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Friday, February 23, 2007

California Thoughts

Daytona and Speedweeks are done. It was another interesting two weeks capped with a wild finish. It’s a fun way to get the season going, and stirs up interest, but Daytona has little overall bearing on the season. The next four races will play a huge part in who will succeed this season.

This week’s race at California will start answering questions about the season. There are no major changes to the aero package, so it is a good first look at who has their programs together.
Last year Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle dominated California. Many immediately assumed these were the two drivers to beat in 2006. Both had solid to good years, but were far from dominant on intermediate tracks.

Look at the top ten at California:

  1. Matt Kenseth
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Carl Edwards
  4. Kasey Kahne
  5. Jeff Burton
  6. Jamie McMurray
  7. Casey Mears
  8. JJ Yeley
  9. Mark Martin
  10. Kyle Busch
Some drivers like Kenseth, Johnson, Burton and Kahne obviously had their intermediate programs in top form. Others like Stewart, Biffle and Carl Edwards apparently rolled out cars from 2005 (which also explains the engine failures for Stewart and Biffle). Casey Mears and Jamie McMurray spent the rest of the season trying to duplicate their solid runs at California. Other drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Scott Riggs progressed during the season. A few cars will show up Sunday and dominate the race. It will be interesting to see whether that indicates year long domination or just a holdover from last year.

Other things to watch this weekend:
Juan-Pablo Montoya-He will be exciting to watch all season. He struggled at Daytona, although he did look good during the 150's race. Now he will experience the finicky intermediate aero package. I think he'll qualify well and spend Sunday struggling. That doesn't mean he'll struggle for long this year. Once he figures out how to ask for the right adjustments he will head to the front.

Qualifying-Can Red Bull make a race? They have now entered four Cup races with zero official starts. Brian Vickers' Bud Shootout appearance can't really count. Can the same teams that made Daytona make the field again? Missing one of the first five races is manageable, but two missed races is really hard to crack the top 35.

Momentum-Announcers will surely talk about Kevin Harvick's momentum, but it means nothing. The tracks and cars are totally different. The only momentum that matters is coming off turn 4 in a race, not week to week.

The winner-One of last year's rookies will win. Denny Hamlin had plenty of success last year, Martin Truex Jr had a fast car at Homestead and even JJ Yeley finished 8th here last year. All decent choices, but my pick is Clint Bowyer. After his fiery, muddy crash at Daytona, he'll heed Jay-Z's advice, brush his shoulders off and win his first Cup race. He finished third last Labor Day weekend at California and had some fast cars during the Chase.

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