Sunday's race at California Speedway made it clear that the line for the 2007 Nextel Cup forms behind the top two drivers of '06: Matt Kenseth (lead car, above) and Jimmie Johnson, the reigning champion. Kenseth won the Auto Club 500 without crew chief Robbie Reiser, who's serving a four-race suspension for rules infractions at Daytona. Kenseth was able to overcome the absence because the core of his team has been together for seven years—one of Cup racing's longest stretches. Johnson took third.
Mark Martin's retirement rondo continues. The 48-year-old driver was slated for only 22 races this season, but after finishing fifth on Sunday he leads the point standings and is weighing running in all 36 Cup events. Even if he does, don't expect him to make the Chase. His team, Ginn Racing, doesn't have the resources for sustained success against the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Gibbs Racing or Martin's old employer, Roush Racing.
A week after finishing 30th in the Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip failed to qualify at California, getting bumped from the grid by one of his own Toyota drivers, David Reutimann. Waltrip's number 55 team, which is still reeling from the Daytona cheating scandal, is in a rapidly deepening hole. It might be be time for the peripatetic Waltrip to give up driving and turn his attention full-time to running his team.