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