odd that I would put Edwards in this category, but I am because his success at Michigan has not proved to be as successful at California.

In 2008, Edwards won the marathon event after rain played havoc on the track, causing officials to postpone before halfway at 3 a.m. Eastern. But that has been his lone win at the track.

Still, this is a good place for Edwards to get back some of the magic he had in 2008 when he was in the championship hunt.

That duck could be doing a backflip come Sunday.

Jeff Gordon —Remember the guy who actually won the first race at this track? Oh yeah, it was the No. 24 and Jeff Gordon.

He is tied with the most wins at the track, three, with teammate Johnson. However, he has not seen victory lane at this track since 2004. He nearly put that drought to rest last fall when he finished runner-up in his sponsor's race, the Pepsi 500.

Gordon also needs to recover from the hard luck he had from last week. The entire DuPont team was set for a strong finish. But on the last lap he got caught up in a wreck, relegating him to a 26th-place finish.

It may only be the second race, but it is key for this team to come back and get into championship form early if there is any chance of dethroning Johnson.


It will be interesting to see who is California dreaming, or who will get turned away from the lead role. The Auto Club 500 will go green at 3 p.m. ET with coverage beginning on FOX startin at 2 p.m.