NSCS: Auto Club 400 Preview

Over the last several years, Auto Club Speedway in southern California has hosted one of the most exciting races of the season. In what was once a 500-mile grueling marathon, to now a 400-mile action thriller, and Auto Club Speedway has it all.

The track hasn’t been paved since its opening season in 1997. Since then, the old asphalt and wearing pavement  has acquired many bumps throughout the 2-mile D-shaped oval. The asphalt tends to make the cars loose with the slick pavement in the California heat, making it fun for the drivers.

The multi-groove track has lines to take advantage of from the wall to the apron, and drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Larson favor the highest line with momentum entering the straightaways.

“To come here to one of my favorite race tracks, it has to be one of the most fun tracks to drive on the circuit because of the way the pavement has aged and the tire you can slide the car around quite a bit,” said Carl Edwards after last year’s race.

Kevin Harvick enters this weekend with two consecutive wins. The driver of the No. 4 has seven straight top two finishes, going back to the end of last season. Without a doubt, he is hottest driver on the circuit to start off the 2015 season. Last years champion will look to win his second career race at his home based track this Sunday.

In the last two races at Fontana, Kyle Busch has led 130 out of a possible 406 laps. The back-to-back winner of the race will not be in Sunday’s event due to a broken leg and fractured ankle suffered in the season-opener at Daytona in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers in wins,  top fives, most top 10s, laps led, average start and finishing position at the track . The driver of the No. 48 car has won at the track on five separate occasions. He had 12 top fives in 20 career races. He has also led a total of 955 laps in Fontana.

Kurt Busch comes into this race with two consecutive top-five results at Fontana. After earning a top five at Phoenix in his first start of the year, the Stewart-Haas team will look to continue its momentum this weekend.

The aforementioned Larson, has only one career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at his home track. The California native won his first career XFINITY Series race last season, and he almost swept the weekend after finishing second in the Sprint Cup race. This could be the weekend that he records his first career win in the Cup Series.

Last year’s pole sitter, Matt Kenseth has three career wins at the 2-mile oval, but none since 2009. He has a career average finish of 9.8 at the racetrack, but Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t won at a non-restrictor plate track since this race last year.

Kenseth’s teammate Denny Hamlin has experienced tough-luck at Fontana over the past two seasons. In 2013, Hamlin was racing Joey Logano for the win on the last lap and he ended up in the inside wall, where there was no SAFER barrier and suffered a collapsed vertebrae. Last season, he qualified on Friday and practiced Saturday, but missed the race on Sunday due to a piece of metal that was in his eye, and Sam Hornish, Jr. ran in the No. 11 FedEx Camry.

Who’s hot?

Going into Sunday, AJ Allmendinger enters the season 6th in points with JTG Daugherty Racing’s single-car operation. The season the No. 47 has already accumulated two top-10s and they both came at 1.5-mile race tracks. Last year, the team only had one top-10 at intermediate tracks, but finished eighth at Fontana.

Kasey Kahne has also gotten off to a hot start in 2015 with new crew chief Keith Rodden. He sits 4th in points with an average finish of 11th. In his previous three seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, the No. 5 team hasn’t got off to a good start in any of them. Kahne will look to continue the momentum on Sunday- at a track he won at in 2006.

Who’s not?

Edwards went to Joe Gibbs Racing thinking that it was his best shot at a championship. Though the 2015 season is still young, Edwards and the No. 19 team have failed to crack the top-10. Due to some bad-luck and inconsistent finishes, Edwards’ sits 22nd in the Sprint Cup Series standings. He has an average finish of 22.5 this year, including a 42nd-place result at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Edwards won at Auto Club Speedway twice with Roush Fenway Racing, and is looking to get his season on track this Sunday.

Trevor Bayne’s first full-time season has not started off the way the 24-year-old would have liked. He has qualified outside the top-30 twice and his best finish is a 19th at Atlanta. Ricky Stenhous, Jr. has also been off to a slow start in 2015. In his third full-time year behind the wheel of the No. 17 car, Stenhouse sits 27th in points, with an average finish of 26.5. Both of these drivers need a solid outing on Sunday.

Auto Club Speedway presents itself as a track where many teams can get kick-start their season with good runs. The races the past couple of seasons have been unpredictable at the Speedway and Sunday’s race will likely be the same.

Dustin Albino

Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015. 

Twitter: @DustinAlbino
Instagram: @dustin_albino