March 21, 2014 — photo courtesy FOX Sports — FONTANA, CA — It’s win-and-you’re-in … and with his victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday night, Carl Edwards more than likely locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But, with a bevy of different winners so far this season, there’s a key phrase in the above sentence: “more than likely.”
If there are more than 15 winners in the first 26 races, all bets are off – a race winner could be left out of the Chase. But again, it’s unlikely.
Last year, there were five different winners to start the season – and the regular season still ended with “only” 13 different winners in the first 26 races. The record is 10 different winners to start a season, in 2000.
In other words, if you have won a race, rest easy. You’re likely going to make the Chase Grid come lap 400 at Richmond in September.
So, if there’s another new winner, who’s the best guess this weekend? It all starts with Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, an El Cajon, Calif., native, has won a record five races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Johnson also has the most top fives (12), most top 10s (14), most laps led (851), top driver rating (119.6) and best average start (9.6) and finish (5.7). He’s good there.
The six-time champion has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 11 races; his worst finish during that stretch was a 12th last season.
And, seemingly, he’s due. He has finished in the top six in three of the first four races this season – and probably would’ve notched another top 10 if not for a tire issue at Bristol. He’s tallied double-digit laps led figures in three of the four races, and scored triple-digit driver ratings in three of the four.
If Johnson can notch his sixth Auto Club Speedway victory on Sunday? The rest of the field had better beware. That could only be the beginning.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes the green flag for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday at 1 P.M. Eastern, with live coverage on FOX and the Motor Racing Network.