California Speedway oval is hard for man and machine

FONTANA, Calif. -- If your engine can make it at California Speedway, it can make it anywhere.

The Nextel Cup races on the 2-mile oval are tough on the motors. It's constantly high RPMs for 500 miles (250 laps). Blowing an engine is a common sight. In 13 previous Cup races at Fontana, 44 cars have suffered an engine failure.

The key is making all the parts last while still generating enough power to run up front. But crews have a new fuel to factor into the mix for the Auto Club 500 on Sunday. This race is the first that Cup teams will use unleaded fuel.

"It's a lot of wear and tear when you turn motors this hard," pole-winner Jeff Gordon said. "You've got all kinds of issues here with oil pressure and fuel pressure. For the driver, you just push it as hard as you can and hope it makes it."

Gordon has three victories at California Speedway, but he'll do something never done before if he wins on the 2-mile oval Sunday. No driver has won a Cup race at California from the pole position.

Jimmie Johnson led the final practice session Saturday, turning a lap at 182.523 mph in the No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson, who finished second in this race a year ago, starts 23rd Sunday.

Short fields
The Busch race and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck race at California did not have a full field. Only 34 trucks competed in the San Bernadino 200 Friday night. The series normally has a 36-truck grid.

The Stater Bros. 300 Busch race Saturday also was two cars short. Only 41 cars competed instead of the usual 43.

It's the reason NASCAR officials are hesitant to limit the number of Busch races a Cup regular can race. Twenty-four drivers in Saturday's Busch race were full-time Cup drivers.

Only one Busch race last season had a short field. The AT&T 250 on June 24 at Milwaukee had 41 cars. The only short field for a truck race last season was the Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix on Nov. 9, when 34 trucks raced the event.

Wallace subs in
Kenny Wallace subbed for David Gilliland Saturday in the Busch race. Gilliland is battling a case of the flu, so he opted to concentrate on the two Cup practice sessions and skip Busch qualifying and the 150-lap race.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.