Monday, March 17, 2014

Fontana Storylines: 2014 Auto Club 400

Jimmie Johnson has five Fontana wins 
NASCAR Storylines for Week of Mar. 17, 2014

Four races down … four winners locked in for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

This week’s lucky driver to sign up as a participant in NASCAR’s postseason … none other than Carl Edwards.

Yes, he of celebratory backflips (although he had to use his hands on the landing to prevent slipping on the wet track) notched a win at the rain-soaked Bristol Motor Speedway.

His triumph was inevitable as he improved his finish in each of the first four races of the season.

Although Tony Stewart didn’t join Edwards in doing a celebratory backflip, he’s happy to consider his fourth-place performance on Sunday as moral win.

Why shouldn’t he?

His first three outings since returning from a sprint car accident haven’t exactly gone as he had hoped. Look for his return to his former self to continue this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, where he’s won two of the past four races.

A good showing in California could indicate that Stewart’s early-season jitters are behind him and he’s ready to race for the championship. Other drivers better beware.

After a disappointing day in Bristol, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to get back to business at Auto Club Speedway and begin a new streak of top-two finishes.

The championship battle in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has already heated up with Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne the two primary contestants … at least for now. They’re separated by one point.

Is it a foregone conclusion that Saturday’s Nationwide race at Auto Club will be won by one of three drivers: Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth or Elliott Sadler?

The reason? All three drivers compete for Joe Gibbs Racing, whose organization has won the last nine races. There will be 37 other drivers who have something to say about that and will be looking to end that streak.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series enjoys one more weekend off before returning to action at Martinsville Speedway for the series’ first race in over a month.

The truck series drivers have an opportunity this week to get re-acclimated with their trucks and driving fast during a testing session at the short, paperclip-shaped track in southwest Virginia.


Edwards Uses Bristol Win To Jump Three Spots, Becomes Eligible For Chase

After a race that was delayed more than five hours, Carl Edwards was out front when the final caution came out on Lap 503, ending the race more than eight hours after its scheduled start. Over the first four starts of 2014, Edwards, whose win makes him eligible for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, has gradually improved his finishes with showings of 17th, eighth, fifth and first. In 16 starts at Auto Club Speedway, the site of next Sunday’s race, Edwards has one win (Feb. 2008).

Stewart Recovers At Bristol; Looking For More At Auto Club
After starting the season with an average finish of 28.0 in the first three races, Tony Stewart had to be pleased with his fourth-place outcome at Bristol. Although it was not a win, it did wonders to combat his finishes of 35th, 16th and 33rd, elevating him four spots in the standings to 23rd. Stewart, who missed the final 15 races of 2013 after a sprint car accident, hopes to experience more of the same in Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, where has won two of the last four races.

Earnhardt Hits First Snag Of 2014
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s stellar start to 2014, which included a win and two runner-up performances, had to eventually come to an end. That streak ended Sunday night in Bristol where the popular driver struggled with handling issues. He ultimately finished 24th and dropped to second in the standings, 10 points behind Brad Keselowski. Earnhardt will try to rebound this weekend at Auto Club Speedway where his best finish in 21 starts is a pair of second-place showings, including one in last year’s race.

Dillon, Larson Proving They Belong In NSCS
Some questioned whether Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson’s promotions to the top series during the offseason were a bit premature. Four races into the 2014 season, both rookies are proving their naysayers wrong. Larson continues to improve each week, capturing his first top 10 at Bristol. He sits six points behind Dillon in the Sunoco rookie standings, who placed 11th at Bristol and ninth at Daytona. Dillon and Larson are 13th and 22nd in the championship standings, respectively, and neither have a series start at this weekend’s venue – Auto Club Speedway.

Stenhouse Showing Improvement Over 2013
At Bristol, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came close to capturing his first win in the NSCS. Instead, he finished a career-best second. The 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year entered the 2014 season looking to improve. Four races into the season, he’s already matched his 2013 top-five finish total and is one shy of tying his total top 10s … and there’s 32 races left. The second-place finish propelled him six positions in the standings to 10th with the series heading to Auto Club Speedway where he finished 20th in his only start.


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