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Virtual Pit Reporter: News on top 25 teams

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1) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Johnson, who has clinched a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup for the third straight year, has finished in the top 10 in each of his four years as a full-time driver. Johnson has 18 top-10 finishes in 24 races this season, four more than any other driver. In seven races at California Speedway he has one victory (2002 rookie season) and four top-10 finishes, has led in four of the races and has been running at the finish every time. His 7.571 average finish there ranks third among active drivers. He finished 16th in this race one year ago, tying his worst California finish, set in 2003. He was second there in February, his third runner-up finish in seven races there. "California is a great track for us," Johnson said. "I think everybody likes it when you have a little bit more room -- especially this time of the year. Everybody is just in crunch mode. Every point counts. I think that's a common reaction from all the drivers." Johnson will be running in both the Cup and Busch races at California.
  • Last week: Johnson finished 10th at Bristol and remained first in the point standings, but by just seven points over second-place Matt Kenseth.
  • Etc.: Johnson has the best average running position for 2006, at 11.037. That is the sum of driver position on each lap, divided by the laps run in the race. He leads in quality passes for the season with 1,310 over cars running in the top 15. ... Johnson, an El Cajon, Calif. Native, will drive the No. 48 "Jimmie Johnson Foundation" Monte Carlo in Saturday's Busch Series race. This race, along with the October race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, will be the last two of his three Busch appearances in 2006. The foundation announced this month its commitment to raise $600,000 to build Victory Lanes, a four-lane bowling alley at Kyle and Pattie Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C.

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    2) Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Kenseth has four career wins at California Speedway, three in the Busch Series and one in the Nextel Cup. Kenseth has led in seven of his nine Cup races at Fontana for a total of 246 laps (fourth all time). Since entering the Cup Series full time in 2000, Kenseth has completed more laps on two-mile ovals (California and Michigan) than any other driver -- 5,049 of a possible 5,052. His average finish at those two tracks is 9.79, tops among all drivers with 10 or more starts. "We've run pretty good at the two-mile tracks this year, and that's largely thanks to this car, No. 323, that Robbie (Reiser, the crew chief) and the guys built," Kenseth said of the car he will drive Sunday night. "It's been a good piece for us. We won with it at California earlier this year, and it's fresh off the win at Michigan two weeks ago. It's not too far away from having three more wins, with two second-place finishes at Las Vegas and Atlanta and a solid run at Chicago, although our results there weren't too good. Right now, it's all about momentum and it feels like we have a ton. We're coming off of consecutive wins and going to a place where we've enjoyed recent success. There's a lot of enthusiasm on this team right now. They're getting the job done and we'll be looking to do the same this weekend."
  • Last week: Kenseth's victory at Bristol on Saturday was his 13th top-five finish of 2006, which leads the series by three and is a single-season best for him, topping his total of 12 last year. It was his fourth victory in 2006. The others: California, Dover and the second Michigan race.
  • Etc.: Kenseth leads the Driver Rating category -- a statistic that includes more than just wins and losses. Driver Rating also takes into account laps in the top 15, fastest laps and more. Kenseth is second in average running position at California with a 7.462, behind teammate Mark Martin.

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    3) Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Harvick heads to California Speedway in much better shape for making the Chase than he has been in the last two years. The 2001 Cup Series Rookie of the Year ranked 16th in the standings at this point in 2005. However, Harvick knows a lot can happen in the final two Race to the Chase events and is reluctant to think he has secured a spot until it finally happens. Only 129 points separate the drivers in third (Harvick) through 10th place (Mark Martin) in the standings leading into this weekend's event. To put that in perspective and to highlight this tight points battle, a total of 383 points separated the drivers in third through 10th place heading into the same event in 2005. In 2004, that margin was 308 points. "It is really stressful because you don't want to have a hiccup and lose a bunch of points in one race," said Harvick. "We escaped Bristol and now head to California, which I feel is our worst track. I felt Michigan was our second-worst track. With the year that we have had, it would be a shame not to be in the Chase, but there is still that possibility that it could happen." This weekend at California Speedway comes down to numbers for the drivers in the top 10. The good news for Harvick, as he takes to a track that has not been kind to him in the past, is that he cannot be mathematically eliminated from Chase contention even if he finishes last. On the flip side, if Harvick finishes third or better Sunday, he clinches a spot in the Chase. In eight starts at California Speedway, Harvick has two top-10 finishes and one DNF. "We have run really badly there and we have run really well there," Harvick said. "It is just that our finishes haven't been that good. We have been kind of hit-or-miss. It has been the same way at Michigan for us, but we were decent at Michigan both races this year, so we are pretty comfortable with where we are for California. I feel like if we get into the Chase, we will have a chance to do what we need. Once you get in, you can pretty much let it all hang out and go for it. It is a 10-race shootout, and that is the way we are going to treat it."
  • Last week: Harvick finished 11th at Bristol.
  • Etc.: Harvick is the fastest driver on restarts in 2006 with an average ranking of 10.750. That shows average speed on the first two laps under green-flag conditions. Harvick is tied with Tony Raines for second place in the Closers category for 2006 with 37 positions gained over the final 10 percent of this season's events.

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    4) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: Busch, who is 138 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne with two races left in the "Race to the Chase," has 13 top-10 finishes in 24 races in 2006. He won this race a year ago (leading for 95 laps), was 10th there in February and has led in two of his four races there, for an average finish of 14.5. "It's a good feeling heading back to the track as the defending winner," Busch said. "The bad side to that is that you finish in anything other than first, it's kind of a letdown. We've had OK runs on the mile-and-a-half tracks this season, so we just want a solid top-10 finish."
  • Last week: Busch finished second at Bristol to climb from seventh to fourth in the point standings, the biggest gain among the top 10 drivers.
  • Etc.: Busch, who ranked 22nd at this point a year ago, became the youngest driver (20 years, 126 days) to win a Nextel Cup event with his California victory in September 2005. For that effort, Busch will be inducted into the speedway's Walk of Fame at Gate 12 at noon Saturday.

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    5) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: It has been 2 1/2 years since Gordon posted a top-10 finish at California Speedway, but the only multiple Cup race winner at the two-mile speedway enters Sunday's Sony HD 500 riding a wave of momentum -- a wave he wants to ride for the remainder of the season. Gordon, who finished 34th at Pocono in June after hard impact with the turn 1 wall in a single-car accident, exited that race 11th in the point standings, 501 behind leader Jimmie Johnson. In the 10 races since, Gordon has posted two wins and five top-fives to move up to fifth in the standings, 408 points behind his teammate. But the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has also faced some adversity during that stretch. At Daytona, he was running in the top 10 with less than 10 laps to go when he was involved in a multi-car accident and finished 40th. In the Brickyard 400, Team DuPont fought back from three laps down to post a 16th-place finish. Then at Watkins Glen, Gordon battled back from a late race spin to salvage a 13th-place finish. "I said at the beginning of the season that we weren't the best team, but that I wanted to be one of the best teams by the Chase," said Gordon. "I don't think we're there yet, but we're getting closer every week. I'm proud of how this team has reacted to difficult situations. Instead of panicking, this team has remained calm when facing obstacles, and I think that's the sign of a championship- caliber team. However, we still have work to do if we're going to battle for a championship this year. We haven't locked up a spot in the Chase, but that's in our control. We just need to stay focused on our program -- not on what the other teams are doing -- and post two strong finishes at California and Richmond." ... In 12 starts at California Speedway, Gordon has three wins, one pole, five top-fives and five top-10s. His last win here occurred in 2004, and he has not posted a top-10 finish at California since that race. "We had some engine issues in a couple of those races, but the Hendrick Motorsports engine department worked hard to correct those problems," said Gordon. "In the last two races here, we just weren't as good as we needed to be. I think we've made some huge gains in our intermediate track program since we last visited here, which is why I'm looking forward to this race."
  • Last week: Gordon finished fifth at Bristol.
  • Etc.: Gordon is second in Laps in the Top 15 for 2006 with 5,260, or 77.6% of all his laps this season. Gordon leads all drivers with three wins and five top-five finishes at California Speedway. ... The chassis the No. 24 team will run this weekend has been used four times. It debuted at Michigan in June, where Gordon led 50 laps in the rain-shortened event. At Chicagoland Speedway, it ended the event in Victory Lane. Two weeks ago, it crossed the finish line second at Michigan. Its only other start was at Indianapolis, where a sway bar arm became unhooked from the sway bar early in the race. Although Gordon recovered to post a 16th-place finish, he failed to lead a lap and gain the five valuable bonus points associated with it -- the only race in the last 10 he has failed to do so. In fact, Gordon leads the series this season with 100 bonus points, 20 more than he accumulated during the entire 2005 season. "I don't care how many laps we lead in an event," said Gordon. "I only want to lead the last one. It's the same for the point standings. We don't need to lead right now, we just need to get into the Chase -- then have the lead after the final event."

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    6) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Hamlin, who has finished on the lead lap in the last 15 races and has been running at the finish in the last 18 races, was 12th earlier this year in his only career race at California Speedway. He is just 21 points behind fifth-place Jeff Gordon and 27 behind fourth-place Kyle Busch. Hamlin has 12 top-10 finishes in 24 races this year, including the last six. Hamlin has been the highest finishing rookie in 13 of the 24 races this season and has two victories, both at Pocono.
  • Last week: Hamlin finished sixth at Bristol and climbed from eighth to sixth in the standings but is still only 111 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne in the point standings.
  • Etc.: Hamlin is second in Quality Passes at California over the last two years with 51. That is the number of times a driver passes another car running in the top 15 under green-flag conditions. Hamlin is third in Fastest Driver Early in a Run for 2006. That ranks each driver during the first 25 percent of laps run in a typical full green-flag segment.

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    7) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: Burton has three top-fives and four top-10s in 12 Cup starts at California Speedway and four poles, four top-fives and 14 top-10s overall this year. "California is a fairly slick race track," Burton said. "It's not a track with a tremendous amount of grip. What will end up happening is you'll slide around a little bit during the day, and when it gets darker and the track cools down, there will be more grip. That will make your car a little bit tighter or it will make it drive a little better, depending on your situation. If you're good during the day, it might hurt it and get too tight at night. But if your setup isn't so good during the day, it might transfer up and be really good at night." Burton is one of the drivers with a lot to gain in the final two races before the Chase at California and Richmond. "At California and Richmond earlier this season we ran very well. At Richmond we had a great chance to win the race, and I got us on pit road too early," Burton said. "At California, we finished fifth and I know we ran well all day. I feel good about the race tracks we're going to and the team. But we've got to go make that happen and earn it. I like the tracks coming up, but so does Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch. There's nobody in the Chase hunt that you can look at and say they don't run good at those race tracks. Nobody. That's why there's a group at the top right now and they run good everywhere."
  • Last week: Burton finished ninth at Bristol.
  • Etc.: Burton is fourth in laps led for the 2006 season with 560. He has turned the third-highest number of laps in the top 15 -- 5,074, or 74.9%. ... Burton isn't the only member of Team Cingular with driving experience in California. Crew chief Scott Miller was behind the wheel on six occasions at the now-defunct Riverside International Raceway from 1981-84, with a top finish of 14th at the nine-turn road course in Southern California. Miller raced in the NASCAR Winston West Series from 1983-86, accumulating two poles, one win and six top-five finishes.

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    8) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Chevrolet, Joe Gibbs Racing
  • This week: Stewart has four top-10 finishes in 10 races at California Speedway. He finished fifth in this race one year ago and 43rd there in February, his worst finish and second DNF at the track. He has led in four of his 10 races there and has an 18.7 average finish. Stewart, who has 15 top-15 finishes this season, posted four finishes of 28th or worse in the five races leading to Pocono, dropping him from fourth to 11th, before climbing back to 10th after Pocono, ninth after Indianapolis, seventh after Watkins Glen, fifth after Michigan and now dropping to eighth after Bristol. One year ago he ranked first in the point standings. He trails seventh place Jeff Burton by just eight points, is 14 behind sixth-place Denny Hamlin and is 97 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne with two races left in the "Race to the Chase."
  • Last week: Stewart finished 22nd at Bristol to fall three spots in the point standings to eighth, eight points behind seventh-place Jeff Burton. That also ended a streak of four straight top-10 finishes for Stewart.
  • Etc.: Stewart has led 930 laps, or 13.7% of all laps, in 2006, the most of any driver. His car has been the fastest on the track for 439 laps, second best of all drivers.

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    9) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Inc.
  • This week: Earnhardt has one top-five finish and two top-10s in nine races at Fontana, and he has led two races there. He has 17 top-15 finishes this season and has led 11 races for 203 laps. He has been in the top 10 in points in all but two weeks and never worse than 11th. In those weeks, he has finished sixth or better in three of four races. The team will be taking the same car (chassis No. 39) that it used to finish third at Michigan two weeks ago. "We're going with the most optimism we've had in several years leading into a Fontana race," Earnhardt said. "It was a sore subject for us for a long time. I felt we made big gains at that track in February, just missing a top-10. My guys are real excited and I'm following their lead. Hopefully once we get there, I'll feel like I've known my way around there all along. Our finishes at Michigan this year (third and sixth) give us a lot to work with. We're taking the same car we ran at Michigan, same motor, and probably the same setup."
  • Last week: Earnhardt's third-place finish at Bristol moved him up to ninth in the standings. "Getting out of Bristol with a third-place finish was really big for us, because I was nervous about that race ... wasn't much fun to be around," he said. "I feel like we've got the upper hand to make the Chase. It's still too close for comfort. I saw how quickly we dropped out of third place in the standings a month ago. One bad race, one wreck, one blown motor can send you spiraling. But surviving Bristol was a step in the right direction. I feel confident at Richmond (the last race before the Chase) that I can run in the top 10 there. I think all of us from sixth on back are going to really have to take advantage of every opportunity to gain points, whether it's leading a lap, using pit strategy to gain track position, that kind of stuff. Maximize every moment on track each week."
  • Etc.: Earnhardt is tied for second with Jeff Gordon for percentage of laps run on the lead lap with 93.1%. That translates to 6,306 out of 6,777 laps run on the lead lap. Earnhardt seems to make most of his passes in turns, according to Loop Data stats. He is third in Passes in Turns with 1,045. Earnhardt is second for Passes in Turn 4 with 267.

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    10) Mark Martin, No. 6 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Martin has one victory (1998) and six top-10s in the 12 races at California Speedway. He finished 11th in this race one year ago and ninth there in February, raising his average finish there to 13.833, and has led in nine of his 12 races at California. Martin has not won a race since his victory at Kansas in October 2005, 31 races ago. Martin is 90 points ahead of 11th-place Kasey Kahne with two races left in the "Race to the Chase" "California has really turned into a nice place to race, and we've had our share of success there over the years," Martin said. "We were always good there from the start, running out of gas the first year and still finishing 10th and going back the next year and getting the win. It's really a track that fits into our strong suit."
  • Last week: Martin's 28th-place finish at Bristol dropped him from fourth to 10th in the standings, the biggest change of any driver in the top 10. "We had a really tough outing last weekend at Bristol, but that is not something that we can worry about now," Martin said. "Our task is to focus on the next race and that race is this weekend at Fontana, and we are going into the race needing a strong run and a good finish."
  • Etc.: Martin leads all drivers at California Speedway with an average running position of 5.784. He also is second at Fontana in the Fastest Drivers Late in a Run category. That ranks each driver during the final 25 percent of laps run in a typical full green-flag segment.

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    11) Kasey Kahne, No. 9 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Kahne has three top-six finishes in the last four races at California. He knows he needs a top-three run this weekend to keep alive his chances of earning a spot in this year's Chase for the Championship. "We can't control what the other teams do these next two races," Kahne said. "To make the Chase, two things must occur. First, we have to have two good races -- wins would certainly help. A 100-point swing can happen in one race. We just have to do our part to put the No. 9 Dodge Charger in a position to take advantage of every opportunity."
  • Last week: Kahne finished 12th at Bristol to lose ground in his bid to move back into the top 10. He is 90 points out of the 10th place. "We were probably the worst we had been all night on that last run," Kahne said. "We just couldn't get the front tires to cut as good as we wanted. It's just a rough day when all the guys in front of you in points finish ahead of you in the race."
  • Etc.: Kahne believes "we've got to finish in the top two or three in the next two races if we want to get in there (the top 10) if nobody else has a bad race. I said two or three weeks ago that the 8 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) is not going to be the guy I'm going to pass." Earnhardt finished third at Bristol to move to ninth in the standings. Mark Martin fell to 10th after his 28th-place finish.

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    12) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Biffle dominated the spring race at California, leading 168 laps. But engine failure late in the event left him with a 42nd-place finish. In 2005, Biffle won the spring event and finished second in the fall race. "We're taking the same car that we've won with before," said Biffle. "It's the same car that we led a lot of the race with in the spring before we had a parts failure."
  • Last week: Biffle needed a top-five run at Bristol to keep alive his fading hopes of making the Chase. Instead, he battled a tight car all evening and ended up 19th to fall a whopping 251 points back of 10th-place Mark Martin. With only two races left until the Chase begins, Biffle's chances of challenging for the 2006 title are poor. "It is going to be really, really hard for Greg to make it," car owner Jack Roush said.
  • Etc.: Biffle realizes the odds are stacked against him in his bid to make the Chase. "We're probably not going to make the Chase this year, but we can still go out and get a few wins before the end of the season," he said. Added crew chief Doug Richert, "We'll try to win every race and see if we can't get that 11th-place spot before the end of the year."

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    13) Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: Edwards has finished sixth or better in all four starts at California Speedway. So it is not surprising when he says, "I love racing at California. It's an awesome track, and we've done really well there in the past. They (his crew) deserve a win, and California is definitely a place where we've got a good opportunity."
  • Last week: Edwards finished seventh at Bristol but is still 261 points out of 10th place, which means his odds of qualifying for this year's Chase are poor at best. For that reason, he said, "We're gonna use these next 12 or 13 races to test for '07. The car was pretty good tonight. The last two runs I got really tight in the center (of the corners), and that really hurt me (in his bid to finish in the top five)."
  • Etc.: Edwards said he has "definitely looked at all the things we did to lose points this year, and I've learned from it. I feel like we're kind of being tested in a lot of different ways, and if we can keep our heads on straight and go out and do the best we can every week and learn from our lessons, we're gonna be a tough team to compete with in the future."

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    14) Kurt Busch, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Busch has three top-three finishes at California, including a win in 2003. But in his five other starts at the track, his best finish is 11th. "I've loved racing at California Speedway ever since my first race there in the trucks back in 2000," said Busch, who won the pole and the race that year. "It seems like I just immediately adapted to the place."
  • Last week: After winning the pole position at Bristol, Busch led three times for 27 laps before he started running into problems. First, he clipped a spinning Reed Sorenson. Then Busch got a pit-road speeding penalty. He later had transmission problems. As a result, he finished 37th to end his hopes of challenging for a second Nextel Cup championship. "I think we had a lot of potential that wasn't realized," said crew chief Roy McCauley.
  • Etc.: Now that he has no chance of making this year's Chase, Busch has turned his sights on winning the most pole positions in 2006. He is tied with Kasey Kahne and Jeff Burton with four poles apiece. Before this season, Busch had won only three poles in 184 races. "I guess I'm teamed up with a group that can qualify now," said Busch, who joined the Penske team following the 2005 season.

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    15) Ryan Newman, No. 12 Dodge, Penske Racing South
  • This week: Newman has three top-10 finishes in seven starts at California and has finished outside the top 20 only once. "We're out of the Chase this year, but we've still got 12 more races to run," said Newman. "Now our job is to win races and prepare for next year. This weekend, we'll try to win our first race of the year and hopefully contend for the 11th-place spot in the points at the end of the year."
  • Last week: Newman finished eighth at Bristol to move to 15th in the point standings. "We had the top Dodge at times tonight, and that's good to say," said Newman. "The guys did a great job keeping the car fast. They improved on it a little bit, and that's something we can't say about the whole year."
  • Etc.: Newman will make a wish come true this weekend for a special race fan. The Sony Race to the Endzone Sweepstakes awarded a trip to California Speedway that Sony donated to a local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In addition to attending both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series races, the child will get to spend some personal time with Newman.

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    16) Casey Mears, No. 42 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Mears will be seeking his second consecutive top-10 finish at California Speedway this weekend after finishing seventh in the spring race. Mears would love to be the first Dodge driver to win at his home track. "We had a real good run in February, and I can't wait to get back," said the Bakersfield, Calif., native.
  • Last week: Mears finished 17th at Bristol, a personal best at the Tennessee facility. The top-20 finish allowed Mears to move up two spots in the standings to 16th. "We had a pretty good car tonight," said Mears. "I think we could have had a better finish, but we got blocked in our pits by a car several laps down. We came in 18th and came out 29th. That put us in the back of the pack, and we had to battle our way back."
  • Etc.: Chip Ganassi got the 75th win of his car-owning career Saturday when Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz won a Rolex Sports Car race at Infineon (Calif.) Raceway. Ganassi became a car owner in 1990 with the creation of a one-car IndyCar team.

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    17) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
  • This week: A year ago, Vickers finished third at California, his first top-10 finish at the two-mile track. Vickers has led in three of the five races he has run at California. Overall, he has three top-five finishes in 2006. "We still believe we can win a race before the year is over," said Vickers.
  • Last week: Two flat right-front tires made for a long evening at Bristol for Vickers as he limped home in 33rd place to end a streak of 10 straight top-20 finishes. The problems began early for Vickers when the first flat tire sent him bouncing off the wall on lap 11. The contact with the wall damaged the car's steering. The second flat tire occurred on lap 333 and forced another unscheduled pit stop. "Late in the race our car wasn't that bad," said Vickers.
  • Etc.: Vickers admitted he lost sleep over his decision to leave Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the year. "This is the hardest decision I've had to make in my life to this point," he said. "That's going to keep anybody up at night a little bit."

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    18) Jamie McMurray, No. 26 Ford, Roush Racing
  • This week: McMurray has posted four straight top-10 finishes at California and is the only driver to score top-15 finishes in all six of his races at the two-mile track. "In the past, I've had a lot of success at this track," said McMurray. "I don't know what it is about Fontana, but I definitely enjoy running there. It's a track where you have to hit your marks all day and be there in the end -- when it counts."
  • Last week: "It was a disappointing night for the entire 26 team," McMurray said after finishing 29th at Bristol. "I know the guys worked really hard to give me a good car, but we couldn't land on the right balance. We learned a lot tonight and found a few things we need to work on before the next race."
  • Etc.: Crew chief Bob Osborne is optimistic about this weekend. "We are taking a brand new car, which all the guys back at the shop have worked really hard on over the last few weeks," said Osborne. "Jamie runs particularly well at Fontana, so hopefully with some good, solid pit stops, a great run by Jamie and a bit of luck, we can leave California with a top-10, maybe even a top-five finish."

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    19) Scott Riggs, No. 10 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: In five starts at California, Riggs has posted one top-10 finish. In February, he finished 19th. "We are a lot better team than we were back then," said Riggs. "We are coming off one of our best runs of the year (a fourth at Bristol), and we are convinced we can win a race before the year is over."
  • Last week: Riggs passed Jeff Gordon late in the race to earn his first top-five finish of the season and his first top-five since he finished second at Michigan in August 2005. "This team deserves this," Riggs said after his fourth-place finish. "It was tough (racing Gordon). He was holding me a little bit and he knew it. It was a good day for us."
  • Etc.: Gordon and Riggs had a few words after their late race tussle. "I just tried to tell him good job, good race, and he tried to tell me to pass him on the straightaway," Riggs said when asked what the two said to each other. "I could have dumped him, but I didn't. He was holding me up in the middle of the corner."

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    20) Clint Bowyer, No. 07 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
  • This week: In February, Bowyer finished 14th in his first Cup start at California. The car that Bowyer is running this weekend is the same one he raced to a career-best fourth-place finish at Indianapolis. He also used it at Michigan two weeks ago and was running third with three laps left when the engine let go. "It has a little different front-end geometry and a body that was built for the intermediate-type race tracks," said Bowyer.
  • Last week: On lap 232 at Bristol, Bowyer's left-rear wheel came off, sending him into the turn-four wall. The team did repair the damage and Bowyer returned to finish the race in 38th place. Just before the incident, Greg Biffle had told his spotter to tell Bowyer's spotter that "something looked amiss with the left rear tire." But neither Bowyer's spotter nor his crew was able to pinpoint the problem before the wheel came off.
  • Etc.: "On these big, high-speed tracks like California, you fight being loose getting in the corner because you want to arc your way through the corners so you can save your tires," said Bowyer. "If you can arc it decently getting into the corner, it helps you come across the center of the corner. Then your tires last longer and you're faster."

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    21) Elliott Sadler, No. 19 Dodge, Evernham Motorsports
  • This week: Sadler won the fall race at California in 2004, and his other top-10 finish at the two-mile track came in the spring of 2005. He will be making his third start since joining Evernham Motorsports. "I feel good about the way we are running," said Sadler. "We had a great run at Michigan, and the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger was awesome at Bristol. We didn't get the finish we wanted at Bristol, but we had a top-five car. It's cool to be that fast two weeks in a row."
  • Last week: Sadler was involved in two accidents at Bristol that resulted in a 39th-place finish. But that wasn't the only issue. "It's frustrating to get caught speeding on pit road when I got passed," said Sadler. "Then I got caught up with the lapped cars. It's very frustrating. My guys gave me an awesome race car. I just don't understand getting caught speeding on pit road while getting passed."
  • Etc.: Sadler said he "still has a lot to learn about the Dodge Charger. It does not react to the same adjustments I've been used to the last seven or eight years (while driving a Ford). I've got to learn that as a driver and kind of feel my way through that."

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    22) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Dodge, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
  • This week: Sorenson finished 21st in his Nextel Cup debut at California in February. He believes he can challenge for a top-10 finish this weekend. "We had a really good run going at California earlier this season, but we had a pit road miscue that kept us from getting the finish that we were capable of. The Target team has come a long way since then."
  • Last week: A cut left rear tire just before the halfway mark of the Bristol event proved costly to Sorenson. The cut tire caused Sorenson to spin and get caught up in an accident that resulted in a 36th-place finish. "I think we were good enough for a top-15 finish, maybe better if we hadn't wrecked," said Sorenson.
  • Etc.: Sorenson will stop by the Speed Zone at 17871 Castleton Street in Los Angeles on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. (PDT). Upon this arrival, he will race 10 pre-determined fans on the slick track. Following this race, he will host an autograph session.

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    23) Martin Truex Jr., No. 1 Chevrolet, DEI
  • This week: Truex finished 15th in his first Cup start at California and hopes to improve on that this weekend in his bid to get back to the top 20 in the point race. He is 59 points back of 20th-place Clint Bowyer. Truex is still looking for the first top-five finish of his Cup career.
  • Last week: Truex finished 18th at Bristol on a night where he noted, "We had a good car but bad track position. I told my Bass Pro guys that I felt like I let them down tonight. I got caught up with some slower cars (late in the race), and that held us up. We should have finished at least in the top-15."
  • Etc.: Truex said "no one can prepare you for making the jump from Busch to Cup. The competition at this level is so tough. One bad race can knock you back five or six spots in the points."

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    24) Robby Gordon, No. 7 Chevrolet, Robby Gordon Motorsports
  • This week: In eight starts at California Speedway, Gordon has posted one top-10 finish. He feels confident that he can add to that total this weekend. "Our intermediate program is exponentially better and continues to get better," said Gordon. "We had some fuel-mileage issues in our last race at Fontana, but we know why now and we should be able to post a solid finish (on Sunday) and move closer to our goal (of finishing in the top 20 in points)."
  • Last week: Gordon was another driver who encountered tire problems at Bristol. A flat on lap 322 forced Gordon to make an unscheduled pit stop, and he lost two laps in the process. "We had a car that was capable of finishing in the top 10 and had at least a top-15 finish going until we had that tire go down," Gordon said after finishing 27th.
  • Etc.: Gordon will make his second and last start this weekend in the Busch Series car owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. "Racing against Dale Jr. and Carl (Edwards) for the win was great," Gordon said of his third-place run at Michigan. "I can understand their struggles as a team, but they've made some strides in the right direction and that's why we were able to be competitive there at the end (of the Michigan event)."

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    25) Bobby Labonte, No. 43 Dodge, Petty Enterprises
  • This week: After five top-six finishes in his first eight starts at California, Labonte has failed to finish better than 13th in his last four races at the two-mile track. "California used to be one of my better tracks, and I think it can be again," said Labonte. "We have to bring the right cars to the track with the right setup. I know we can do that."
  • Last week: Labonte had high hopes that he would be able to contend for a win after qualifying third at Bristol. But that never happened as he battled an extremely tight race car all evening and finished a disappointing 23rd. "We had a great car on Friday," said Labonte. "But tonight we couldn't get the grip we needed and fought some handling problems."
  • Etc.: Robbie Loomis, vice president of competition for Petty Enterprises, still believes that Labonte can win a race before the year is over. "Bobby made a commitment to Petty Enterprises, and we want to make sure he gets the Cheerios Dodge in Victory Lane (in 2006)," said Loomis.

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    Tagged: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart

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