Denny Hamlin full speed ahead

Dillon, of course, put the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet on the Daytona 500 pole and finished ninth in the race. He is 14th in the Cup standings. Larson is coming off his best effort of 2014, having finished 10th at rain-soaked Bristol. He is 22nd in points.

Larson, who replaced Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 41 Target car, has improved his production each weekend since a ho-hum 38th in the Daytona 500, finishing 20th at Phoenix and 19th at Las Vegas.

On Saturday at Fontana, the 21-year-old California native denied a couple of hard-charging Cup vets -- Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick -- to post his first Nationwide Series victory.

"It means the world to finally get it here in my home state ..." said Larson, who hails from Elk Grove. "Man, that was a blast racing out there, and I think it's going to be a heck of a race tomorrow in the Cup car, too.

"Having Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick right on our bumper those last 11 or so laps was intense, and I really didn't think I could hold them off, but I'm proud of myself for staying calm and not getting into the wall."

This year's rookie competition is a stark contrast to the tepid 2013 battle in which Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three top-10s) trumped girlfriend Danica Patrick (one top-10) for the season-ending award.

Toyota's turn?

Chevrolet roared out of the gate with victories at Daytona ( Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and Phoenix ( Kevin Harvick).

Ford joined the party with consecutive wins at Las Vegas ( Brad Keselowski) and Bristol ( Carl Edwards).

It won't be long before Toyota makes a run at Victory Lane -- there's just too much star power, and firepower, in the Joe Gibbs Racing camp.

Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch have five wins combined at Auto Club Speedway, although all three of Kenseth's victories were earned in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

But Kenseth turned the fastest lap in Friday qualifying (187.315 mph) and will start Sunday's Auto Club 400 from pole position.

"This is probably one of the best tracks we go to as far as passing with all the different lanes unless you're stuck on the top," Kenseth said. "There's a lot of options here. This place is really wide; it's very challenging as a driver, but very fun, as well."

Gordon streaking

Keep an eye on Jeff Gordon on Sunday.


The four-time Sprint Cup champion has started fast, opening the season with four consecutive top-10 finishes. He's tied with Edwards for third in the standings.

Gordon is a three-time winner at Fontana, but he is winless in his past 16 starts here. Still, he's been quick in practice all weekend and qualified sixth fastest Friday.

"This is traditionally a great track for us at Hendrick Motorsports," Gordon said. "I love this track. This is so much fun to drive with all the different grooves and lanes you can run on. And I think you'll hear that across the board.

"I'm just having a lot of fun. I've got a great race car and a great race team. We're just enjoying the season so far with the momentum that we've been able to have, and then to come here and have a strong car like we have here just really gets me excited about Sunday's race."

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