The Frontstretch: Lovecchio's Weekend Lowdown: Johnson, Knaus Seek Redemption in California by Mike Lovecchio -- Thursday February 18, 2010

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Jimmie Johnson expected to kick off 2010 with a solid run in Daytona and begin his quest for a fifth consecutive championship. Instead, he finds himself behind the 8-ball.

A DNF and subsequent 35th place finish in the 52nd running of the Daytona 500 may not seem like much for a four-time defending championship team with 25 races left until the Chase field is set, but try telling that to Jimmie Johnson and his perfectionist crew chief Chad Knaus.

For them, this is unacceptable. They don’t see a poor finish at Daytona as just a minor hiccup in a long and probably successful season, they look at the standings and see that heading into California, there are 34 other teams with more points than the No. 48.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus strive for perfection week in and week out.

It’s an unfamiliar position for a team that strives for perfection week in and week out. Just as a pothole in the Daytona 500 is a black-eye for NASCAR, a mechanical failure – a bad wheel bearing — in the sport’s biggest race is enough to embarrass the No. 48 team and make them feel they have something to prove going forward. Two bad races to open the season would be uncharted territory for Jimmie Johnson, and while it wouldn’t be the end of the world with half a calendar year left on the schedule, it sure would feel like it.

Enter California.

It’s a track that the media and fans have come to expect as one of those “Roush tracks.” Every Roush car, it seems, every year runs well at Auto Club Speedway. Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have combined for 27 starts at the 2-mile oval with 21 of those starts resulting in top 10 finishes. That, my friends, is domination.

But what fans often forget is that Jimmie Johnson is the rightful king of California. In 14 starts he has four wins, 9 top 5s and 10 top 10s. His average finish? 5.8. He has won a race at the track each of the past three years, albeit they were all in the fall, and has completed every lap since his first start in 2002.

It would almost be insane to think that Jimmie Johnson won’t be in contention for the win this weekend. You can’t say that the No. 48 team is satisfied after winning a fourth consecutive…they want a fifth, and a sixth. They know there’s a bulls-eye on their backs and they work extra hard to make sure nobody gets to their level.

This is everything we’ve come to expect from this team. Nothing’s changed. And this weekend in California don’t be surprised if the 4-time defending champion returns to victory lane.

What You Need to Know About this Weekend’s Races:

Qualifying and Race Coverage
All times Eastern

February 19

6:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup qualifying (SPEED)

February 20

12:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying (SPEED)
5:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series Stater Bros. 300

February 21

3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Auto Club 500 (FOX)

What’s the Odds?
Suggested bets for this weekend’s Sprint Cup race using BetUS.com as of Thursday night

Carl Edwards: 12/1
Clint Bowyer: 25/1
Jamie McMurray: 40/1
David Ragan: 50/1

Advice: Auto Club Speedway has traditionally been dominated by the Roush brigade. I expect the same this weekend as Ford showed promise last weekend in Daytona after a disappointing 2009. If you can get any Roush driver at odds that you deem favorable, take him. Why not take a flier on a guy like David Ragan at 50/1? Stranger things have happened.

Frontstretch Live Blog

The Frontstretch live blog kicks off Sunday at 3 p.m. for the Auto Club 500. Make sure to stop by and join in the chat as your favorite Frontstretch writers breakdown all of the on-track action live from Auto Club Speedway.

Drivers to Watch

Nationwide Series (Nationwide-only drivers)

  • Danica Patrick: I’ll admit I’m curious as to how she handles an intermediate track.
  • Trevor Bayne: Crashed out early in Daytona, but has the car and talent to compete in California.
  • Justin Allgaier: Could have best season of all Nationwide-only drivers.
  • Kelly Bires: Unfortunate circumstances cost him a ride in Daytona…this weekend is about proving himself.

Sprint Cup

  • Carl Edwards: Will be racing for a lot more than a win on Sunday.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Okay Jr…you got everyone’s attention at Daytona, now do something.
  • Jimmie Johnson: Best average finish at Auto Club, needs a good run.
  • Jamie McMurray: Don’t be surprised at back-to-back to wins.
  • Greg Biffle: Top 5 in Daytona, should be good this week.

LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL

WINNERS:

Stater Bros. 300: Joey Logano
Auto Club 500: Carl Edwards

2010 Predictions: 6 Races, 0 Win(s), 4 Top 5s, 5 Top 10s

Have a prediction/thought on this weekend’s races? Send Mike a Tweet

Contact Mike Lovecchio

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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VaBlueGrass
02/19/2010 09:03 AM
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Jimmie will not win at California this weekend. Why would the 48 team show all their cards at a chase track this early in the season? They will use the weekend as a test session for the Fall, still finish in the top 10 and gain points on most teams – then blow away the competition in the last 10 races (again)

Will other teams mirror this strategy? If they are smart they will.

Despite all the talk on this site this week – you CAN NOT win the championship in the first two weeks of the season. Roush should win this weekend – but how will Roush and Jamie Mac rank after Homestead?… that’s what counts.

leedanielson
02/19/2010 02:54 PM
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Oh boy. I turn to the speed channel to watch nationwide practice and all I get is danicawide practice. If it’s their intent to keep me from watching the series, they’re going about it the right way. This is as bad as the coverage given Hendricks racing in the cup series. SHOW CO0MEONE ELSE BESIDES DANICA PATRICK. I get it.

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