NASCAR Fontana 2014 qualifying: Jimmie Johnson could be the driver to beat

A five-time winner at Fontana, Johnson was the fastest driver in practice and will certainly be a threat for the pole on Friday night.

After a one-week break from the West Coast, the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit is headed back for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The weekend will begin for drivers on Friday night with qualifying shown on Fox Sports 1.

For a quick reminder of how the rules work for qualifying in the 2014 NASCAR season, SB Nation's Jordan Bianchi provided a concise summary of the new format:

A driver's best lap in a given session will be scored as his or her lap of record, though times are reset at the start of each group. Also incorporated will be eliminations after each stage each until 12 drivers are left to challenge for the fast qualifier award.

Qualifying at Auto Club Speedway, a two-mile track, will consist of three rounds. After the first, 25-minute session, the top 24 eligible cars will advance to the second session, and after the second, 10-minute session, the top 12 eligible cars will advance. Following the final, five-minute session, the top 12 cars will be placed.

At the top of the list of drivers to watch will be Jimmie Johnson, a five-time winner at Fontana, as the California native was the fastest driver in practice with an average speed of 188.664 mph. Just behind him was his Hendricks Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who finished with a speed of 188.511 mph.

The points leader, Brad Keselowski, was also quick, finishing fifth in practice with an average speed of 187.003 mph, just behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 187.740 mph.

Television coverage from Auto Club Speedway is scheduled to begin on Fox Sports 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET, and the first session is projected to start at 7:35 p.m. ET.

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