NASCAR At Fontana: California Race To Provide More Early-Season Answers

Everyone seems to be jumping to conclusions about the 2011 NASCAR season heading into Fontana, even though only four races have been marked off the schedule so far.

People are talking about Jimmie Johnson (he hasn't won a race yet!), Kyle Busch (he looks like a championship contender!), Carl Edwards (unstoppable!) and Paul Menard (a Chase driver!), just to name a few.

And while some of those notions may eventually become a reality, it's far too early to assume anything at this point. Especially if you consider the makeup of the new schedule so far.

Since the meat of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is played out at the so-called "intermediate" tracks (the 1.5-mile and 2-mile ovals), those are where we can make our conclusions about the season.

In the past, the first four races of the season had three intermediate track races: Auto Club Speedway (Fontana), Las Vegas and Atlanta.

So last year, we could have made some major judgments after four races. But we can't do that this year, because there has been only one intermediate track race so far (Las Vegas).

Daytona? Only applies to Talladega. Phoenix? Maybe applies to New Hampshire, if anything. Bristol? Entirely its own animal.

So aside from Las Vegas, what evidence to we have to make any conclusions about the season right now?

That's why, when Carl Edwards was asked after Bristol if he thought the championship would come down to himself, Busch and Johnson, he seemed incredulous.

"Are you seriously asking me that question right now?" he said.

It's simply too early to make any judgments. But coupled with the Vegas results, 400 miles at Fontana will go a long way toward telling us which drivers are headed for an up or down season.

Here's the schedule for the Fontana weekend, which marks NASCAR's lone trip to the 2-mile oval in Southern California this year (all times Eastern):


3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 30 minutes)

4:40 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (2 hours, 40 minutes)

7:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying


1:10 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying

2:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (45 minutes)

3:50 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour)

5:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (150 laps, 300 miles)


3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (200 laps, 400 miles)

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