NASCAR this weekend is "California Dreamin," as they head to the Auto Club Speedway for the second time this season.
It will also be the last time this track hosts two events in the Sprint Cup schedule; as has already been noted this year, California is reduced to one race, which will be held in May, and its second race has been given to the Chicagoland Speedway.
Why exactly? Well, that is a debate made for another day, but this weekend it's all about the racing.
Last week at Kansas, it was Greg Biffle stunning the field and putting his No. 16 Ford in victory lane for the second time this season. It was only the second win for Ford all year, but came at a very good time for the brand.
Also, it would be the first time Jack Roush would join his team driver in victory lane, seeing as in July he was recovering from his plane crash.
This track is certainly a Roush favorite; like its sister track in Michigan, it's fast, sweeping, and takes a lot of horsepower.
At the same time, the last few years, the team having dialed in the horsepower and driving of this place has been Hendrick Motorsports, specifically Jimmie Johnson.
He has won the last three fall races at California and won here in the spring; this makes him the only driver who has a chance to win three straight at the Auto Club Speedway.
Odds are in his favor and once again, he's going to promote his self-named foundation. If that is any indication, he may have victory in sight once again.
However, several other teams are hoping to put their mark on the Chase and possibly knock Johnson off his perch atop the standings; last week, with the help of some great runs, our Creature standings have closed up immensely, just like the Chase itself.
Could we see the points tighten even more, or does one writer have their pick right on the money?
After 400 miles, we shall see. Here are who our Creatures picked to win Sunday's Pepsi Max 400.
Misan Ayuka: Kevin Harvick
Harvick has a good record at Auto Club Speedway. Two top-fives, six top-10s, and 38 laps led.
But Harvick in February was by far the best car, only to hit the wall late in the race while trying to pass Jimmie Johnson.
Happy won at Michigan so a win at auto club is in the cards and would make him "Happy Harvick."
Kyle Brandt: Jimmie Johnson
I've decided to pull the trigger and pick four-time champion to win at California. Jimmie has an average finish of 2.98 at California since the introduction of the COT, as well as three wins and five top-five finishes.
The man has a stranglehold at the place and I'm buying in to the hype this weekend.
James Broomhead: Kasey Kahne
Fontana is one of those horsepower tracks, and anything with a blue oval on the front of it is normally packing plenty.
Kahne's had a quiet year by the standards he should be living up to, missing out on the chase; but on a track where long green flag runs are more probable than possible, the freedom of not racing for the title might give him an extra help—or so I hope.
Billy Fellin: Tony Stewart
Yeah, Johnson might be the odds-on favorite, but I think the No. 14 could surprise some people this Sunday. Gimme Smoke.
Christopher Leone: Kyle Busch
Busch isn’t the best active driver at California, with an average finish of 10.8, but eight top-10s in 12 starts and a victory show that he can get the job done.
After battles with David Reutimann sabotaged his Kansas finish by knocking the car out of whack, he’ll have no choice but to do just that.
Kara Martin: Denny Hamlin
Sorry no commentary, I am running out the door for work. I have worked way too much overtime this week.
Dustin Parks: Jimmie Johnson
I literally cringed while I was making this pick simply because I wanted to save it for another few weeks; but I simply couldn't, because when it comes to this race in particular, there is no one better than Johnson.
Johnson has simply been flawless at this track. He got his first win here in 2002, won the spring race this season, and has won the last three fall races.
Ten top-fives, 11 top-10s, and an average finish of 5.5. He's the man to beat at this place.
If any other driver wants to win, they have to beat the No. 48. Simple as that.
Rob Tiongson: Jimmie Johnson
Grabbing the points lead last Sunday, with his runner up finish at Kansas, this looks like the makings of another Jimmie Johnson title infused with a stretch of wins or at least top-five finishes.
With five wins at Auto Club, which leads all drivers, look for victory no? Six this Sunday, can't go wrong with him—unless of course I pick him and jinx him with this pick!
Alan Wade: Carl Edwards
He's closing in on a win. Out of 12 races at Fontana, only two times was he out of the top ten.
STANDINGS FOLLOWING KANSAS:
Christopher Leone (5,565) Greg Biffle: WON (5)
Dustin Parks (5,560) Tony Stewart: finished fourth (5)
Rob Tiongson (5,535) Tony Stewart: finished fourth (2)
Alan Wade (5,520) Jeff Gordon: finished fifth (2)
James Broomhead (5,486) Tony Stewart: finished fourth (4)
Misan Ayuka (5,410) A.J. Allmendinger: finished 10th (2)
Kara Martin (5,384) Jeff Gordon: finished fifth (3)
Kyle Brandt (5,382) Jeff Gordon: finished fifth (2)
Billy Fellin (5,296) Jeff Gordon: finished fifth (3)
After viewing the picks, the writers all have different opinions as to who may be the favorite. There is no clear winner in who will win on Sunday.
But with the idea of fuel mileage and track position in the back of everyone's mind, anything can happen.
So, I suggest everyone get ready for what could be one interesting race. Prop your feet up, grab your favorite snack and beverage, and be prepared to watch the Pepsi Max 400 with a lot of intensity.
Coverage will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET with NASCAR Countdown, followed by the race at 3 p.m. with Marty Reid, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett making the call. All television coverage is on ESPN.
Summary of Picks:
Jimmie Johnson: 3
Kyle Busch: 1
Carl Edwards: 1
Denny Hamlin: 1
Kevin Harvick: 1
Kasey Kahne: 1
Tony Stewart: 1
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