Even though the West Coast has long been recognized for its endless sunshine, sandy beaches and pleasant climate, California adds another attribute to the list with a stamp on this year's "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."
The 10-race "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" is ready to take the green flag this weekend on the road to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in mid-November. Auto Club Speedway played host to the penultimate event in the "Race for the Cup" with the SONY HD 500 just eight days ago, and will host the second race of next season with the 2007 West Coast Premiere of NASCAR with the Auto Club 500 in February.
Out of the 10 drivers who made the coveted "Chase," five of them hail from the West Coast. Four-time NEXTEL Cup Champion Jeff Gordon (Vallejo, Calif.), former Busch Series Champ and 2001 NEXTEL Cup Rookie of the Year Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield, Calif.), and this season's Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson (El Cajon, Calif.) once called the Golden State home. Kyle Busch is originally from Las Vegas, Nev., while Kasey Kahne, a native of Enumclaw, Wash., makes it five.
California's influence on the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" does not stop with sheer geography. Auto Club Speedway has been providing race fans on the West Coast a premier venue to witness the stars of NASCAR compete for points and championship hopes for the past 10 seasons. On Labor Day weekend, for example, Kahne launched the first successful attempt at his 90-point comeback when he took the checkered flag during the SONY HD 500.
In fact, six of the 10 Chase drivers have recorded a Cup victory at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch also recorded a win at Auto Club Speedway during the 2005 Labor Day weekend SONY HD 500. In February, Matt Kenseth pulled away from the pack to obtain his first Auto Club Speedway NEXTEL Cup win. Gordon has recorded three wins, the only NASCAR driver to score multiple wins at the speedway. Johnson also secured his first-ever Cup victory at the 2-mile, D-shaped oval in 2002. Mark Martin delivered a win to team owner Jack Roush in 1998 for the second-ever Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who sits sixth in the standings, has a Busch Series win to his credit at Auto Club Speedway in 1998 and achieved is best NEXTEL Cup showing in the 2006 SONY HD 500 with a second place finish. Jeff Burton sat on the pole position as the series point's leader of the 1999 race at the Southern California superspeedway after qualifying was washed out by rain. He finished runner-up that race and also has a fifth place showing in 2000.
That leaves Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Denny Hamlin, who in his first two NEXTEL Cup outings at Auto Club Speedway secured 12th and sixth place showing in the Auto Club 500 and SONY HD 500 this season, respectively.
Here's a better look at the top-10 and the 45 points that separate the "Chase" contenders: Kenseth (Leader), Johnson (-5), Harvick (-10), Busch (-15), Hamlin (-20), Earnhardt (-25), Martin (-30), Burton (-35), Gordon (-40), Kahne (-45).
It's easy to see that success out West breeds success in the points hunt, and this year's field in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" is proof. Keep an eye on these West Coast stars because one of them will take home the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in just 10 races and the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion will head West next year for the second race of the season when the 2007 West Coast Premiere of NASCAR invades Auto Club Speedway.
Tickets for the 2007 season at Auto Club Speedway are available now by calling 800-944-RACE  or online at www.autoclubspeedway.com.