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Not Giving In: Fontana

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Not even five full days after Kevin Harvick won NASCAR's biggest race, his mind is surely in a whole other place both figuratively and literally, about 3,000 miles West in fact, in Fontana California.

I could start off with the things that most people already know, such as how Roush cars can always be counted on for a strong performance on the mile-and-a-half tracks. I could talk about how Michael Waltrip and virtually every Toyota team other than Dale Jarret's -- who will probably sneak in on another past champions provisional -- will need to have an extremely good day qualifying if they want to make the race, plus the next three straight.

But you already know that, and you'll undoubtedly be reminded all weekend long by the real media outlets, and the color commentary talking heads on television.

So what is there to talk about? For starters, you can look at the points standings as of today and savor the moment, because you just don't see something like this every day.

Kevin Harvick, who has only lead the points standings in Nextel Cup once before, has fifteen points over second place thanks to an adjusted points scheme that rewards race winners a little bit more than it did in previous years. Oh yeah, and just about every other serious contender for the 2007 title is bringing up the rear.

Kasey Khane, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle are all squished together from 22nd through 25th in points. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson is 37th, while his teammate and four-time champ Jeff Gordon is sitting pretty in 8th.

Johnson had a terrible day in the 500 and never got above 12th place all day, slamming the wall and eventually wrecking out of the race. Even so, he still brought home $353,000 for his troubles. Not bad.

Kurt Busch, who looked dominant all day, is 36th, while his competitor and fellow wreck'ee Tony Stewart is 5th in points -- though not in the way you want -- that's counting from the bottom up.

The 500 is sometimes indicative of what kind of year you'll have, and sometimes not. I'm sure if I had a racing historian handy like a real newsman would, I could cite a couple of drivers that won the Daytona 500, only to go on to have terrible years and never get within sniffing distance of the title.

Or you can look back to last years winner in Johnson, and see that he went on to win four more races and secure the title, even after wrecking on the final lap at Talladega -- in the Chase no less.

So what does it all mean? Well for one, Clint Bowyer can do one hell of an Elliot Sadler impression when it comes to plate racing. That boy was on fire. Literally.

While Toyota didn't impress in the 500, I thought it was pretty obvious that their equipment isn't a whole hell of a lot different than anyone else's at this point either. NASCAR has evolved into a sport that is dominated by engineering over the past few years, so much so that where we had some separation evidenced by Roush's performance when they put all 5 cars in the Chase a couple of years ago -- that's all but gone now.

Everything evened out as everyone else caught up, and we're kind of back to the live-and-die situation where your car is either top tier, or it ain't, and you're lapped. But that tip tier is getting more crowded every year.

Then come the drivers, but only as a secondary factor.

Toyota cars are good, as good as anyones, but their drivers all stink. I mean this in as much of a nice way as one can when lobbing insults, but let's get real for a minute; none of those drivers has a prayer at making a title run. For the first month of the season, the main story is, will they even make it in on time?

The Cup cars are getting ready to qualify, so we'll know pretty soon who has a good package and who doesn't. There is little point in picking winners until then, but don't be surprised if you see one of those Toyota's up on the pole this evening.

But don't be surprised if they get blown away during Sunday's race, either.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.