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California recap: Johnson again on top

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Gerrit Ritt

Gerrit is a fantasy editor for>>

They had to battle some rain at Fontana on Sunday, but ultimately it didn’t effect the final results as much as it could have. The cars that ran the best ended up at the front, for the most part.

Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were two of the favorites coming in, and they didn’t disappoint, running near the front most of the day, and finishing first and second. Not many surprises, but fantasy gold to most of us who predictably had J.J. on their teams!

Sunday’s Top Five Drivers

1. Jimmie Johnson

There was rarely a question about this one. Johnson won this one going away, easily in front of the rest of the pack, despite the rain and the numerous cautions. How’s this for domination? … This was his fifth win at the Auto Club Speedway, his fourth in the last six visits to the track, and it’s also the 10th time he’s placed in the top three in 15 races there. That’s an amazing stat and one fantasy owners shouldn’t have ignored this week.

2. Kevin Harvick

He was really the only driver other than Jeff Burton who had a legitimate chance to take this one from Johnson. He’d never won here before, but this is now his fourth top 10 in the last five trips to town, something you need to know for when the circuit comes back here in October.

3. Jeff Burton

He led the second-most laps on the day (46, to Johnson’s 101), but still hasn’t won a race since October 11, 2008. That’s a string of 43 straight Cup races now, which is tough to imagine, since this guy’s been so good for so long. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for the No. 31 team.

4. Mark Martin

Last year’s feel good story of the sport is back near the top once again. He didn’t have a great finish at Daytona, but the is exactly what the team was hoping for coming into Fontana. Throw together a few more top fives and they’ll find themselves right back where they ended last season.

5. Joey Logano

Is this the season the 19-year-old phenom bursts onto the Sprint Cup radar? He’s already won a race and is now putting up top fives every few weeks. Fantasy owners and fans alike are gonna love this kid for the next couple decades. He’s living up to the hype, which is tough to do in this day in age. Don’t rest on him too much the rest of the season, even though the cost may be more than it should be, thanks to the name recognition and potential.

Top Five Disappointments

1. Juan Pablo Montoya

He’s one of a few guys you can say has a real chance to take the overall title from Jimmie Johnson this season. He had his breakout season last year and came out of the shoots firing last week, with a top 10 at Daytona. He even led 29 laps early on in this race, but couldn’t maintain that, ending the day 110 laps back in 37th. That’s unacceptable for drivers of his caliber.

2. Kasey Kahne

Kahne was never in this one, finishing 29 laps back in 34th place. He was a definite threat coming into the weekend, with seven top 10s and a win in just 12 starts at the Auto Club Speedway. He’ll be back soon enough, though, as he looks as confident as he has at any point in his career early in the season.

3. Ryan Newman

He and his crew chief apparently were bragging about how good a car they had coming into this week, and it showed at times for sure. He had moments where he was running near the lead, but then got caught up in some fisticuffs, which ended his day way short. After the tremendous season he last in ’09, he can’t be happy with a 36th-place run here and a 34th at Daytona. He needs to respond next week in a big way.

4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

After finishing second last week, Junior had just a terrible day in California, coming in 32nd, a full 12 laps behind Johnson and the rest of the leaders. That’s not gonna work for me. Was last week just a fluke? Is this the way it’s gonna be the majority of the season again? I sure hope neither of those questions ring true, for his sake.

5. Denny Hamlin

One of the top drivers in the sport has now gone 17th and 29th the first two races of the year. I can understand the disappointment at Daytona, where he’s never run well. However, he finished in the top six twice in his last three visits to Fontana, so there’s no excuse to falling that far back here.

Top Five Surprises

1. Joey Logano

I have a feeling we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of these top-five finishes for the young star the rest of the season. He’s being valued high in fantasy leagues for a reason. I’m setting the over/under for his top fives this season at eight. What side of that do you fall on?

2. Scott Speed

This guy’s come out of nowhere to drive extremely well in both the first two events of the year. He hasn’t had a top 10 yet, but a 19th at the Daytona 500 is a very respectable finish for someone this new to the Sprint Cup Series. Then he follows that up with an 11th on Sunday. I like what he and the No. 82 team are doing so far. Plus, he obviously has the most appropriate name in the sport today. That has to account for something.

3. Sam Hornish, Jr.

After ending the Daytona 500 in 37th, Sunday’s 16th-place run was nothing short of a miracle. He’s only had seven top 10s in 74 career Sprint Cup starts so far, so anything even remotely close to that is a bonus for the No. 77 team. If you spent all your money on the big boys and used a $2 or $3 play on Hornish this week, you were paid off well.

4. David Reutimann

He’s prone to putting up a nice finish every now and then, and that’s exactly what he did Sunday. It wasn’t tremendous, mind you, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with a 15th place most weeks. He’ll have to show me more than that to get me to play him on my team anytime soon, though, of course.

5. Paul Menard

Definitely not a weekly favorite to put up good runs, so anything in the top 20 is a moral victory if nothing else. His 18th this week was a pretty good run and may be a sign of good things to come for the No. 98 team.

Top Five for Las Vegas

1. Kurt Busch – He’s the hometown boy who wants nothing more than to win at this track every year.

2. Jimmie Johnson – He’s won three times here, and I always love taking the guy coming off a win the week before.

3. Kyle Busch – Same story as his brother, but Kyle’s actually the one with the better record here.

4. Mark Martin – Love the way he’s driving so far. He’s ready to find the checkered flag soon enough.

5. Matt Kenseth – Has won here twice in 10 trips, and has two other top fives to go with it.

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