NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
 
                 === This Week in Auto Racing March 21 - 23 ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Fontana,  CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
 return  to the West  Coast this weekend for their fifth races of the season at
 Auto Club Speedway.
 
 
 NASCAR
 
 Sprint Cup Series
 
 Auto Club 400 - Auto Club Speedway - Fontana, Calif.
 
 Last Sunday, Carl Edwards became the fourth different winner in as many Sprint
 Cup  Series races  this season  when he  scored the  victory at  Bristol Motor
 Speedway, an event that featured five hours of rain delays.
 
 Edwards  joined Dale  Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix) and
 Brad  Keselowski (Las  Vegas) as  those drivers  who have  all but  guaranteed
 themselves a berth in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
 
 The  series is  racing  at  Auto Club  Speedway  in  Southern California  this
 weekend. It's the fifth race on the 2014 schedule.
 
 This year, NASCAR has expanded the field of drivers/teams in the Chase from 12
 to 16. The top-15 drivers with the most wins during the 26-race regular season
 will  become  eligible for  the playoffs,  provided they  have finished in the
 top-30 in points. The 16th and final position will go to the driver who is the
 highest in points without a victory.
 
 If  there were more  than 15 winners when the regular season concluded, a race
 winner  could be  left out of the  Chase. But that's unlikely. The 2013 season
 had 13 different winners after the 26th race (Richmond).
 
 There  were five  different winners  to the  start the  season last  year. The
 record for most different winners to begin a season is 10, set in 2000.
 
 Six-time  and  defending Sprint Cup  champion Jimmie  Johnson has yet to drive
 into  victory lane  this  season. Johnson,  who hails  from  nearby El  Cajon,
 Calif.,  has  won at his home  track five times,  which is more than any other
 driver. His first career victory in the series came at this two-mile racetrack
 during his 2002 rookie season.
 
 Johnson  finished  two laps behind in  19th at Bristol, which dropped him from
 third to fifth in the point standings. He started off the season with a fifth-
 place  run in the  Daytona 500 and then finished sixth at both Phoenix and Las
 Vegas.
 
 "There is nothing to be concerned about yet, one because the year is early and
 two  I feel like at least one or two positions will go in via points," Johnson
 said.
 
 Keselowski, Earnhardt and Edwards are currently first through third in points,
 respectively.  Jeff  Gordon is ranked fourth  after finishing in the top-10 in
 each  of the first  four races. Gordon is a three-time race winner in Fontana,
 including a victory in the inaugural event here in 1997.
 
 Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.
 
 Last  year's event  at ACS  ended in  dramatic fashion.  One week  after Denny
 Hamlin  and his  former Joe  Gibbs Racing  teammate, Joey  Logano, clashed  at
 Bristol,  both drivers were battling for the lead and the win on the final lap
 here.  Hamlin  and Logano made  contact and spun in  turn 4, allowing Busch to
 drive to the outside of them and grab the lead en route to victory.
 
 While  Logano managed  to finish  third,  despite scraping  the outside  wall,
 Hamlin  skidded down the track and then slammed hard into the inside retaining
 wall.  Hamlin  suffered a  compression fracture  in his  lower back during the
 accident,  which forced him to miss the next four races. He failed to make the
 Chase for the first time in his eight-year Cup career.
 
 "We had the best car there all day, but we ended up getting some late cautions
 and  had  to make some hard  decisions on whether to  stay out on old tires or
 lose  our track position," Busch recalled from last year's win in Fontana. "We
 ended up getting passed by Joey and Denny and thought they had the race won.
 
 "They  got caught  up racing each other,  and I was coming even if they didn't
 end  up  wrecking. I was  digging on  the high side,  and they got together. I
 hated  it for Denny since that was really a tough circumstance for him. It was
 a  crazy  finish, one that I  won't forget for a  while, and I'm sure the fans
 won't forget anytime soon either."
 
 After  the conclusion  of  last year's  race  here, Tony  Stewart  got into  a
 physical  altercation with Logano on pit road. Stewart was furious with Logano
 for blocking him multiple times during a restart in the closing laps.
 
 When  confronting each  other on pit road, Stewart pushed Logano around, while
 Logano  threw a  water  bottle at  him  before crew  members  from both  teams
 intervened.  Stewart later said that he's "going to bust (Logano's rear)." The
 two have not been in an altercation since then.
 
 Logano is presently sixth in points, followed by Hamlin.
 
 "Fontana is a place where I have been looking forward to returning to," Hamlin
 said. "We were leading the race on the last lap last year and never made it to
 the  finish. The accident happened and I missed a few races, but I think I'm a
 better driver because of it and a better person because of it.
 
 "Being  forced out of the car with the injury really gave me some perspective.
 Every driver obviously wants to win every race they are in, but this one means
 a  little bit  more to me. I would  love another chance to be out front on the
 last lap, and this time, finish it off."
 
 Matt  Kenseth, who  is Hamlin and Busch's  teammate at JGR, sits eighth in the
 standings.  Kenseth  has three victories at  this track. He also won a series-
 season-high seven races this past year.
 
 Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Auto Club 400.
 
 
 Nationwide Series
 
 TreatMyClot.com 300 - Auto Club Speedway - Fontana, Calif.
 
 Joe  Gibbs  Racing won a  Nationwide race at Auto  Club Speedway for the first
 time  in  February 2008 when  Tony Stewart, driving for  the team at the time,
 took the checkered flag here.
 
 The  racing  organization hasn't lost  a Nationwide  event at this track since
 then.
 
 With  drivers Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler, JGR will attempt to
 win  its 10th  consecutive  race  in NASCAR's  second-tier  series  at ACS  on
 Saturday.
 
 Busch  holds the record for most wins in the series here with six, including a
 victory  one year ago.  In fact, All of Busch's victories have come within the
 past eight races. Joey Logano won at the two-mile Southern California track in
 October 2009 and again in March 2012 when he drove for JGR.
 
 Driving  the  No. 54  Toyota, Busch has  won two of  the first four Nationwide
 races  this  season (Phoenix and Bristol).  Crew chief Adam Stevens is guiding
 Busch's  efforts in the series for the second straight year. Stevens served as
 Logano's crew chief when Logano won here two years ago.
 
 "Adam  [Stevens] is  our secret weapon, although not so secret anymore," Busch
 said.  "He has  proven to be a great  team leader. This group of guys has been
 with  him several years  now, so really I was the new person to this team last
 year.  The communication we  have with each other, not only with Adam, but all
 the guys, makes it easier for me to do my job."
 
 Matt Kenseth is scheduled to drive the No. 20 Toyota in this event. Kenseth is
 a  four-time  Nationwide race winner  at ACS. He has  not competed in a series
 event here since September 2007.
 
 "When  you go  to a track like California -  we go there once a year - so it's
 certainly  nice to  get the extra track  time during the weekend by running on
 the Nationwide side since I feel it can be a benefit to our program on the Cup
 side," Kenseth said.
 
 Sadler  is driving  the No. 11 car  for JGR full-time this year. He has scored
 top-10 finishes in the last three Nationwide races at this track.
 
 "It  is a  track that I have had  some success at, so we are looking to unload
 quickly  and pick  up some speed," Sadler  said. "I scored a win in the Sprint
 Cup  Series  in 2004 at Fontana  in the first-ever  night race, so I have some
 good memories."
 
 Forty teams are on the entry list for the TreatMyClot.com 300.
 
 03/21 15:14:05 ET

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