If we put this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at California in terms of football betting, Jimmie Johnson would be a two-touchdown favorite over the rest of the field. The manner in which he has owned the Fontana track is almost likened to the way that the NFC beat down the AFC for 13 straight years, in the 1980s and ’90s, in the Super Bowl.
OK, so maybe it’s not quite as bad as the plight of those AFC teams, but it’s pretty close. Johnson comes in with the points lead, having won the last two Fontana races, the last three fall races in a row and has five wins overall which have all led to him having a track-best 5.5 average finish in his 15 career starts. Equally amazing is that he has been on the lead lap of every lap run on the 2-mile track –ll 3,755 of them while leading 824.
The El Cajon, Calif. native is so good — on what essentially is his home track — that he won his first career race on the track in his first attempt. At least those AFC squads got to play on a neutral field; Johnson’s got everything going for him this week and gets the home field advantage, too.
The other 42 drivers, or more realistically, the other 12 drivers, will not bow down to Johnson’s greatness. During Saturday’s final practices, several drivers emerged as candidates to topple the big favorite and end all of Johnson’s streaks, much like the Denver Broncos did for the AFC as 14-point underdogs against the Green Bay Packers.
Drivers like last week’s Kansas winner, Greg Biffle, who looked the best overall in practice, is ready to step up for the challenge. Bakersfield, Calif., native Kevin Harvick brought his best car to take on Johnson after finishing runner-up to him in the spring.
For Biffle and Harvick, each have gone with the strategy of bringing their Michigan cars this week. Michigan relates well to California because the sister tracks are very similar. The Aug. 15 race is still fresh on the minds of the successful teams — one of which Johnson wasn’t. In that race, Biffle led the most laps and finished fourth while Harvick took the checkered for his only nonrestrictor plate win of the year.
Here are a few reasons to believe Johnson could be beaten this week:
* The spring California race that Johnson won in February was a long time ago with so much changing along the way. The most notable change is the new spoiler going from a wing to the traditional fin. Johnson won his last three California races using the "winged" spoiler, meaning that many of the winning notes from those races are of little use on a down-force track like California.
* Johnson has been more susceptible to DNFs this season than the last two years combined. His four DNFs have doubled the amount from his 2008-09 seasons, making his team look more vulnerable than ever.
* The primary car Johnson brought this week won at Las Vegas but finished 35th in its last race run at Bristol. His backup car has won three of the four races it started. The car slection gives further reason to believe there is a chance of Johnson not being himself this week.
* The Roush-Fenway program is dialed in once again for California, giving three quality candidates to rival Johnson on Sunday. Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards have combined to win five Fontana races. The three Roush drivers had won five straight years there heading into this season and Sunday is their last chance at keeping the streak alive. The horsepower that was lacking for the early portion of the year arrived strong at Indy and Pocono and they have maintained it throughout heading into this week.
* Johnson’s teammate Jeff Gordon, another California kid, is a three-time Fontana winner with his last coming in 2004. He had a fantastic happy hour with the second-best times and would love nothing better than to take back his California crown that Johnson sports.
It’s hard to find flaws in near-perfection like Johnson has exhibited over the years at Fontana, and despite all those sound reasons to go against Johnson this week, he’s still a 2-to-1 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book. Those are the lowest odds placed on any driver since Dale Earnhardt Jr. was winning all those restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega.
Still, I’m a gambler and I’ll take the points with the underdogs in this one — just like I did in most of those AFC Super Bowl losses.
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of my top rated drivers on how well they will do in the race based on the following criteria:
• Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
• Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team, good or bad
• Driver tendencies at certain tracks
• Recent and overall histories for each driver at each track
• Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car — or bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.
Micah Roberts Top 10 Driver Ratings
Pepsi Max 400
California (Auto Club) Speedway
Sunday, October 10, 2010 – 12:16 pm (PDT)
Rating Driver Odds Practice 1 Qualifying Practice 2 Practice 3
1. Jimmie Johnson 2/1 9th 8th 23rd 1st
Won last three fall Fontana races; five wins overall with 5.5 average finish in 15 starts.
2. Greg Biffle 8/1 3rd 7th 1st 4th
2005 winner with three other top-fives; was the most impressive of all during Saturday practices.
3. Kevin Harvick 10/1 24th 21st 13th 5th
Had best career finish in the spring as runner-up; using winning Michigan chassis this week.
4. Jeff Gordon 8/1 21st 17th 5th 2nd
Three career wins with an average finish of 11.0 in 20 starts; outstanding Saturday practices.
5. Matt Kenseth 15/1 15th 3rd 2nd 10th
Last win came at Fontana in spring of 2009, 64 races ago; three career wins with 9.1 average.
6. Kyle Busch 12/1 4th 16th 14th 6th
2005 winner while with Hendrick Motorsports; 10.8 average finish in 12 starts. Using Michigan car.
7. Jamie McMurray 30/1 1st 1st 4th 3rd
Great practices Saturday, but too inconsistent to be rated higher. 16.4 average finish in 14 starts.
8. Denny Hamlin 15/1 18th 34th 6th 9th
Struggled in last two Fontana starts; using winning chassis from Richmond this week.
9. Carl Edwards 8/1 17th 20th 11th 20th
2008 winner with a 7.2 average finish in 12 starts; using runner-up Atlanta chassis this week.
10. Tony Stewart 15/1 28th 22nd 10th 23rd
One of only three tracks he has never won at; using sixth-place Michigan chassis this week.
Note: California Speedway is the sister track of Michigan Speedway with each having similar traits. The August 15 Michigan race is a good barometer to use for handicapping this weeks race.
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.
Micah Roberts, a former Race and Sports Book Director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He currently writes for multiple publications covering all sports. He can be reached at MM.Roberts7Gmail.com.
CALIFORNIA NATIVES TALK ABOUT FONTANA LOSING A DATE FOR THE 2011 SEASON
JEFF GORDON: "This race track has struggled. I think it’s been obvious that while we have a great fan base out here and I think we want to maintain that, you have to look at the sport, the whole sport and everything that’s going on. When you leave Kansas Speedway and we’ve got an incredible crowd and just a huge group of fans are there and you look at how that race track and surrounding areas are growing. They’re building a casino and all those things. It just makes more sense for us to be there. Whether it’s the economy, whether it’s this market. They can’t even get an NFL franchise to work in this area. There’s something about this area that is really tough when it comes to sports franchises and sports entertainment in general. I think that right now it’s the right move. Hopefully we can get back to selling out this race and utilizing this market because it is a great market and then maybe one day come back and have two races."
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "As a California native, I’m disappointed to hear that it’s losing an event because it’s taken so long for NASCAR to get here and then to really engrain it into the sports fans in the area. I hate to see us lose a weekend here, but on a national scale and what’s right for the sport, I kind of see that side as well. Think that if we’re not packing the stands, we probably need to take the second date somewhere else and I have a lot of friends that would come all the time when there was just one race. When it went to two races, it almost gave them an out to say, "Well, we’re busy this spring, we’ll come back in the fall.’ The fall would be here and the race would be here and they would say, "Well, we’ll come back in the spring.’ I could see both sides of it. Either way, I just hope that we have packed stands and everybody watching at home."
KEVIN HARVICK: "I don’t think that it will be a bad thing. I think when we used to come here and there was one race a year, a lot of participation from the fans and I think this is not going to be a bad thing for this particular market, in my opinion."
CALIFORNIA PEPSI MAX 400 ODDS & ENDS
Complied by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services
• Groundbreaking for California Speedway, as Auto Club Speedway was originally known, took place in November 1995.
• The first race at Auto Club Speedway was a NASCAR K&N Pro Series, West race won by Ken Schrader on June 21, 1997.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on June 22, 1997, won by Jeff Gordon.
• September 2004 was the first night race at Auto Club Speedway and that also was the first year both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series ran two races in a season there.
• The track name was changed to Auto Club Speedway in February 2008.
• There have been 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway since the track opened in 1997.
• Four drivers have competed in all 20 races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek.
• Joe Nemechek won the pole for the inaugural race in 1997.
• There have been 14 different pole winners, led by Kurt Busch (three). Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon each have two poles.
• Twelve different drivers have posted victories. Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with five wins. Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth each have won three races.
• Hendrick Motorsports has won nine races, more than any other team.
• Nine of the 20 races were won from starting positions outside the top 10; only one has been won from the pole (Jimmie Johnson in 2008). The most prolific starting position is third, with three victories.
• Matt Kenseth won the 2006 spring race from the 31st starting position, the deepest in the field that a race winner has started.
• Three active drivers have averaged a top-10 finish: Carl Edwards (7.2), Jimmie Johnson (5.5) and Matt Kenseth (9.1).
• Kyle Busch won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole (2/05) and first race (9/05) at Auto Club Speedway.
• Jimmie Johnson won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at ASC on April 28, 2002.
Auto Club Speedway Data
Race # 30 of 36 (10-10-10)
Track Size: 2 miles
• Race Length: 200 laps/400 miles
• Banking/Corners: 14 degrees
• Banking/Frontstretch: 11 degrees
• Banking/Backstretch: 3 degrees
Driver Rating at Auto Club Speedway
Jimmie Johnson 124.0
Matt Kenseth 108.3
Kyle Busch 102.4
Carl Edwards 102.3
Mark Martin 99.7
Jeff Gordon 99.0
Greg Biffle 99.0
Tony Stewart 96.8
Kurt Busch 94.2
Kasey Kahne 92.8
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2010 races (11 total) at Auto Club Speedway.
2009 pole winner: Denny Hamlin (183.870 mph, 39.158 secs.)
2009 race winner: Jimmie Johnson (143.908 mph, 10-11-09)
Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch (188.425 mph, 38.248 seconds,
Track race record: Jeff Gordon (155.012 mph, 6-22-97)
Estimated Pit Window: Every 40-44 laps, based on fuel mileage
NASCAR in California
• There have been 128 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in California, the most held at Riverside International Raceway (48).
• 416 drivers (all-time) in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as California.
• There have been 33 race winners from California in NASCAR’s three national series. Below are those winners, and a breakdown of wins by national series.
LAS VEGAS HILTON SUPER BOOK NASCAR ODDS TO WIN
PEPSI MAX 400
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2010
JIMMIE JOHNSON 2
KYLE BUSCH 12
JEFF GORDON 8
DENNY HAMLIN 15
JEFF BURTON 20
MATT KENSETH 15
CARL EDWARDS 8
GREG BIFFLE 8
KURT BUSCH 12
MARK MARTIN 75
TONY STEWART 15
CLINT BOWYER 30
JUAN MONTOYA 25
KASEY KAHNE 25
JOEY LOGANO 40
RYAN NEWMAN 40
MARTIN TRUEX JR 50
JAMIE McMURRAY 30
DALE EARNHARDT JR 100
BRAD KESELOWSKI 300
DAVID REUTIMANN 50
REED SORENSON 300
DAVID RAGAN 200
AJ ALLMENDINGER 60
MARCOS AMBROSE 500
SAM HORNISH JR 500
ELLIOTT SADLER 500
REGAN SMITH 1000
PAUL MENARD 100
SCOTT SPEED 1000
BOBBY LABONTE 5000
TRAVIS KVAPIL 5000