The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season has just rounded turn two and is heading down the backstretch! The Pocono event was the halfway marker before the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup and the action is hotter than it has been all season long. Points battles are shaping up, rookie sensations are heating up and drivers are already announcing decisions to change teams.
El Cajon, Calif., native Jimmie Johnson sits atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points leader board, followed closely by this year's Auto Club 500 winner Matt Kenseth (-48), Mark Martin (-238), Tony Stewart (- 257) and Kasey Kahne (-279), rounding out the top 5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., fell down to sixth place in points after his 14th place finish at the Pocono 500 this weekend, allowing Stewart and Kahne to move into the fourth and fifth place spots, respectively.
"The car just really wouldn't do what I wanted it to do," said Earnhardt. "We had a really good car in practice, so I'm a little disappointed and so are the guys. We'll need to do better than that during the Chase (for the NEXTEL Cup) and we know it."
Falling out of the top ten was three-time Auto Club Speedway winner Jeff Gordon of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, who did not finish because of a brake malfunction that caused him to slide across the infield and into the wall near turn one at Pocono.
Climbing into the top 10 after his first ever NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win was rookie driver Denny Hamlin. He has picked up ten spots on the overall points leader board over his last four races, is lengthening the gap between him and Clint Bowyer for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors (Hamlin leads Bowyer by 146 points and seven positions in the standings). Some other rookies still holding on in the top 25 are Reed Sorenson (24th, -797) and Martin Truex Jr. (25th, -800), with J.J. Yeley in 27th, 834 points behind the leader.
Casey Mears and Brian Vickers have both announced their decisions to become free agents. Although, at this point, Vickers is still a free agent, Mears has already confirmed that he will be driving for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet from the start of the 2007 season for at least three years. Vickers, on the other hand, has not confirmed where he will be racing next season - speculation is that Vickers he'll drive for Robert Yates Racing (in the No. 88 UPS Ford) or with newly formed Red Bull Racing for the team's inaugural season with Toyota Cup cars.
By the time that the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rolls back into Auto Club Speedway, the "Race to the Chase" will be in full swing. The heat will be on for those drivers on the bubble striving to make it into the top 10 in points, so they can secure their spot in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup." In the end, there can be only one driver who will win the coveted NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, and that driver will put his mark on motorsports history forever.
Auto Club Speedway is the only place in Southern California to catch NASCAR this summer, not to mention the second to last event in the Race to the Chase. The Labor Day weekend tradition continues with a brand new Midway, complete with Apex by Wolfgang Puck, a concert stage and a town center. The SONY HD 500 will "Finish Under the Lights" for the third consecutive year. Tickets are on sale now and you can get yours by calling 800-944-RACE  or log on to www.racetickets.com.