NASCAR At Fontana 2012: Tony Stewart Wins Rain-Shortened Auto Club 400

In a race that was caution-free until it was cut short by rain, 'Smoke' picked up his second victory of the still-young season.

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20 Total Updates since March 22, 2012
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NASCAR Point Standings After Fontana: Greg Biffle Retains Sprint Cup Series Lead

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle retained the No. 1 spot following Sunday's rain-shortened Fontana race, but Kevin Harvick remained within striking distance.

Harvick sits just seven points behind Biffle, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-17) and Auto Club 400 winner Tony Stewart (-18).

Kasey Kahne was the biggest mover on Sunday, jumping five positions to 27th place. But Kahne is still 68 points outside a Chase spot and has much work to do over the next 21 races.

The other big gainer of the day was Kurt Busch, who moved up four spots to 23rd in points after his first top-10 result of the year.

The biggest loser of the day was Joey Logano, who dropped four spots to 13th – outside a Chase position – with a disappointing 24th-place finish.

Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Fontana:

  1. Greg Biffle
  2. Kevin Harvick -7
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
  4. Tony Stewart -18
  5. Martin Truex Jr. -20
  6. Matt Kenseth -22
  7. Denny Hamlin -24
  8. Clint Bowyer -38
  9. Jimmie Johnson -39
  10. Ryan Newman -40
  11. Paul Menard -47
  12. Carl Edwards -49
  13. Joey Logano -49
  14. Kyle Busch -52
  15. Jeff Burton -53
  16. Brad Keselowski -56
  17. Mark Martin -66
  18. Juan Pablo Montoya -72
  19. Regan Smith -77
  20. Bobby Labonte -87
  21. Aric Almirola -88
  22. Jamie McMurray -89
  23. Kurt Busch -90
  24. Marcos Ambrose -90
  25. Jeff Gordon -91
  26. AJ Allmendinger -94
  27. Kasey Kahne -108
  28. Dave Blaney -108
  29. Casey Mears -114
  30. David Gilliland -115
  31. David Ragan -116
  32. David Reutimann -116
  33. Travis Kvapil -133
  34. Landon Cassill -133
  35. Brendan Gaughan -145
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NASCAR Fontana Results 2012: Denny Hamlin Makes Ill-Timed Pit Stop

With rain in the air and uncertainty as to whether it would be just a passing shower or the beginning of a downpour, Darian Grubb was in a position no crew chief wants to be in just past halfway in Sunday's NASCAR race in Fontana, Calif.

Grubb was faced with a decision: Does he call his driver Denny Hamlin into the pits and give up his second-place position in the running order or does he stay out with the rest of the leaders to get a better result?

Grubb opted to pit, and when the sky opened up moments later, there was Hamlin – who had started on the pole and led the opening two laps – sitting 11th with no chance to reclaim the track position he had just lost.

RESULTS: Find the full NASCAR results from Sunday's Fontana race here.

"I feel we took the safe move," Hamlin said. "The risky move was to stay out. If this goes back green, Tony (Stewart) is going to have to restart way in the back and it's going to really hurt your chances of winning the race. For us to give up some positions, it looks like we'll give up about nine positions and finish 11th, or we'll have a good chance to win it if it goes back green."

Grubb defended his decision afterward by saying it looked to him as if the rain would blow over. If that proved to be true, Hamlin would have come out ahead and would have been in good shape to score his second of the year.

Alas, it didn't happen and instead Hamlin was left explaining his crew chief's decision to come in for fuel and tires.

"This is the strategy that we made," Hamlin said. "We were planning on the race going back green. If it doesn't, then we'll lose some spots. If we chose to stay out there, then we were going to have to be behind all the cars that pitted. Then your chances of winning decreases greatly.

"You either give up a few spots if it finishes up here, or you lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things."

If there is a silver lining in the rain clouds, it's that for the first time since their win at Phoenix three weeks ago, the No. 11 was back running up front among the leaders.

But with a chance to win washed away, looking at the positives was not something Hamlin was immediately prepared to do.

"A little bit," Hamlin answered when asked if he was frustrated. "We have a top-two or (top-)three car – had it all day. We just now got it to where we can run these guys down and get to Tony and then it rains. It's just one of those things."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Finishes Third In NASCAR Fontana Race

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says all the right things about Auto Club Speedway, like how much he loves the track and the multiple grooves of racing it provides.

While that may be all well and good, the reality is the two-mile oval hasn't been too kind to him over the years.

Sure, he's had some good finishes along the way, including a third-place run in 2001 and a runner-up finish in 2006. More often than not though, Earnhardt Jr. has struggled, as indicated by his average finish of 21.7 and the seven consecutive finishes outside the top 10 he had heading into today's running of the Auto Club 400.

But this afternoon, Earnhardt Jr.'s admiration for the Southern California track matched his performance level as the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished third in the rain-shortened race.

"We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came," he said. "We had been watching the weather all day and we felt certain if it started to rain it wasn't going to stop. We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three."

The result was Earnhardt Jr.'s second top-five finish of on the year, and it vaulted the driver three spots up the standings into third, just 17 points behind leader Greg Biffle.

"I'm really happy," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve (Letarte) and the team. Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we're running. He's giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive."

Next up in Earnhardt Jr.'s effort to snap his 134-race winless streak is a trip next Sunday to Martinsville Speedway. It's the place where he was leading just five laps from the finish last spring before being passed by eventual winner Kevin Harvick and had to settle for a hard-fought second.

"I look forward going to Martinsville," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It's a pretty fun track. We've had some good success there and I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win."

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NASCAR Fontana Results: Tony Stewart Wins Rain-Shortened Auto Club 400

Tony Stewart made all the right moves Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, and the last one proved decisive in taking the three-time champion to Victory Lane in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400.

After raindrops slowed the race on Lap 124, Stewart, the race leader, faked a move toward pit road but stayed on the track and matched the pace car's speed of 65 mph, a far cry from the lightning-fast laps he ran under the green flag.

But that move -- staying out and running slow caution laps before NASCAR stopped the race on Lap 129 -- proved decisive for the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, who claimed his second victory of the season, his second at Fontana and the 46th of his career, tying him with Buck Baker for 14th on the career victory list.

Kyle Busch, who stayed out with Stewart, finished second, with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards completing the top five.

Greg Biffle ran sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, all of whom gambled on protracted rain and stayed on the track during the initial shower. Jimmie Johnson and polesitter Denny Hamlin came to pit road and finished 10th and 11th, respectively.

"I don't think that I faked him out," Stewart said of Hamlin. "I'm sure he had made his decision already -- looked good, though."

In Johnson's case, the top-10 was a godsend, given that the No. 48 Chevrolet developed an oil line problem as the cars circled the two-mile track under caution. Johnson's car began smoking and he kept it rolling on the apron until NASCAR stopped the race.

The event ran caution-free for 124 laps, until rain in Turns 3 and 4 brought out the first yellow flag of the afternoon. Stewart had retained the lead through a third cycle of green-flag pit stops, with Hamlin chasing him.

Hamlin had made a run at the leader when the rain began to fall, but he and Johnson opted to give up positions in the top five and come to pit road, after Stewart made his feint toward the pits but remained on the racetrack.

Feint or not, Hamlin was committed to the trip to pit road, and he explained the decision.

"We were planning on the race going back to green, and if it doesn't, we'll lose some spots, but if we chose to stay out there, we would have to be behind all the cars that pitted (if the race restarted)," Hamlin said as the rain intensified. "(In that case), your chance of winning decreases greatly.

"So you could give up a few spots if it finishes up here and lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things . . . We had finally gotten to (Stewart's) bumper when the rain came."

That left Busch in second place. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota had led 80 laps to that point, but Busch had rubbed the wall in traffic before the halfway point, and the handling of his car deteriorated thereafter.

Here are the complete NASCAR results from Fontana:

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  4. Kevin Harvick
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Greg Biffle
  7. Ryan Newman
  8. Martin Truex Jr.
  9. Kurt Busch
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Mark Martin
  13. Clint Bowyer
  14. Kasey Kahne
  15. AJ Allmendinger
  16. Matt Kenseth
  17. Juan Pablo Montoya
  18. Brad Keselowski
  19. Paul Menard
  20. Regan Smith
  21. Marcos Ambrose
  22. Jeff Burton
  23. Casey Mears
  24. Joey Logano
  25. Aric Almirola
  26. Jeff Gordon
  27. David Reutimann
  28. Bobby Labonte
  29. Travis Kvapil
  30. David Gilliland
  31. David Ragan
  32. Jamie McMurray
  33. Dave Blaney
  34. Ken Schrader
  35. JJ Yeley
  36. Landon Cassill
  37. Josh Wise
  38. Michael McDowell
  39. David Stremme
  40. Mike Bliss
  41. Scott Riggs
  42. Reed Sorenson
  43. Brendan Gaughan
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NASCAR Fontana 2012: Viewer's Guide For Today's Race

Here's a guide to help you keep track of all the storylines in today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Fontana:

Storylines

Searching for some consistency

As evidenced by his win last Sunday in Bristol, Brad Keselowski hasn't been lacking speed this season. What he has lacked is consistency, as he's mixed two top-five finishes around two finishes of 32nd.

With his win a week ago moving up him up to 14th in the standings, it would be nice to see Keselowski use last Sunday as a launching pad to a stretch of races where he continually runs and finishes in the top 10. Working against him today is in three career starts he's never finished better than 21st on the two-mile track.

Gordon needs his bad luck to go bye-bye

With two finishes of 35th or worse to start the year, Jeff Gordon finds himself 23rd in points and off to the worst start of his career. It's far too soon to panic though, as last season at this time he was 19th in the driver standings and he still was able to rally back and comfortably make the Chase.

The good news for Gordon is most of his issues have more to do with bad luck than anything else. First there was the blown engine at Daytona when he was running in the top 10, while last week, again running in the top 10, he cut a left-rear and crashed after contact with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.

At some point though – and preferably sooner rather than later – Gordon needs to rid himself of his bad luck and put together some consecutive finishes that allow him to climb up the championship order. What better time than on a track where he's won three times and has three finishes of third or better in his last nine Auto Club Speedway starts.

Parity

Parity is the name of the game in NASCAR in 2012. In four races there have been four different winners. More telling, Ford, Toyota, Chevy and Dodge have all been to Victory Lane once. The last time that happened to open a season was 1986.

Decisions, Decisions

Tires, track position and fuel mileage are constants no matter the track. But particularly so at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway where long green flag runs are the norm, passing can be at a premium and races are often decided by how much gas a driver has left in the gas tank.

With that in mind, expect to see plenty of two-tire stops throughout the afternoon. Also look for teams to gamble on taking no tires and/or stretching their fuel to the brink, and in some cases beyond, late in the race in an attempt to better their finishing position.

Worth Noting

• Eight drivers starting today's race were born in the state of California – Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Casey Mears, AJ Allmendinger, Josh Wise and David Gilliland.

• Half of the 22 races held at Auto Club Speedway have been won by a driver starting in the top 10. The farthest back a driver has come to win was Matt Kenseth who started 31st when he won here in 2006.

• Kevin Harvick in winning this race last year led just one lap – the last one. He will lineup seventh on the grid this afternoon.

Favorites

1. Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin lands number one on the favorites list because he won the pole Friday, was fastest in both practices yesterday and won last year at Michigan – a track similar in nature to Auto Club Speedway.

2. Jimmie Johnson

The native Southern Californian has a lot of reasons to love this track. First, it is his home track as he grew up in nearby El Cajon and second, in 2002 it was the site of his first Sprint Cup win. It also doesn't hurt that Johnson has been flat dominant here, with a track-best five victories, finishing in the top five in 12 of 17 starts and owning a gaudy average finish of 5.1.

3. Matt Kenseth

This is a Matt Kenseth kind of track where a driver who is smooth, consistent and knows how to maximize the petrol in their fuel tank is often rewarded. This explains why this year's Daytona 500 champ has won here three times and has eight top-fives and 13 top-10s in 19 career starts. Keep in mind that Kenseth was second-quick in yesterday's morning practice.

Sleeper

There are quite a few candidates who could pull a surprise today, but out of all them I like Clint Bowyer the best. He's been fast all weekend including placing second in yesterday's all-important final practice session and comes in having finished fourth and sixth the last two weeks.

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NASCAR Fontana Race Day Weather Update 2012: Halfway Is Now In Play

The toughest thing for a meteorologist to do is stare at the radar and realize his forecast is wrong.

Over the last four hours, the rain to the west of Auto Club Speedway has been slow to move east. As of 1 p.m. EDT, the rain wasn't even in Los Angeles – which is roughly 40 miles away – and the rain has been moving an estimated speed of around 10 mph. This opens up a window of an hour – maybe more – if the rain to the west doesn't increase in area or doesn't speed up.

Because there is now a legitimate window of time to go racing this afternoon, I think we have a 50-60 percent chance we get to halfway and anytime after that is bonus. Remember one lap past halfway makes this race official and no need to race on Monday.

For the latest information on weather conditions, please follow me on Twitter (@NASCAR_WXMAN) and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

Conditions in Fontana, CA: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SUNDAY:
1:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup pre-race – Clouds and sunshine – temp: 52
3:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup race – Cloudy, breezy, chance rain showers and drizzle – temp: 55
5:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup race – Cloudy windy, with rain showers and drizzle – temp: 58

MONDAY:
1:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup race (possible back-up time if needed) – Partly sunny cool – temp: 52

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NASCAR Fontana Race Day Weather Forecast 2012: Rain Expected By Green Flag

**12 p.m. EDT Update***
On Radar, rain was estimated 70 miles east of Auto Club Speedway. It's moving very slowly to the east. Estimated time of arrival at the track is between 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT) and 4 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. EDT) This may open a window of opportunity to get the race started, and maybe to halfway but the odds are still low. If they get started this afternoon getting the full 400 miles appears out of the question.

Unfortunately for NASCAR and race fans in California, there's been no change to the Auto Club Speedway weather forecast for later this afternoon.

Previous Update

Rain and light drizzle will spread across the area between 12 p.m. EDT (9 a.m. PDT) and 3 p.m. EDT (12 p.m. PDT). With green flag scheduled for 3:16 p.m. EDT (12:16 p.m. PDT), even if NASCAR were to move the start time up a couple of minutes, it doesn't look like it would beat the rain.

Once the rain arrives this morning, it looks to continue into the evening and increase in intensity as we go into the afternoon. It will be cooler with highs only in the mid-to-upper 50s, and Auto Club Speedway is under a wind advisory with potential wind gusts of 30-40 mph out of the south-southwest.

MONDAY'S WEATHER FORECAST

Given the information and weather data presented, I fully expect a Monday race. Based on comments on Twitter and Facebook, many race fans would love to see another Monday night race. That doesn't seem likely knowing that NASCAR would love to run the race as early as possible and with the rain ending early Monday morning, I could see them running the Auto Club 400 at 1 p.m EDT on Monday.

For the latest information on weather conditions, please follow me on Twitter (@NASCAR_WXMAN) and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

Conditions in Fontana, CA: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SUNDAY:
1:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup pre-race – Mostly cloudy with likely rain showers and drizzle – temp: 52
3:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup race – Cloudy, windy, with rain showers and drizzle – temp: 55
5:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup race – Cloudy windy, with rain showers and drizzle – temp: 58

MONDAY:
1:00 p.m. EST
Sprint Cup race (possible back-up time) – Partly sunny cool – temp: 52

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NASCAR At Fontana: Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin Look Strong For Auto Club 400

After an offseason of change and uncertainty, it appeared through two races that Joe Gibbs Racing had fixed the many problems which plagued the organization throughout the 2011 season.

The exclamation point on this supposed metamorphosis was Denny Hamlin's convincing victory three weeks ago in Phoenix, one that also saw JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano finish sixth and 10th, respectively.

For Hamlin, who was still trying to put what was a frustrating and unfulfilling 2011 season in the rearview mirror, it was a monumental win on a variety of levels. That it came in what was just his second race with new crew chief Darian Grubb made it all the sweeter.

But just as things seemed to have changed for the better, the luster of what JGR accomplished through the first two events wore off. At both Las Vegas and Bristol, whether it was because of being caught up in an accident or simply not having the speed it had in the weeks prior, none of the three JGR cars finished better than 16th.

When the green flag flies on the Auto Club 400 – whether that's later today or Monday due to a rainout – JGR looks poised to put the disappointing last two weeks behind it.

"Even though we've ran subpar these last couple weeks, everyone is still in a good mood and still happy about where we're at and where we're heading," Hamlin said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "That's something that we did lose in 2011. The morale of everyone, we needed an uplift and it seems like regardless of these last couple weeks, we knew we were going to have our struggles at the beginning of the season until we get cars built like Darian likes them and things like that."

In qualifying on Friday, Hamlin sped to the pole while Busch clocked in the second-fastest speed and secured the team's first front-row sweep since June 2003 – a span of 312 races.

"It was really a good day all around for us," Hamlin said. "We obviously showed some pretty good speed in the first practice. Even in race trim, it put us in the top five. I knew once we got to qualifying we'd have a strong car."

Winning has never been a question for JGR. After all, this is an organization which collectively has won no less than four races a season for the last seven years.

However, what it hasn't done since 2005 is win a championship – and to do that, it needs consistency.

This means salvaging bad days and turning them into good days, which is something it wasn't able to do the past couple of weeks and for the majority of last year.

But as is the case when major change has taken place, it takes time for the transformation to take effect. All of which explains JGR's early season ups and downs.

Everything the team has worked to improve on over the offseason isn't with the intent to run better now or even next week. JGR is thinking big picture and about what it needs to do to win the team's fourth Sprint Cup title – which would be the first for Toyota.

The mantra is seemingly that before you can run, you first need to walk. A lesson which Hamlin has no problem embracing at this point in the season.

"This is the first chapter and I think we've got some good things coming along the lines," Hamlin said. "We have to be patient, we need to harness our expectations for our race team for the first eight-to-10 races and then see what we have come summertime."

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NASCAR 2012 Weather Forecast At Auto Club Speedway: Timing Of Rain Will Determine Whether We Race Sunday

Small changes have been made to the weather forecast for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

Over the last 36 hours, the tendency of most weather forecast models has been to slow the arrival of the Pacific storm and associated rain. As of Friday night, the models showed the rain arrival to be between 2 p.m. EDT (the earliest) and 5 p.m. EDT (the latest).

The race is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. EDT, which is noon local time.

You may be asking: Can NASCAR get all 400 miles in during that potential window? If they start the race a little earlier than 3 p.m. EDT and because the race is shorter at 400 miles (average time: 2 hours, 45 minutes), they could easily get past halfway and possibly complete the race if the rain were to hold off.

All of this is dependent on the rain arriving two-to-three hours after the start of the race.

Timing of precipitation can make or break a forecast. It's one of the biggest challenges forecasters and meteorologists face. It's even more challenging when you have four or five different sources giving you four or five different times.

It is going to rain on Sunday in Southern California – it's just a matter of when it arrives.

We have two scenarios:

1) In the best-case scenario, the rain arrives two-to-three hours after the start of the race and we get to see racing, with the race ending after halfway or possibly the full 400 miles. Current odds are 40-50 percent that will happen.

2) In the worst-case scenario, the rain arrives as the race is about to begin and the race is postponed or rescheduled until Monday. Current odds of that happening are 50-60 percent.

If the race were to be postponed to Monday, the forecast looks good around midday and the afternoon as the rain quickly exits during the morning.

Because of the difficult and ever-changing nature of this forecast , please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the week.

Conditions in Fontana, CA: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

SATURDAY:
12:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup practice – Partly sunny – temp: 57
1:30 p.m. EDT
Nationwide qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 60
3:50 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup final practice – Mostly sunny– temp: 67
5:30 p.m. EDT
Nationwide race – Mostly sunny – temp: 68

SUNDAY:
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Cloudy with possible rain showers – temp: 58

MONDAY:
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race (possible back-up time) – Mostly cloudy, chance of scattered rain – temp: 50

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NASCAR At Fontana 2012 Starting Lineup: Denny Hamlin Leads Auto Club 400 Field

Toyota Racing Development flexed its muscle on Friday evening at Auto Club Speedway, with the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based engine builder grabbing six of the top 13 spots in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying at its home track.

Toyota swept the top three positions for Sunday's Auto Club 400, with pole-sitter Denny Hamlin leading the way over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and Michael Waltrip Racing's Mark Martin.

Joey Logano (eighth), Clint Bowyer (11th) and Martin Truex Jr. (13th) also had good qualifying runs in TRD-powered cars.

But Chevrolet had a strong showing as well. Chevy had five of the top 10 spots, including Kasey Kahne (fifth), Ryan Newman (sixth), Kevin Harvick (seventh), Tony Stewart (ninth) and Jimmie Johnson (10th).

No. 4 qualifier Greg Biffle was the only Ford in the top 10.

Robby Gordon, Joe Nemechek and Timmy Hill failed to qualify for Sunday's race.

Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Fontana:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Mark Martin
  4. Greg Biffle
  5. Kasey Kahne
  6. Ryan Newman
  7. Kevin Harvick
  8. Joey Logano
  9. Tony Stewart
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Clint Bowyer
  12. Carl Edwards
  13. Martin Truex Jr.
  14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  15. Matt Kenseth
  16. Jamie McMurray
  17. Brad Keselowski
  18. David Reutimann
  19. Jeff Burton
  20. David Stremme
  21. Jeff Gordon
  22. Regan Smith
  23. Kurt Busch
  24. Juan Pablo Montoya
  25. AJ Allmendinger
  26. Bobby Labonte
  27. Paul Menard
  28. Aric Almirola
  29. Marcos Ambrose
  30. Josh Wise
  31. Landon Cassill
  32. Michael McDowell
  33. Casey Mears
  34. Dave Blaney
  35. Scott Riggs
  36. JJ Yeley
  37. Brendan Gaughan
  38. David Ragan
  39. Mike Bliss
  40. Travis Kvapil
  41. David Gilliland
  42. Ken Schrader
  43. Reed Sorenson
DNQ: Robby Gordon, Joe Nemechek, Timmy Hill.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. And Jeff Gordon At Fontana: We're Over Bristol Incident

On Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon were battling for sixth place 140 laps from the finish. But during some tight racing between the Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Earnhardt Jr. inadvertently cut Gordon's left-rear tire with his tailpipe and caused the No. 24 car to hit the wall and suffer heavy damage to the No. 24 Chevrolet.

Afterward, the four-time series champion was not pleased with Earnhardt Jr. and said the two were racing one another too hard. He suggested in the future, he might race his teammate differently.

On Friday at Auto Club Speedway, Gordon said there was a time and place for hard racing – and that point in the Bristol race wasn't it.

"I've got respect for Dale, and I know he has that for me as well," Gordon said. "We enjoy being teammates. I think we learned a little bit from that situation about when the time to race hard is and when it isn't.

"If that's for the win or for the position at the end of the race, we get it. But I think we both agreed it probably wasn't the best thing to do as teammates that early into a restart with that many laps to go."

When Earnhardt Jr. met with the media on Friday at Auto Club Speedway, he acknowledged speaking with Gordon during the week and said he doesn't anticipate there will be any issue in the future.

"We talked and I feel pretty good about how that went," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We should have no problem going forward. It was an unfortunate situation, especially for him. I'm sure it stings a little bit for him and the team. We will just see."

Earnhardt Jr., who went on to finish 15th after a pit road speeding penalty curtailed what had been a good run for him, doesn't think Gordon will race him any differently.

"It was just a freak situation and you kind of got to remember that, and not really beat yourself up too much about it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Jeff has a good reputation in this sport and I've got a lot of respect for him and enjoy being his teammate. I've learned a lot from him even before we were teammates, just racing him over the years. He has been here a long time and I think we will be able to race each other without any problems.

"I think he respects me and I respect him. We will be able to move forward without any problems."

The thing that most baffled Gordon about the incident was how Earnhardt Jr.'s tailpipe was able to make contact with his tires.

"It was a case where the tailpipe just lined up perfectly on the left-rear, which really to me is the much bigger issue than the contact between me and Junior," Gordon said. "I don't understand why the tailpipes are even capable of getting to the left rear tire. If that happens at a big, fast speedway, it's a much bigger incident than that was. I'd like to see that addressed."

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Jimmie Johnson Responds To Overturned Penalty, Mike Helton Comments

For the first time since Tuesday's surprising ruling by chief appellate officer John Middlebrook to rescind the bulk of the penalties levied against the No. 48 team, Jimmie Johnson spoke with the media and said the decision proves his car was legal at Daytona.

But as pleased as the five-time champ is, his happiness was tempered by Middlebrook's choice to uphold both the fine and probation levied against crew chief Chad Knaus.

"I don't feel vindicated, because I feel like everything should have been overturned," Johnson said Friday at Auto Club Speedway in California.

Johnson though, like the majority of those who cover and follow the sport, is confused as to why Knaus was fined $100,000 and placed on probation when it was determined a rules violation hadn't been committed.

Johnson's question: How can one be fined and placed on probation if no rules infraction was found?

"I'm not totally happy with the decision," Johnson said. "I'm pleased the big issues came down, but I share confusion as well. We didn't feel a penalty was warranted in the first place. We're just as curious."

But despite the confusion, the important thing to come out of Tuesday's ruling is the fact Johnson won't be without his crew chief for any period of time and he gets back the 25 valuable points NASCAR had originally deducted. As a result, Johnson moved from 17th in the Sprint Cup standings to 11th – just one point out of 10th.

"We're pleased we didn't have the suspension and we got our points back," Johnson said. "It puts us right there, just outside the top 10, and the disruption if we were to lose Chad and Ron (Malec, car chief) would have been huge. We have depth, but you don't want to go to the race track without your crew chief and car chief.

"But again, we felt like there was no penalty warranted."

As for NASCAR president Mike Helton's contention earlier in the day Friday that the C-posts found on the 48 car at Daytona were illegal, Johnson says Tuesday's ruling speaks for itself.

"We are agreeing to disagree – respectfully," Johnson said. "NASCAR has their side and we have our side. If we didn't prove those C-posts were legal, we wouldn't have won the appeal."

Now that the appeals process is over, Johnson is focused on getting back to Victory Lane, he hopes as soon as this Sunday at a track where he's won five times previously (including his first Sprint Cup victory in 2002).

"It's behind us," he said. "The decision has been made, there are no more steps in the process and now it's time to get on the track and get to work."

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Mike Helton Defends NASCAR's Inspection Process, Maintains No. 48 Car Was Illegal

NASCAR president Mike Helton was apparently as stunned as everyone else on Tuesday to hear the No. 48 team partially won its appeal of NASCAR's penalties from Daytona 500 qualifying inspection.

But Helton told reporters at Auto Club Speedway he still believes in NASCAR's inspection process and maintained Jimmie Johnson's car did have illegally modified C-posts.

"I'll keep my personal reaction to myself, because I'm the only one that'll ever know it," Helton said. "But I got through that in about 30 seconds to go on to the fact we did what we thought was correct."

Helton said the inspection process will not change and he hoped inspectors would pull the C-posts off the car if they saw a similar problem again.

"We think the decision that was made this week supports the inspection process, because the elements of the penalty that were upheld indicates the inspectors did their jobs correctly," he said. "The debate was more about the decision after that point and how we reacted to it."

Chief appellate officer John Middlebrook struck down a 25-point penalty for Johnson and the six-week suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec in a stunning decision after an appeals panel had unanimously ruled to uphold the penalties a week earlier.

Middlebrook is a former General Motors executive with strong ties to Rick Hendrick, but Helton said he believed in both Middlebrook and the integrity of the process.

"Our opinion and our belief in (Middlebrook) hasn't changed," he said.

Many observers were puzzled as to why Middlebrook rescinded the points penalty and suspensions but kept the $100,000 fine in place. But Helton said Middlebrook's job description does not include the requirement to explain his decisions.

Helton also defended the inspection process against criticism NASCAR didn't allow Johnson's car to go through the templates. The longtime executive said the inspection process begins as soon as a car is unloaded from the hauler, and the templates themselves are just a part of it.

Despite repeated questions, Helton maintained Johnson's car was not legal according to the NASCAR rulebook.

"The decision made this week upholds what's right and wrong," Helton said. "There were elements of the penalty that were upheld relative to parts of the car that did not conform to the rules."

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NASCAR 2012 Weather Forecast At Auto Club Speedway: Rain A Real Threat Sunday

NASCAR dodged the rain bullet last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, but I'm not sure that NASCAR will be able to do it two weeks in a row.

A Pacific storm system moving out of the Gulf of Alaska will arrive and spread rain across southern California on Sunday into Monday morning.

Rain arrives Sunday morning and will continue to be steady and light through the day and afternoon. This isn't the hit-or-miss variety of showers you typically hear me talk about throughout the season. Rather, this will be a steady area of light rain – and the way things look, I don't see any potential breaks that would allow for track drying and full racing once the rain arrives.

This has the strong potential of being a washout, in my professional opinion. I think the odds of actually seeing a race Sunday afternoon is currently around 10 percent. It is starting to appear this system begins to move out Monday morning.

The threat of rain greatly decreases through mid-to-late morning on Monday and should clear out by Monday afternoon, if NASCAR is forced to postpone Sunday's scheduled Sprint Cup Series race.

As for the rest of the weekend, expect areas of patchy fog Friday and Saturday morning with just the slight chance of some drizzle Friday morning. The rest of the time the skies will be partly sunny and temperatures in the mid 60s.

Conditions in Fontana, CA: Click here for Current Weather Conditions | Look at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

FRIDAY:
3:00 p.m. ET
Sprint Cup practice – Partly sunny – temp: 63
4:30 p.m. ET
Nationwide final practice – Partly sunny – temp: 65
7:00 p.m. ET
Sprint Cup qualifying –Partly sunny – temp: 65

SATURDAY:
12:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup practice – Mostly cloudy – temp: 56
1:30 p.m. EDT
Nationwide qualifying – Clouds and sun – temp: 60
3:50 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup final practice – Partly sunny – temp: 66
5:30 p.m. EDT
Nationwide race – Partly sunny – temp: 67

SUNDAY:
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Cloudy with rain showers – temp: 56

MONDAY:
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race (possible back up time) – Mostly cloudy, chance of rain decreasing – temp: 52

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest Weather updates through the week.

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NASCAR At Fontana 2012: Weekend Schedule

NASCAR rolls into Southern California this weekend for its third race in four weeks on the West Coast.

It's an odd cluster of races, to be sure – Phoenix, Las Vegas and now Fontana, Calif. – but one made necessary by the absence of warm-weather tracks at this time of year.

Though Fontana has gotten a bad rap over the years thanks to its low attendance and strung-out racing, the quality of the races have actually improved over the past few events. And with the 400-mile length instead of 500, it fits neatly into a three-hour window.

Here's the weekend schedule for NASCAR's events at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana (all times Eastern; track is on Pacific time):

FRIDAY

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

4:40 p.m. -- Nationwide Series final practice (2 hours, 20 minutes)

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

SATURDAY

12:30 p.m. -- Sprint Cup Series practice (50 minutes)

1:35 p.m. -- Nationwide Series qualifying

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

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

SUNDAY

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

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NASCAR At Fontana: Nationwide Series Regulars Holding Their Own

Turf wars are nothing new in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. So far this season, the tour's regulars have prevented their circuit from becoming a playground for moonlighting Sprint Cup stars.

For the first time in 17 years, the season's first four races have been won by non-Sprint Cup drivers. That includes two victories by points leader Elliott Sadler, one by defending series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and one by James Buescher, who is vying for the title in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

If the trend is to continue in Saturday's Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET), a Nationwide regular will have to foul up Kyle Busch's recent run of success at the 2-mile track. Busch has won five of the last six Nationwide races at Fontana, but will be trying to secure victory No. 1 for his own Kyle Busch Motorsports organization.

Busch's main competition figures to be his former Nationwide team, Joe Gibbs Racing, which will field entries for Joey Logano and Brian Scott at California. Between Busch's five wins and one each from Logano and Tony Stewart, Gibbs cars have a seven-race Nationwide winning streak at Auto Club Speedway.

"I think if you look at the stats, we've been very dominant there for sure," Logano said. "We've been pretty good in the new car, but not as good as we want to be. We're trying to get these cars a little bit better on the speedways and it looked like from the Vegas race that they've done a good job with that."

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