Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 | 11:13 p.m.
Ford has 10 victories at Auto Club Speedway, more than any other manufacturer. But the Chevys were dominant Sunday at the Auto Club 500. The Impalas of Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson were all strong at different points during the race. Montoya's engine eventually went up in smoke. But Johnson, who benefited from a tremendous lucky break, piloted his Chevrolet to victory lane.
Johnson was driving down pit road when the caution came out on Lap 226 after Brad Keselowski spun. Johnson beat race leader Burton, who was still on the track, to the timing line at the end of pit road. As a result, Johnson remained on the lead lap. After the leaders pitted, Johnson cycled around into the first position. That put Johnson in position to win.
Is this a sign of things to come? Are we going to witness a fifth consecutive championship by the No. 48 team? Or will a resurgent Richard Childress Racing give the Hendrick team a run for its money? Hopefully, we'll have a tight competition for the championship this year that will include teams that aren't part of the Hendrick organization. In addition, I'm anxious to see if the return of the rear spoiler later this season will mix up the competition.
With California behind them, the drivers now head to Las Vegas for the next race in the traveling NASCAR circus. Is there anything the drivers may have learned at Fontana that can give them an advantage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Last week, in response to this question, Tony Stewart said: "These early races teach you very quickly where your program is, compared to the competition. If your cars are good, you'll run well at California, Vegas, Atlanta, Texas and so on. Everybody wants to know where they stack up and shake out right now. If you can get off to a good start, it shows that your program is really where it needs to be. This is a huge week."
There are nine tracks of this type (1.5 to 2 miles in length) on the circuit. So performing well at California and Las Vegas are crucial to performing well enough to make it into the Chase.
Stewart finished ninth in the Auto Club 500 and he has never won at Las Vegas. His best finish at Vegas was second in 2000 and his worst finish was 43rd in 2008.
Kurt Busch finished sixth at Fontana and his brother, Kyle, finished 14th.
Here are a few photos and some video I shot at Fontana.
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson share notes
Butt damage on the Butt Paste Nationwide car
Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray
Nose template at Cup inspection
Jeff Gordon walking to driver introductions
Drivers waiting backstage for driver introductions