2008 Auto Club 500 Preview and Picks

Race: 2008 Auto Club 500
Track: California Speedway
Date: Sunday February 24, 2008
Time: 3:30 p.m. eastern
Channel: FOX

For some odd reason, I feel like trying to predict the winner for the race
this weekend at California is nothing more than a crap shoot. I say this
only because I, along with about 99% of the rest of NASCAR’s fan base, wrongly
predicted the winner of the 500. Things are so unpredictable because of all
of the changes this season.

With it being so early in the season, it is difficult to make predictions solely because we have not seen what everyone is capable of with respect to changes in cars, teams and drivers. The Toyotas were the only real prediction that held up after the race last Sunday. They ran strong, and ran strong all day long…at least Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch did. That means that there is hope for the Toyotas as Michael Waltrip is proving that it is more or less lack of cohesion within his teams rather than the cars that are causing him such bad finishes. Hendrick, the team that everyone loves to hate, proved last week that they are, in fact, NOT invincible. This may come as a shock to many, but there was more than one problem in the Hendrick stable and definitely a lack of consistency, which is not what we are used to seeing from such a top-notch team.


Despite this, I am going to make a prediction for this week. I am somewhat in a draw between two drivers, but I think that I am going to have to say that Kenseth has a good shot at this weekend’s race. Although he had a 34th place finish in the 500, Kenseth has proven time and time again that his consistency and strength shines on 1.5-2 mile tracks. With 8 top tens at this track, he is a force to be reckoned with. Not only has Kenseth managed to pull off wins in the last two spring races at this track, but, as reported by NASCAR.com, he has also developed a pattern here. If he does not win, he comes in seventh, and this occurs in alternating years. His last finish at California was seventh, so according to his record, he is set to win on Sunday. Believe me, I am by no means putting any credence into this kind of betting advice, but I think that regardless of his ‘pattern’, Kenseth understands this track, is comfortable on this type of configuration, and, most importantly, has made it clear that he can win.

I will say that it will be interesting to watch the new cars on their first shot at an intermediate track. They have never been run here, andit is going to be a good race to follow. The record for this track was set back in 1997 by Jeff Gordon. Most track records do not last that long, so we will be able to see if the new cars have anything for Gordon’s old track record. If Toyotas live up to their potential, I think that we could see a ‘yota make a new record. This speedway tends to be fun to watch because it is a pretty flat track with only 14 degree banking in the turns and 11 degree banking down the front stretch. With record setting speeds in these new cars, we should see a pretty good shootout. Also, on tracks like this one, we need to watch brake use and throttle control. The idea behind the new cars is that drivers are able to maintain wide-open speeds around the entire track because of the new engine configurations. We saw this at Daytona with consistent RPM usage throughout the entire race. At a D-shaped track like Fontana, drivers will be able to test out the limits of these new cars and see if they live up to the hype and their potential.

I have no practice speeds or qualifying to show you because they have not run yet and will not do so until tomorrow (Friday). My prediction stands though. I am going to stick to my guns and say that Kenseth has a great shot at winning this week (8-1 odds). The other driver that I was referring to earlier is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has the best overall average finish at this track and is even with Kenseth’s two wins, but I do not think that Hendrick is quite ready for the win this weekend. I can’t place money on them with the inconsistencies that they had last weekend. We will see what a new race with a new car will bring us. Hopefully, I will come back next week with a review that is more to my liking and everyone else’s.