As the series heads into the Labor Day weekend, we once again head to the egg shaped oval in Darlington, South Carolina. The annual Southern 500 is a staple on the NASCAR Cup circuit, owing its popularity to the long and storied history that has been spun at the track for over 50 years. Oh, wait a second. We don't go to Darlington for Labor Day anymore. We have to travel all the way to California to that storied two mile oval in Fontana. The glorified shopping mall that apparently offers so much great shopping that the fans can't tear themselves away long enough to get to their seats to watch the race. Let's hope all of you can tear yourselves away long enough to make some quality fantasy picks with our help.
Sony HD 500
Saturday September 3rd 7:00pm ET on NBC
2005 Pole Sitter: Carl Edwards
2005 Race Winner: Kyle Busch
Mike's Keys to the Race
California is the sister track to Michigan. The first key to the race is that drivers will have a myriad of lines to choose from to try and make their car work. As long as the team can get the car close, the driver can make up the rest. Secondly, like Michigan, California can lend itself to fuel mileage races. Look for those teams who notoriously get good fuel mileage. Finally, don't forget that Roush dominates at Michigan, and will most likely have several front runners at Fontana.
Cami's Instant Replay
Kyle Busch made history when he claimed his first Nextel Cup victory in last year's Sony HD 500. At just over 20 years old, Busch became the youngest driver to win a Cup race beating the previous mark by just four days. But the win didn't come easy for the youngster. After dominating the second half of the race, a caution for a multi-car crash with just three laps to go set up a green-white-checker finish. Busch got a good jump on Greg Biffle and cruised to the win. Biffle went on to finish second with Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart rounding out the Top 5.
Crank â€˜em up
Carl Edwards has been a machine at California. He has competed in four races at the track with finishes of sixth, fifth, fourth and third. Since he is out of contention for the Chase, he has nothing to work towards but victories and next year. Look for the #99 Roush Racing team to make some gutsy pit road calls to try and steal a victory at Fontana.
Jimmie Johnson is very good at California in the spring race. He has a win and three seconds. The fall race has not treated him as well. He has finishes of 14th, 16th and 14th. However, Johnson wants to be in the lead when the series hits the Chase. They have continued to have solid finishes even on weekends when they have not had the best cars. Look for Johnson to run back up front to make a statement before the Chase.
Sit â€˜em down
Kurt Busch is in a funk. The team is struggling over the last few races and admittedly has lost the handle on the intermediate tracks. Busch's luck combined with the team's struggles set up for a bad trip to the West coast. Even though Busch has an average finish on the two mile Fontana oval of 10.1, and he has won at the track, the stars just don't seem to be aligned for the #2 Penske Racing South team. This is a good weekend to let Kurt cool his heels.
Tony Stewart usually owns the summer, but he hasn't been quite as dominant this year. The #20 Joe Gibbs Racing team has been very up and down this year where they usually dominate. Add to that the fact that Stewart has had very little success at Fontana. He's only scored three top fives and four top 10s. This looks like one of the few weekends that it is best to keep Smoke in the pits on your fantasy team.
Roll the dice
Yes, I have been drinking the Cami Kool-aid. Elliott Sadler had a respectable run at Michigan. He was fast at Bristol before he crashed out. The chemistry on the team seems to be working well. Their cars have been fast. Sadler also has recorded a victory at the track. Although his average finish isn't much at Fontana, he's worth a roll of the dice this week.
Crank â€˜em Up
After going back-to-back, can Matt Kenseth make it three in a row and take over the point lead with just one race to go before the Chase begins? Considering how well the team has run lately and their past performance at Fontana, it's certainly possible. Kenseth won at California earlier this year and has an average finish of 12.1 at the two mile track. Even if he doesn't win, Kenseth should be able to produce a good finish.
A driver who is in desperate need of a good finish is Kasey Kahne. Still 11th in the standings, Kahne needs a good performance at Fontana to keep his Chase hopes on life support. California has been a good track for Kahne in the past with three Top 10 finishes in the five races he's run there. Kahne and the No. 9 team have stepped it up in the past two weeks, but they need a big effort here this Sunday night if they want to be in the Chase.
Sit â€˜em Down
While Dale Earnhardt Jr. is safely in the Chase now, this weekend could prove to be a hurdle for him. California hasn't been a track that Jr. has run very well at in the past. In nine races there he has only two Top 10 finishes and four finishes of 30th or worse. So odds are that a good finish for the Bud Crew this weekend would be a pleasant surprise. Keep Jr. on the bench this weekend and wait for Richmond and the Chase to use him.
Like Dale Jr, Fontana has been a feast or famine track for Greg Biffle. In 2005 he was the California King, winning the first race and then coming in second in this race last year. But other than that, his results haven't been too impressive. Three finishes of 30th or worse give him an average finish of 20.7 and makes him too risky of a pick for this crucial part of the fantasy NASCAR season.
Roll the Dice
Jamie McMurray's first year with Roush Racing hasn't been anything to write home about, but that could change this weekend at California. In six starts at Fontana, his worse finish is 15th and he has five Top 10 finishes. While his results this year haven't been very impressive, he has run fairly decent in recent weeks. He did earn one of seven Top 10s of the year here earlier at California, so he's definitely worth a look.
Mike: You think that Kahne is going to be able to get the job done at Cali and not have a last lap wreck again?
Cami: : I’m taking the gamble with him. Obviously he needs a good run. I have a hunch he’ll either do really good or really bad. I’m banking on the good.
Mike: I’m betting on the bad.
Cami: : Yeah, but since I picked the winner last week… I would listen to me
Mike: That’s ok though, Kenseth should save you. Way to go out on a limb there again. I guess you have to after your Kurt Busch pick from last week.
Cami: : Yeah, Kurt really hurt last week. I’ve learned my lesson.
Mike: Do you really think Junior is solidly in the Chase? I don’t think so at all. I think he is going to step it up just like he did at Michigan.
Cami: : He has a little bit of a cushion. I think he’ll need all of it once we get past California. He’ll do good at Richmond.
Mike: Yeah, I think he’ll win at Richmond to go into the Chase on a roll.
Cami: : But speaking of boring picks… Jimmie Johnson?
Mike: Johnson hasn’t been very strong for over a month. I think it is a bit of a reach actually.
Cami: : I guess that balances out my Kahne pick. If you’re as lucky with Sadler as I was, I’m hiding my kool-aid stash!
Mike: That’s not very nice. I was thinking of taking it away from you after your McMurray pick. You shouldn’t smoke the Kool-aid, you should drink it.
Cami: : Well we’ll just see who’s smoking who in the rankings after Saturday night!
Mike: Yep, we’ll have to see how it pans out.
|Crank Em Up||Sit Em Down||Roll the Dice|
|Mike||Harvick- 11th||Vickers- 33rd||Schrader- 13th|
|Earnhardt- 3rd||Kahne- 12th|
|Cami||Kenseth-1st||Martin- 28th||Marlin- 32nd|
|Ku. Busch- 37th||Edwards- 7th|
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