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Sunday night marks the final Labor Day race at California, er sorry Auto Club Speedway. It caps an illustrious, rich, five year history. Next year Atlanta will get the Labor Day weekend event, which is not the Southern 500, but is at least a compromise for hard core traditionalists. The race has featured blistering heat, cautions from hot dog wrappers, and that’s about Maybe the most memorable moment came in the 2005 fall race. Kyle Busch became the youngest driver to win a Cup race in 2005 at age 20. Not only that but he also donated his $241,065 winnings to the Red Cross’s Katrina relief efforts.

This year’s race is likely to feature Busch the younger. He and Edwards have combined to win seven of the last eight Cup races. Edwards won the February race plus the August Michigan race which gives him a slight advantage heading into Sunday night. The biggest key to the race is anticipating the transitions from day to night. That means drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart will have a say in the outcome. All three drivers have teams and crew chiefs that tend to thrive when the lights go on (it also means #88 fans may not be thrilled once the sun goes down).

What Happened Last Year

Jimmie Johnson led 84 laps including the last 21 to take his 5th win. He would win the next week at Richmond plus four straight during the Chase on his way to 10 total. The win also served notice that he was ready for the Chase after his usual summer lull.

Notes

  • Cousin Carl and the Shrub were placed on probation for their attempt to hug with their cars after the Bristol race. The probation means no retaliatory fireworks from last week, but it may not signal the end of the rivalry for the season. NASCAR’s probation is for six races. Roughly translated that means “We want a nice clean start to the Chase and build some drama, but once things get to Martinsville, have at it.

  • Jimmie Johnson holds the top driver rating (114.7) at California over the past seven races. He also has spent the most time in the top 15 (92% of all laps) and owns the best average finsih (5.3). I don’t believe in momentum, but if a driver were to signal his intentions for the Chase, Fontana is a good place to do so.

  • Kyle Petty has started all 16 races at Fontana, but has never finished in the top ten. He has never finished better than 17th, has only led 4 laps and has not fared better than 27th in 2008.

Who Will Win?

The obvious answer is the two headed monster known as Kyrl Buschwards. Obviously both drivers have been the class of the field all season, and simply starting with their normal stuff would make them favorites to win. My question is will they start their normal stuff? Sure another ten points would be nice to have in the Chase, but I imagine unearthing a new advantage for their Chase cars would be nice too. Fontana is the last time that Chase teams will truly have a chance to experiment with setups. If I’m Busch or Edwards, why not take a chance on something that could potentially pay off for up to five Chase races? It would be especially beneficial when the #18 and #99 appear to be so close otherwise. So I’m not picking either driver to win this week. Maybe it’s my incredible theory or maybe I’m just bored (I blame Nintendo for my severely shortened attention- oohh, shiny- span. Anyway, I’m picking Greg Biffle to win this week. He’s great at California, has run very well this year and has some of the same tricks as Edwards and is overdue for a win.