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NASCAR's "Chase for the Cup" to debut in Southern California this Weekend with a Packed Field

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Mark Martin (left) returns to California this weekend to show the others how it's done. Photo by Stephen Borodkin for LAist.

For the first time ever, one of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup races will be hosted at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana this weekend with the Sprint Cup Pepsi 500 on Sunday.

This is the tightest competition ever, at this point in the 6-year history of the Chase format. With four of the ten Chase races run, veteran driver Mark Martin leads in the points standings for the Cup championship. Tailgating him in the points is three-peat reigning Cup champ and El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson, followed closely by Chase newbie Juan Pablo Montoya, and perennial contenders Tony Stewart, Kurt Bush and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin. All are within a 100-point range of the leader. The points pile-up going into the Pepsi 500 should ensure some good racing. A win is worth 190 points.

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As always, the Auto Club Speedway race weekend includes an eclectic field of entertainment from the local Hollywood community. Kelsey Grammer with follow in Hugh Laurie's footsteps as the latest television doctor to serve as Grand Race Marshall for the main event on Sunday. Audrina Patridge from the "Hills" will wave the green flag over the banked track. NASCAR-friendly movie actor John C. Reilly will be the Grand Marshall for Saturday's Copart 300 in the Nationwide Series. Christian Slater will show the drivers how to "curb their enthusiasm" by driving the honorary Chevy Camaro pace car. Jesse McCartney will flex his vocal chops as the official national anthemist.

NASCAR has a strong history of fan participation. This Sunday, fans can be part of the live performance video shooting of Foreigner's new NASCAR-inspired music video at the track. Fan-generated videos will also make up one of the special 30-second commercial spots commissioned specially by Pepsi to commemorate Hendrick Motorsports' 25th anniversary. NASCAR and its affiliates have jumped on board Twitter and social networking in a big way this season, including Kurt Busch's pit crew tweeting from the pits, Penske racing's Twitter promotion, and an upcoming NASCAR panel at the Blogworld conference in Vegas next week.

Food vendors will include the NASCAR return of Canter's Deli from LA's Fairfax District and Sprinkles Cupcakes from Beverly Hills. But can they top Michael "Cakeman" Kinjerski's cake recreation of Jeff Gordon's Dupont 24 hitting the wall at Pocono? You'll have to come in person to find out. But check your traffic maps first if you do - race time is an early 12:00 p.m.

Television coverage for the Saturday Copart 300 Nationwide Series race on ESPN2 begins at 1:00 p.m. P.S.T. on Saturday, October 9.

Television coverage for the Sunday Pepsi 500 Sprint Cup Series race on ABC begins at 11:30 a.m. P.S.T. on Sunday, October 10.