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Friday, October 29, 2010

Talladega AMP Energy 500 Race Preview...Beyond the Numbers
 Talladega Super Speedway; the 2.66 mile Tri-oval in Northern Alabama that since 1968 has been entertaining race fans. We love to watch the boys get down and dirt, bump and rub, race hard all the way from the Green Flag to the Checkers. And there is always the “Big One” to look for. The Speedway is located in the northern part of Alabama, just south of Interstate 20 and about 50 miles to the east of Birmingham. The AMP Energy 500 will take place on Halloween – Sunday October 31st and drivers are hoping for treats instead of treats as they circumnavigate the 'Dega track 188 times on their way to 500.08 miles. Who will be at the top of the Leader Board when the Checkers fly?

Tony Stewart lost a spot in the points after last week's race in Martinsville...and he wants it back. With four of his last five starts at 'Dega finding Tony outside of the top ten at the end of the race, he needs to set a goal of duplicating his win in the 2008 AMP Energy 500. Other than that win, Stewart has taken the Checkered flag in the top ten on 11 other occasions. Tony find the top ten by the end of the day in more than 50% of his Cup starts at Talladega and in 54% of his Superspeedway starts. Will Tony get tricks or treats this year in his goodie bag?

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 Jimmie Johnson comes to Alabama the Chase leader but with 41% of his starts at Talladega ending with top ten finishes Johnson is definitely not a shoe-in this weekend. One start for Johnson has resulted in a win and four more times he has posted top five finishes. In recent appearances at 'Dega Jimmie has only found the top ten by the end of the race two out of his last five starts. Johnson has also had two finishes in the 30's and one 13th place finish in the spring 2008 race in his last five starts here.

Five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. comes into this weekend with only two of his past five starts ending in a top ten finish. Dale's last top ten came in the Spring 2009 race in Alabama, his last two starts have given him 11th and 13th place finishes. He has flirted with the top ten in all but one of his last six Cup starts at this track. Earnhardt has never started from the pole position at this Superspeedway but coming off of a seventh place finish last week he should have quite a bit of confidence about this Halloween weekend.

Denny Hamlin currently resides in the second position for the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship just six points behind Jimmie Johnson. Denny is in the best position anyone has been in after six Chase races to take over the points lead. With no wins at 'Dega and three top tens in nine starts, Denny posts a 19.3 average finish here. Hamlin has fought hard to gain on the points leader, however so don't expect a less-than-desirable average at this track to stop Denny from coming out with guns blazing.

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 Kevin Harvick is working at the 62 point deficit that exists between himself and the Chase points leader. Kevin sits in third position in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship, won in the Spring Talladega race, and has eight top ten finishes in his 18 Cup starts at this track. With a 20.8 for an average finish in his last five Cup starts in Alabama Harvick needs to improve on all but the most recent of his appearances at 'Dega – his win in this year's Spring race - and go for the points this weekend. Maybe Kevin should dress as a race winner for Halloween this year...

Jamie McMurray won the AMP Energy 500 in 2009, finished in the runner-up spot in the 2010 Spring race; we have seen Jamie make things happen this year when he expects to do well. McMurray has 16 starts at the Talladega Superspeedway; six of those starts have given him top ten finishes at the end of his day. One-third of all of Jamie's starts at Superspeedways have resulted in top tens. After a pole start at the Auto Club Speedway, a win two weeks ago in Charlotte, a win in the AMP Energy 500 in 2009, and a second place finish at his last Cup start in Alabama McMurray is coming to town with some big plans for a Halloween party in Victory Lane.

Mark Martin brought home a second place finish in Martinsville last week; can he do it again in Alabama? Martin certainly has the edge on the rest of the field in regard to experience. Mark has 45 Cup starts at Talladega dating back to 1982. Over the course of these last 28 years Martin has posted just two wins but claims a top ten finish in more than half of his starts at this Superspeedway. One-third of Mark's 69 top ten finishes at Superspeedways have happened at Talladega.
 Kurt Busch is sitting in the ninth position in the Chase points standings. This could be Kurt's best chance for a big points weekend in the remainder of this season. Although this Busch brother has never won at 'Dega, he posts a 12.8 average finish and has found his way to the top ten in 13 of his 19 starts here. This Alabama track is by far his best Superspeedway – 42% of Kurt's Superspeedway top ten finishes have come at this track. Coming off a string of finishes outside of the top ten, Kurt has his eye on a strong run on Sunday at Hallow-Dega.

Clint Bowyer is out f the Chase but his season is far from over. After a dismal week at Martinsville found him in the 4th turn wall less than a third of the way through the race, he finished 38th due to a rear gear failure after his team got him back o the track post-accident. Clint comes to Talladega with the desire to gain points on 11th place Greg Biffle who is 90 points in front of Clint. Bowyer can claim three top ten finishes at 'Dega in his nine Cup Series starts and finished in the seventh position here in the Spring. Clint is going to be racing for his first Cup win at in Alabama Sunday in the AMP Energy 500.

Gaining two places in the Chase after Martinsville, but still 246 points behind Chase leader Johnson, Jeff Burton comes to Alabama this weekend with 13 top ten finishes to his credit at this track. Finishing in the top ten in three of his last five starts at 'Dega helps Jeff with the confidence aspect and the mental side of this weekend's Halloween special. Jeff typically performs just barely better at the Fall race in Talladega than in the Spring. His Fall race average finish is 18.06 whereas he posts a 18.64 for his Spring race average finish.

 My pick for the win in Sunday's AMP Energy 500 is Jamie McMurray with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounding out the top three. Also in the top ten we should expect to see Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch will be the cause of the “Big One” while racing against Jeff Gordon, taking Juan Pablo Montoya out of the race in the process. Watch for veteran driver Mark Martin to dominate early but fall off in the later stages of the race to the rear of the top ten.

The AMP Energy 500 practice on Friday will air at 2pm and 3:30pm on the SPEED Channel. Saturday brings us Live Practice, again on the SPEED Channel coming on-air at Noon. Raceday will be on the SPEED Channel from 10am until Noon. ESPN2 picks up coverage at Noon and will carry on until race coverage from Talladega starts on ESPN at 1pm. Don't miss this afternoon of Have-at-it-Boys racing on Halloween from the South.

Amy McHargue

Monday, October 25, 2010

Once in a Lifetime Opportunity...PLEASE HELP

A couple of weeks ago I submitted a video for the Hamburger Helper Most Passionate Fan contest. The contest is running in conjunction with the NASCAR's Most Popular Driver fan vote. Five finalists were chosen from all of the entries submitted; I made the top five!

From Monday October 25 through 11:59pm Monday November 8 there is a live fan vote being held at http://bit/ly/9ddRfp I am Video #1. Unfortunately, the administrators were concerned about whether my shirt could be considered offensive, so they blurred it. The video ending makes a lot more sense with the shirt viewable. On the upside...THAT'S WHY I HAVE A BLOG! I can post anything I want :) So here it is, t-shirt intact, bringing NASCAR fans and INDYCar fans together for 29.5 seconds.

If the "Milka" reference didn't make sense to you, check here:

Welcome to how I have single-handedly brought NASCAR and INDYCar together....okay, maybe not. But it IS funny! So, WHY am I enjoying the heck out of being silly for everyone on the Internet to see?

The Video (Video#1, that's me!!!) with the most votes at the end of the voting period (November 8th at 11:59pm) wins a three-night stay at the Wynn Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, baby. DURING NASCAR Champions Week! AND gets to help award the NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award!!! Registering at the site will take less than a minute for most people, and a daily vote will take all of 15 seconds. Probably will take long for the page to load on your computer screen than it will for you to actually vote! Hint: Choose the "Save Password" option and you shouldn't have to login again during the contest period. So what are you waiting for???? Please, go to http://bit/ly/9ddRfp and *Vote Video #1 for AMY*


Friday, October 22, 2010

NASCAR Martinsville Preview: Tums Fast Relief 500...Beyond the Numbers

Much like Talladega, it is tough to predict how any driver will perform at this week's Martinsville Speedway race. The track conditions can vary dramatically due to air and track temperatures, whether the sun is out or it is overcast, and even minor adjustments can cause big changes to a race car on the track. Martinsville Speedway is a .526 mile long, narrow oval located in Ridgeway, Virginia just south of Martinsville. Martinsville has the distinction of being the shortest track on the Cup circuit and is sometimes referred to as the Paperclip due to it's appearance from above. The Tums Fast Relief 500 takes place Sunday afternoon, and includes 500 laps to equal 263 miles before the checkers wave.
 Denny Hamlin has finished in the top ten in the last seven races at Martinsville. Hamlin has won three of the last four races at Martinsville and came in second to Kevin Harvick in the one he did not win. Denny posts an impressive 6.6 average finish at this week's track, and comes in with a healthy dose of confidence – as well he should, considering he has only finished outside of the top ten in one of his nine Cup race starts at Martinsville. Sitting just 41 points behind the Chase leader, Hamlin doesn't want to let this Sunday's opportunity pass him by.

Sitting just a bit farther back in Chase points, Kevin Harvick is 77 points off the lead in second place but has yet to post a win at Martinsville in a Cup Series event. Harvick's best finish in his 18 Cup Series starts has been seventh place on three occasions in 2003, 2006, and 2008. In recent appearances at this track, Kevin has two top ten finishes in his last five Cup starts. With an average finish of 18.2 Harvick needs to come off of the green flag strong and both he and the #33 Richard Childress Penzoil team must make no errors in the pits.

Jimmie Johnson is the only driver with a better average finish at Martinsville than Denny Hamlin; Jimmie posts a 5.4 average finishing spot. Sitting atop of the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship leader board, Johnson is coming into this weekend's Tums Fast Relief 500 with tons of confidence. This confidence will transfer to the track as the #48 Lowe's Team has been on a roll since the Chase started. Watch for the Hendrick Motor Sports Team of Johnson and Chad Knaus to be near – or at – the front by the end of Sunday's race.

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 Clint Bowyer may be effectively out of the Chase in 12th place but he is not ready to give up on his season. With more than 50% of Clint's finishes at Martinsville resulting in top ten finishes Bowyer can stand to be a bit optimistic toward this weekend. Clint has had some success at this track in the Nationwide Series – he holds the record for fastest qualifying for his efforts at the 2006 Nationwide race. Four of the last five starts in Cup Series Racing at Martinsville have ended in top ten finishes for the #33 RCR Team. Clint needs a strong finish to move up in points; he is 44 points back from his nearest competitor in the points.

Juan Pablo Montoya will be the first of non-Chase drivers to make a top ten finish out of Sunday's race. He post a 14.6 average finish at Martinsville and has two top ten finishes out of his seven Cup Series starts at this track. Juan is coming off an 11th place finish last week, and has just two finishes outside of the top fifteen in his last ten Cup starts. Montoya should finish strong in the Tums Fast Relief 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the second non-Chase driver I have finishing in the top ten this week. Dale has a 14.1 average finish at Martinsville Speedway, but can claim top ten finishes in just under half of his 21 Cup starts here...and he hasn't had a top ten in either of his two most recent Martinsville starts. Earnhardt needs a strong finish, as since his 4th place finish in New Hampshire five races back he hasn't found a way to finish within the top 15. This could be a good comeback week for Dale.

Carl Edwards has a good shot at a strong finish on Sunday; he claims a 17.5 average finish at Martinsville and although he has no wins to his credit at this track, has been good on Short-Track racing. Edwards posts top ten finishes in one-third of his Short-Track Cup Series Starts. Carl's best finish at Martinsville was in this race in 2009 when he took home a third place finish. Watch for Carl to drive agreesively to get himself back into the points race – at an even 200 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, for Carl this weekend is do-or-die when it comes to the Chase.

Rounding out my non-Chase three for the top ten is Jamie McMurray, a driver who has been underestimated for the most part of this 2010 season. Even with his wins at major events like the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, no one really expects much out of Jamie – except for Jamie himself. With nine top ten finishes in McMurray's 15 Cup Series starts at Martinsville Speedway Jamie comes into this week expecting to perform well. McMurray's win last week could give him the extra confidence and momentum his team needs to end the day with a top ten finish on Sunday.

Coming into Martinsville with a 12.6 average finish in Virginia is Tony Stewart. After loosing a spot in the Chase standings after a 21st place finish last week Stewart wants to take that spot back and then some. Stewart has shown he can navigate the Paperclip, with three wins, and 13 top ten finishes in his 23 Cup starts at Martinsville. When Tony wants something, the rest of the field better watch out, because Stewart is willing to take it, and Tony wants to get back withing a realistic reach of the leaders in the Chase to the Championship.
 Kyle Busch earns a spot in this week's top ten finishers after gaining four spots in Chase points standings due to last week's runner-up finish. Kyle has no wins at Martinsville in his 11 starts here, but can claim four top five finishes in his prior Cup appearances at this track. With a 17.8 average finish Kyle may not be a favorite to win, but I think he will bring a tough race and finish in the lower half of the top ten in Sunday's race.

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I pick Kevin Harvick for the win this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway with Jimmie Johnson in the runner-up position and Denny Hamlin in third. Finishing out the top ten will be Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth will continue to lose points on the Chase leaders, and a strong finish by Bowyer will move him into the 11th place in the standings, leaving Kenseth in 12th in the Chase.

Tune in on Friday afternoon for live practice coverage on SPEED, starting at 11:30 a.m. EST. Qualifying coverage starts on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. Saturday practice is live at 10 a.m. on Speed, whereas Saturday's second practice session will begin at 11:15 a.m. But will air on a significant delay, not coming on until 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2. NASCAR RaceDay begins Sunday morning at 10 a.m. At Noon, pre-race coverage picks up on ESPN2 with coverage of the Tums Fast Relief 500 from Martinsville Speedway switching over to ESPN at 1 p.m. Don't miss the sixth race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Win NASCAR tickets, TVs, Cash, and Condos...Get your Dream Ticket!!!

Small town America...where small and quaint locally-owned shops line the street, antique streetlights light the night, benches and trees dot the sidewalks, and where everyone has a smile for a visitor. So what happens when small towns start to struggle financially? Stores begin to close, families move out. I grew up in one of those small towns. Seeing it happen over the years makes me want to help take care of other small towns in the region. An organization in Johnson City Tennessee is stepping up to do just that – they are helping take care of a small town with The Dream Ticket.

Ron Campbell / Johnson City Press

The WIN Firm, in conjunction with charity Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City has put together a raffle to benefit the charity. Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, meaning that your raffle ticket purchase is a tax deductible charitable donation. The raffle has been designed to raise a quarter of a million dollars for Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City. A spokesperson for the charity says that the main goal is to promote the area, to get more people to visit the area in Southeastern Tennessee, and to give people more to do in the area through festivals and events.

The prize list is what makes this raffle amazing. Grand prize winners will receive a condo. Not for a weekend and not for a week - you will receive the title of ownership for a condo in Southeastern Tennessee. The condo in question will allow occupants to wake every morning to the sight one of the premier NASCAR and Drag Racing facilities. Did I mention that there may be TWO condos awarded? The prize list also includes FOUR 50” Plasma Screen TVs. I know I would enjoy watching a weekend of sports on that! What about cash? How about a prize of $2,500...or a trip to Las Vegas for a Spring NASCAR race including hotel stay, airfare, and transportation...season tickets to a certain NASCAR track nearby Johnson City...or single race tickets to a NASCAR race at that same track...the prize list even includes the Richard Petty Driving Experience and the Richard Petty Ride Along Experience passes. With a prize list this rich the $99 raffle ticket price is well worth the investment. And remember, all proceeds from this raffle go to the Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City charity.

Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City sponsor First Fridays and the Blue Plum Festival in downtown Johnson City. The Blue Plum Festival is a rapidly growing annual event that takes place in June of each year. The festival includes food and craft vendors, entertainment stages, a kids area, cornhole tournaments, and a 5k run/walk. In 2010, the 11th annual Blue Plum Festival brought more than 80,000 people to downtown Johnson City. Musicians from Jazz to Reggae, Southern Gospel to Southern Rock grace the stages at the Blue Plum Festival to viewers from near and far; one couple travels every year from New York City to attend. The festival isn't just for entertainment, the Johnson City Press reports that the 2010 Blue Plum Festival also gathered more than 1,000 pounds of recyclables.

With the economy in its current condition, donations are down for Friends of Olde Downtowne Johnson City. Donations are the lifeblood of any charity – without donations the charity cannot sponsor events. The Dream Ticket raffle is a way that you can support this charity and small town USA. For a $99 tax-deductible donation you receive one raffle ticket. At the most 10,000 tickets will be sold. Between four and eight prize packages will be given away. That makes your odds better than most of the slot machines at the casino. You only have until December 17th to purchase your Dream Ticket; if less than 10,000 are sold your odds are just that much better! Visit to learn more and to purchase your Dream Ticket now...what are you waiting for?? There may never again be raffle with such an impressive prize list and such great odds that allows a charity to continue improving an area rich with tradition! Get your Dream Ticket now!

Amy McHargue

Friday, October 15, 2010

NASCAR Bank of America 500 - Charlotte Preview...Beyond the Numbers

Charlotte Motor Speedway – the mile and a half Intermediate track that most people have strong feelings about. Love it or hate it, that's where our favorite NASCAR drivers are heading this weekend to fire up the engines in the fall. Charlotte Motor Speedway is considered a Quad-Oval track with 24 degree banking on the turns and 5 degree straightaways. CMS is located in Concord North Carolina, just northeast of Charlotte. Cup Series drivers will make 334 laps to reach the checkered flag in the Back of America 500 on Saturday night.

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 Will Charlotte Motor Speedway be Jimmie Johnson's house again on Saturday night? Johnson won the 2009 fall race at CMS and has finished in the top ten in 13 of his 18 Cup races in Charlotte. Jimmie's 10.2 average finish, paired with the six wins he claims at this track make him a formidable competitor. Sitting atop the Chase leader board, Johnson has no reason to worry that this track will cause him trouble.

Jeff Gordon is moving up; he has the Pole for Saturday night's race and moved up one spot in the Chase for the Championship after last week's 9th place finish at Fontana. He finished sixth at Charlotte in the Summer race and claims 20 top ten finishes in his 35 Cup Series starts at CMS. Jeff has finished in the top ten in three of the four Chase races so far; can he make it through another week with a top ten finish? There doesn't seem to be any good reason why not.

Saturday will be Mark Martin's 52nd start in a Cup race at Charlotte. In his previous 51 starts he has had 23 top ten finishes and four wins. Mark's average finish of 15.7 is in the upper third of all active Cup drivers. Martin has been around this track enough to have learned how the track responds to all different temperatures and weather conditions. If anyone has the experience to take a top ten finish away from the Back of America 500 it will be Mark.

 Kyle Busch has never won at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a Cup Series race. Busch posts seven top ten finishes in his thirteen starts, but shows only a 17.8 average finishing spot because of three DNF's in the early part of his Cup career. Kyle has had two disappointing weekends, finishing 35th last week after the engine failed on his car at Fontana, and a 21st place finish at Kansas the week before. Busch's poor showings of the last two weeks have caused him to go from 3rd place in Series Points after Dover to 9th place going into CMS. It is do or die time for Kyle; a top ten finish is a must this week to keep his Championship hopes alive.

Clint Bowyer's last two finishes at Charlotte have been in the the top ten. Clint's goal is to make it to the top five in Chase standings by the end of the season; another finish in the top three will likely get him to 11th spot in front of Matt Kenseth. Still 247 pints back from the points leader, Clint has a lot of work to do. His temporary crew chief Scott Miller has the experience, and he and Bowyer have a good working relationship. With just one top five finish in Clint's past Cup outings at CMS, Clint will need to have another solid performance to bring the #33 Chevrolet to the front of the pack.

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  Jeff Burton won this race in 2008, has three total wins at CMS, and has posted 15 top ten finishes in his 33 Cup starts at CMS. Another veteran of this track, Jeff moved up one spot into 8th place in the Chase standings after last week's race at Fontana. Burton has not been good at this track lately; his races here since his 2008 win have all been outside the top 10. This Saturday Burton will need to come in strong and fight his way through traffic to gain the points he needs in his team's Championship quest.

Two-thirds of finishes by Kevin Harvick's team this season have been in the top ten. He has a 9.5 average finish on the season, but just a 20.7 average finish here in Charlotte. It has been 14 races since Harvick has finished in the top ten in a Cup Series race at CMS; this is the week for his comeback at this track. Kevin knows the importance of this weekend. Saturday night's race could help him gain points on the Chase leader or drop Harvick back significantly if he is unable to make it into the top ten by the end of the race. Just 54 points back from points leader Johnson, Kevin should come out an prove he is a contender Saturday night.

Denny Hamlin has a good shot at performing well in this week's race. Coming out of three of four Chase races ending in top ten finishes, Denny has momentum and confidence to count on. This track is not one of his best, however. The last time Hamlin finished in the top ten at CMS was the Summer 2007 race. Team Hamlin will be working on race set-up and going for more consistent runs than he has shown in recent racing in Charlotte. At the end of the day, Denny should find his way to the top ten.

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  The big mover in Chase points last week was Tony Stewart; he moved up five spots into the 5th place in the standings, 107 points behind Johnson. Coming into the Charlotte race Tony has claimed one win and 11 top ten finishes in his previous 23 Cup starts ay CMS. With Stewart's win last week he gained the confidence that a driver needs to perform under pressure. Stewart is a veteran driver and should be able to take the pressure. We should expect Tony to move up the Chase to the Championship leader board with another good finish this week.

Since the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship began, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been quietly improving his game. This Hendrick Motorsports Team has struggled all season but looks like they have started to pull things together. With a 4th place finish at New Hampshire and last week's 16th place day in Fontana, Dale has started to feel some confidence in his team and in himself. This improved attitude has carried over into Earnhardt's qualifying efforts; he starts from within the top ten Saturday night at CMS. At the end of the 334 laps I expect to see Dale still running in the top ten with a solid night all the way around from the pits to the track.

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  My pick for the win this week is Kevin Harvick, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounding out the top three. Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart complete my top ten. Kurt Busch will be mired back in the mid-20's with Matt Kenseth as both slide backwards in Chase Points. 

NASCAR Raceday comes on the air on the SPEED Channel at 5 p.m. Saturday. NASCAR Countdown begins at 7 p.m. On ABC. Bank of America 500 coverage continues on ABC at 7:30 p.m. Race coverage will also be aired on MRN Radio Stations. Don't miss the fifth race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship as points driver try to battle for points while non-Chase drivers battle for bragging rights. Saturday night under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway should be a wild ride.

Amy McHargue

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fontana Auto Club 400 Preview: Beyond the Numbers

For the fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship NASCAR travels to California. The Auto Club Speedway, located in Fontana California, is a 2 mile D-shaped oval. Lying due east of Los Angeles by about 50 miles, the Auto Club Speedway will host the Pepsi Max 400 on Sunday afternoon as NASCAR Cup Series drivers make 200 laps around the circuit for 400 miles. Not only has this years fall race in California been shortened by 100 laps, but this will be the last running of the fall race at Fontana – as part of NASCAR's Chase realignment the fall race has fallen victim to poor attendance and is not part of the 201 schedule.
 Jeff Gordon has a 10.9 average finish at Fontana, with ten top ten finishes coming from his 20 Cup series starts at this track. A disappointing 20th finish at the Auto Club Speedway in February broke a string of back to back second place finishes for Jeff that he had in 2009. With Chevrolet winning four of the last five fall races at Fontana, and a Hendrick Motorsports driver the last three Jeff should have the team knowledge to get it done, if the cards fall the right way.

Keep an eye on Carl Edwards this weekend; he moved up two spots after last week and has taken over the number four place in season points. Only two of Carl's starts in Fontana have resulted in finishes outside of the top ten. His 7.2 average finish at the Auto Club Speedway reflects the consistency Edwards has been able to bring to this track. His early-season performance in 2010 was less than stellar; Carl finished 13th at the end of the day. With four of Edwards' last five races resulting in top ten finishes, however he has the momentum coming into this race to post a finish that will continue his climb toward the top of the Chase leader board.

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 Jimmie Johnson has won the last three late season races at the Auto Club Speedway and has wins in four of the last six races held in Fontana. As Chase points leader, and four-time in a row season Champion Johnson comes to Fontana with more than a healthy dose of experience at winning here. Jimmie's average finish of 5.5 and 11 top ten finishes in 15 starts in Fontana track shows that he could come out on top again this week and increase his points lead over the other Chase drivers. One thing that could hurt Jimmie as he goes for another win is that he has 50 fewer laps to get to the front of the pack.

With the drama and ensuing stress that the Clint Bowyer team has experienced since New Hampshire finally over, Clint finds himself 252 points behind the Points leader and in the 12th position. Bowyer said before the Kansas race that he doesn't expect to win the Chase after the 150 point penalty but does see finishing the season in the top five as a realistic goal. To reach the top five, Bowyer needs to come out strong this weekend and post a top ten finish, at the very least. With an average finish at the Auto Club Speedway of 12.0 and only one of his nine Cup starts showing a top five finish Clint will have his work cut out for him as he drives toward the front of the pack. If determination alone can do it, Bowyer will find his way to the top ten by the 200th lap on Sunday but it's going to have to be a good day for the RCR # 33 team.

 Greg Biffle moved up one spot in the Chase after his win last week; Biffle would like to bring home another trophy and gain more points on the Chase leaders this weekend. With 15 starts at Fontana Greg can claim five top ten finishes – including one win. Three of Biffle's last five starts have resulted in top ten finishes, including a 10th place finish at the end of the February race at the Auto Club Speedway. Coming off of a win at Kansas, Greg has confidence and may ride the wave of momentum to another top ten at Fontana.

Losing four spots in Chase standings after a disappointing 21st place finish at Kansas last week, Kyle Busch is coming into Fontana in free fall. With an average of 10.8, Kyle posts a top ten finish in more than 66% of the races he starts at the Auto Club Speedway. Knowing the track can go a long way in getting a driver to the front and in twelve Cup Series starts at Fontana, Busch has eight top ten finishes to prove that he knows how to navigate this track. Chances are that we will see Kyle near the front of the field by the end of Sunday's race.

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Matt Kenseth is 149 points behind Chase points leaders and sits in 11th place. Matt has a 9.1 average finish at Fontana and comes to this track with 12 top ten finishes is his 17 starts here. Kenseth has shown in the past he can be a contender at the Auto Club Speedway; only one of his last ten starts here has found him outside of the top ten by the end of the day. With three previous wins, there seems to be little reason to expect that Matt will finish any lower than the top ten this weekend.

With just three Cup Series starts under his belt at Fontana, Joey Logano comes to this weekend with a 15th place average finish at the Auto Club Speedway. Logano has been fairly quiet in recent weeks, but this could be the weekend he gets back into headlines. Joey posted a 5th place finish in California in the February race and arrives in Fontana with confidence that he can get the job done. A strong qualifying run will be key to getting Logano off to a good start on Sunday.
 Tony Stewart is looking for his first win at Fontana. In Stewart's 18 Cup starts at the Auto Club Speedway he has laid claim to 10 top ten finishes but has not made a trip to the Winner's Circle. Tony is coming off of a solid fourth place finish at Kansas, and has a fourth place finish at his last trip to the Auto Club Speedway to remember. Consistency is the key to the remainder of Stewart's season, as he is in 10th place in the Chase standings; it's time for Tony to move up and finish strong to keep his Chase hopes alive.

With 14 starts and five top ten finishes to his credit at the Auto Club Speedway Jamie McMurray shows 16.4 as his average finishing spot at this track. Just outside of the top ten at Kansas, Jamie finished 11th. McMurray will be looking to improve on that result as he makes his way through the field on Sunday. He started the season with a win, then posted a win at Indy; can he show that he can win late in the season, too? Although this may be Jamie's best track, he should be in the top ten by the end of Sunday's race.
 Winner pick for Fontana is Tony Stewart with Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson filling the remainder of the top three. Also predicted to finish in the top ten are Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, and Jamie McMurray. With this being the halfway mark in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship it is do-or-die time for many Chase drivers. I call for Kurt Busch to end up in the middle of the pack at the close of the race, causing him to drop back in the standings and for Harvick to have an uncharacteristically rough day with pit stop problems leaving him behind the leaders.

Practice at Fontana comes on the air Friday at 3 p.m. on ESPN2 for practice, qualifications will also be on ESPN2 being aired at 6:30 p.m. Saturday's practices will not be aired on television but occur at 1:30 p.m. and 2:50 p.m. RaceDay on SPEED begins Sunday at Noon, and coverage switches to Pre-Race on ESPN at 2 p.m. The Pepsi Max 400 goes live on ESPN at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Don't miss the fifth race in the NASCAR Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship as drivers continue to battle for position, on the track and in the points.

Amy McHargue