MENCS: Auto Club 400 Race Preview

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Auto Club Speedway for the 21st annual Auto Club 400. The annual race at the 2.0-mile oval marks the fifth stop of the year for the series in 2017. Jimmie Johnson, who will pilot the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet on Sunday, enters the weekend as the defending race winner.

Entry List:

A total of 39 cars are entered. That means nobody will go home after qualifying later on  Friday. The format will be three rounds / multi-car with top 24 advancing to round two. The top 12 fastest in round two will have a run at the pole in round three.

The track record last season was set by Austin Dillon with a 38.199, 188.482 mph.

Story Lines:

Ryan Newman enters the weekend with momentum after his surprise victory last weekend in Phoenix. Newman gambled on a late-race caution by staying out while others came down pit road to capture his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win since 2013 at Indianapolis.

"It was an awesome day for RCR, Grainger, Caterpillar, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola ... all the partners that support our race teams, all the guys at the shop, RCR and ECR,” said Newman. “This win means so much to me. I didn't forget how to win, but after a while or for so long, you get thinking to yourself, 'Man, is it really this hard or are you just losing it?' We didn't lose it on Sunday. It's been an amazing two days for me. It's been so long for me to get to victory lane that I cannot thank everyone enough for supporting me. It's been a total collective effort to get to victory lane and it feels so good. We were at the right place at the right time and did what we needed to do."

The series veteran led only six circuits en route to his 18th career victory in the series.

Kyle Busch dominated the event all throughout the day last weekend in Phoenix until a late-race caution dried it up. Busch, who pitted before the final restart, finished third in his No. 18 Toyota Camry.

Auto Club Speedway is a track that the Las Vegas native has had previous success at. In 2013 and 2014, Busch went to victory lane there for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s a fast racetrack and you just have to be able carry a lot of speed through the corners,” said Busch. “You’re in the corner for a long time but, the more speed you carry through the turn, the better it makes your straightaways. It’s a big, fast racetrack and I’m hoping we can get Interstate Batteries its first win during the 65th anniversary celebration this year.”

In 18 starts, Busch holds three wins, eight top five and 12 top 10 finishes at the 2.0-mile oval. He has led 604 laps and holds an average finish of 10.9 and an average start of 11.1.

Kyle Larson enters his home track leading the series standings by six points over Brad Keselowski. Larson took his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to three consecutive runner-up finishes over the last three races.

“No, I’m not frustrated at all.  I would love to run second every single week,” Larson said last weekend at Phoenix. “That would mean we have a great shot at winning the championship.  No, I mean obviously, it would be nice to get a win and we have challenged now for most of the last probably five races.  So, yeah, it’s really cool to run up front, but at the same time it’s not frustrating because it’s good.  I’ve never had this speed this early in the year.  I’m soaking it all in and enjoying it.”

Michigan, a track very similar to Auto Club Speedway, is the only track Larson has won at in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. With that said, Larson certainly has a target on his back going into the weekend.

Where to Watch:

The Auto Club 400 will air live on FOX at 3:30 PM ET. on Sunday, March 26. The Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM Channel 90 will have the live radio broadcast.

Brett Winningham

Brett has been following the sport of NASCAR since the beginning of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Since Brett was 13, he has had a passion of chasing a job in sports that not many get the opportunity of doing. He has been in the NASCAR media since the middle of the 2010 season. Since then, he has been a part of many racing podcast shows to improve his talents. You can find him on twitter @NASCAR_Brett.