NASCAR TAKES ON THE WEST COAST SWING
With the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) season officially underway, the series heads to the west coast to take on three-consecutive race weekends: Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. The first stop on the west coast swing is the much-anticipated return of Auto Club Speedway where NASCAR’s Premier Series will take on the 2-mile California D-shaped oval for the first time since 2020. Auto Club Speedway first hosted a NCS race in 1997, with Career Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon capturing the inaugural victory. The Wise Power 400 will mark the 32nd NCS event held at Auto Club Speedway after the track was removed from the schedule for the 2021 season due to state COVID restrictions.
Joining the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) will head to Auto Club Speedway to make for a doubleheader race weekend. The Production Alliance Group 300 on Saturday, February 26, marks the second race on the series’ schedule. The 2022 season started off strong for the NXS Chevrolet drivers and teams with NXS rookie, Austin Hill, capturing the victory at Daytona International Speedway. With the Camaro SS taking four of the top-five and eight of the top-10 finishing positions at Daytona, momentum is on Team Chevy’s side heading into the three-race west coast swing.
CHEVROLET LEADS IN NCS POLE WINS, RACE WINS
Team Chevy returns to Auto Club Speedway as defending winners after Alex Bowman powered his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to victory lane in the series last appearance at the track in 2020. The bowtie brand is no stranger to victory lane at the 2-mile California venue. In 31 NASCAR Cup Series races held at Auto Club Speedway, Chevrolet has captured the victory 15 times, leading all manufacturers. Career Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with six victories at Auto Club Speedway - including back-to-back wins (2009-2010) - making him one of only two drivers in the series’ history to become a consecutive winner. With a victory, Kyle Larson could potentially become just the fifth reigning NASCAR Cup Series Champion to win at Auto Club Speedway in the following season, joining the elite list of Tony Stewart (2012), Jeff Gordon (1999), Jimmie Johnson (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010), and Martin Truex Jr. (2018).
A Chevrolet has sat on the pole at Auto Club Speedway 15 times to top all other manufacturers. Chevrolet drivers have earned the pole in four of the past six years at the track. In 2017, California native Kyle Larson won from the pole, making the 29-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver just one of three drivers in NCS history to make his way to Victory Lane from the pole position.
CHEVROLET WINS IN XFINITY AT DAYTONA:
Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill claimed the victory last weekend at Daytona International Speedway in his debut start with the team, giving Chevrolet its 478th all-time win in NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) competition. The victory was the first for the 2022 NXS rookie driver in just his 16th-career start in the series. Chevrolet drivers led 114 of 120 laps in the 300-lap event; 95 percent of the total laps completed. Hill led a Team Chevy podium sweep, with AJ Allmendinger in second and Noah Gragson in third. Eight of the top-10 finishers were behind the wheel of a Camaro SS. Daniel Hemric captured the pole win for Kaulig Racing and swept the stages to claim valuable stage points heading into the Fontana race weekend.
BY THE NUMBERS:
· Victories by current NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet drivers at Auto Club Speedway:
Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1, has one win (March 2020)
Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Camaro ZL1, has one win (March 2017)
· Of the 31 appearances made in NASCAR’s premier series at Auto Club Speedway, Chevrolet has recorded 15 wins, 15 poles, 70 top-five’s, 134 top-10’s, and led 3,442 laps.
· Hendrick Motorsports leads all organizations in NASCAR Cup Series wins at Auto Club Speedway with 11: Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999, 2004), Kyle Busch (2005), Jimmie Johnson (2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016), Alex Bowman (2020).
· Chevrolet has won 40 NASCAR Cup Series Manufacturer Championships and 33 NASCAR Cup Series Driver Championships, the most of all manufacturers.
FOX will telecast the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 live at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, February 27. FS1 will telecast the NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 at 5:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, February 26. Live coverage of both events can also be found on MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
ROSS CHASTAIN, NO. 1 CASA DEL SOL TEQUILA CAMARO ZL1
DESCRIBE AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY.
“Fontana is a little outside of Los Angeles. It’s the coolest two-mile track we go to as a driver. If you’re a fan of racing and enjoy watching guys struggle to drive cars, then Auto Club is the place.”
YOU’VE DRIVEN AN XFINITY CAR AND KNOW WHAT IT CAN DO, AS FAR AS FLEXIBILITY. HOW DO YOU SEE THAT PLAYING OUT FOR THE CUP CARS THIS YEAR?
"I think that’s to be determined. This car is evolving. Generally speaking, when we have a fender knocked in, it should hold up a lot better."
WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN FROM LAST SEASON THAT CAN CARRY OVER TO 2022?
“I felt like I took a lot of things on the chin. It wasn’t just the race craft in the Cup Series. I had 70-something starts in the Cup Series going into the 2021 season. I was always just a guy in the pack though. Always a guy racing in the 20s and 30s, and through attrition we would get up in the high 20s. When I was driving the No. 42 car in 2021 it was just different. I had no idea how hard it was. I watched stuff and thought, I’ll make this move or that move and watch film back and SMT, but until you get out there, there’s just no way to know. Especially when it comes to how to race people and make passes. Cup races are long races mentally, you have to be sharper, stay as close to 100 percent as you can, and stay good across 500 miles and not just be good for 200 miles and make a mistake."
AUSTIN DILLON, NO. 3 DOW COATINGS CAMARO ZL1
DESCRIBE THE RACING AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY.
“Tire wear is the biggest part. You’re running all the way against the fence, and all the way against the bottom. There’s a good mixture. You have to have speed at the beginning of a run and then hold it for a long run. If you can’t take off you get beat on the restarts and if you can’t hold on they’re going to lap you at the end of a run. You have to have a good balance between the short and the long run. If you can do that, you’ll be pretty good. We’ve done pretty well in the past there, but it’s been a while since we’ve raced at Auto Club Speedway and there are quite a few unknowns this year heading into the race with the Next Gen for the first time. I love the track, though, and feel pretty good about it. The fans are amazing at Auto Club Speedway. Actually, the fans are amazing at all of the races during this west coast stretch so I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
WHERE DOES AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY RANK FOR YOU AMONG THE WEST COAST SWING RACES?
“I think my favorites now are between Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. I like Phoenix Raceway, too, but between Vegas and Fontana it’s a tight race.
WHAT STANDS OUT TO YOU ABOUT THE NEXT GENT CAR?
“It’s very futuristic compared to what we’ve been driving. I think it’s going to be a breath of fresh air. We have a lot of kinks and things to work out right now. There are a lot of unknowns, but I think that change is good for the sport. I think a lot of the fans are going to love to see the different things we do with the car. We’ll figure a lot out as we go. We had so much time and effort put into the old cars. We’re still figuring out things to make the old cars faster, which is crazy to think about when you look at how long we’ve had them. With the Next Gen, I think the engineers in our sport are going to be learning at a very fast pace, and we’re going to have to try to keep up with them as drivers.”
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE INVENTORY OF CARS?
“I think it goes back to short track racing. When you are coming up through the ranks short track racing you do not have the inventory of cars that we’ve always had in the NASCAR Cup Series. If you wrecked your car, you could be out the next weekend. I don’t know that the inventory situation with the Next Gen car is that serious, but a wreck early in the season definitely could put you behind and put your team in a bind early in the season. Until we get more inventory of these cars, you want to take care of your equipment, but you also want to win and put it all out on the line.”
WHEREVER IT MIGHT BE, IT COULD BE A MARKET, IT COULD BE A TRIP; BUT DOES AUSTIN DILLON HAVE A GO-TO PLACE? WHAT IS IT AND WHY?
“When we’re out on the west coast, we like to stay out there for the entire west coast swing. Last year, my wife Whitney and I took my son Ace, and we took our motorhome to a road course that Ron Fellows runs for Chevrolet. We spent a day at road course school out there. Then, we went to Phoenix Raceway early because I love the Phoenix area. Goodyear, Arizona is a cool area. We stay at the Wigwam and it’s nice and relaxing. It has a couple golf courses that we hit up. I like traveling the west coast swing at the beginning of the year because it gets the year going. When we come home, we don’t do a lot of traveling after that. We don’t do many road trips, but the west coast is the one that I stay out since we’re out there for several weekends in a row.”
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1
LARSON ON WHAT TO EXPECT WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“I don’t know what to expect. Obviously, we will all learn a lot during practice and qualifying on Saturday. We used to run low for a few laps then move up a couple lanes. Then after seven or eight laps you could run all over the place. But I believe they put resin down, so I don’t know how that will affect it.”
CLIFF DANIELS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1
DANIELS ON PREPARING FOR THE WEST COAST SWING:
“The West Coast swing is certainly a lot of work for the teams, but we have gotten accustomed to it over the years. There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces to get the cars and teams back and forth across the country. We don’t have an abundance of Next Gen parts right now, and we’re trying to be smart and diligent about the spare parts we do have. Everyone here at Hendrick Motorsports has done a great job of managing it (the West Coast swing) logistically in the past, and I know we will do so again in the coming weeks.”
DANIELS ON AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“It’s been a couple of years since we have been to Fontana, and I am definitely looking forward to it. Last time we were there (in 2020), we qualified on the front row with Jimmie (Johnson) and had a really strong race but missed an adjustment late that we needed. Now it’s a completely different car, different tire – everything is different. NASCAR is applying resin, which will change the characteristics and dynamics of the track surface. It’s going to be a big ‘guess’ for everyone in the field. And it’s a new weekend format with the short warmup followed by qualifying, but I have a lot of confidence in this HendrickCars.com team that we will be well prepared.”
TYLER REDDICK, NO. 8 LENOVO CAMARO ZL1
DESCRIBE WHAT YOU THINK THE RACING IS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS WEEKEND AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY.
“Heading back to Auto Club Speedway for the first time in two years and with the new Next Gen car will bring a lot of unknowns. I’ve only been to Auto Club in the Cup Series once and it was in 2020. It’s just that type of racetrack, even when you’ve got the best car, it’s easy to make mistakes and step over the line. This car has already proved it’s unforgiving, you’ve got to drive the daylights out of it, but it will fight you if you don’t respect it. Maybe the drivers will play it safe, maybe I’m wrong, but I expect some mistakes. I’m expecting a tire management approach. You’re going to really have to keep the tires underneath you, especially because it hasn’t been run on in so long. All of it is going to play out really quickly in our warmup and leading into qualifying but it’s going to be an exciting start to this format that we have because you’re only going to really get maybe 10 to 12 laps, maybe 15 laps, in a practice session. That’s a good amount of time to kind of get an idea of what your comfort level is but it’s barely enough time to know if you have the right setup underneath you.”
WHERE DOES AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY RANK FOR YOU AMONG THE WEST COAST SWING RACES?
“Auto Club is my favorite track on the West Coast swing because of the many racing lanes.”
EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT WITH THIS NEW CAR. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING YOU HAD TO ADAPT TO WITH THE NEXT GEN CAR?
“For me, the biggest challenge is pit road. All aspects of pit road, but especially entering pit road. Exiting pit road at a speedway is about the same- you just hammer down and get through gears as fast as you can, but entering the box is certainly more challenging. Just as the car is more of a fine line and less forgiving on the racetrack, it’s less forgiving on pit road, too. Once you lock up the tires coming in, you want to lock them up when you get about one pit stall away, but it’s much easier to lock them up three or four pit stalls away and then you’re rolling too fast and you roll through the pit box. I actually had that happen to us on our last yellow flag stop at Daytona International Speedway before we were out of the race. Your marks, everything, are so different. It happened a lot throughout the Duels and throughout the race. Drivers were using their old marks from the old car and they’re not even close anymore. It’s been fun learning and getting up to speed on that, but I think it’s going to play a huge role in how the races play out in the first two months of our season. Whoever can clean up the details on pit road the best will find themselves in Victory Lane.”
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1
ELLIOTT ON RETURNING TO AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been two years. If you had told me we went there last year, I probably would have believed you. That’s how fast things have gone by the past couple of years. With these cars and what we’re doing setup-wise, it will be interesting how teams prepare for this track to not tear the underneath off the car and have it travel the way you need it to travel through the corners. I think that’s going to be a pretty steep learning curve for all of us. Somebody’s going to get it right and hopefully it’s us.”
ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1
GUSTAFSON ON RETURNING TO AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“This race is one that I’ve been concerned about for a while. Not that I don’t love racing there. My first win was there. It’s a great track and fun to race on. The surface is really worn out. The back straightaway, they ground it down and are trying to rectify it as much as possible. We haven’t been there in two years, and we have a new car. So just a lot of unknowns, and with just 15 minutes of practice, it’s going to be really hard to get it right.”
GUSTAFSON ON THE TEAM’S EXPECTATIONS FOR THE WEEKEND:
“Our expectation is to be perfect off the truck, but if not, we definitely have the mindset to be able to work through the weekend. For California and these next races coming up, guys are going to work on their cars more through the race and kind of evolve. It’s going to be a very tough race. Nobody’s car is going to drive perfect. Drivers will be able to move around and find some time in different lanes. They’re going to have to manage what they’ve got and get the most out of it. It’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be a challenge.”
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 AXALTA CAMARO ZL1
BYRON ON WHY HE FEELS OPTIMISTIC RACING AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“It hasn’t been the best track in Cup for me, but I feel like that will likely change this year. I think I’ll have a better shot to compete there for a good finish if not the win. It’s a dynamic track that you will have to run in every lane to be successful. Honestly it drives a little bit like a short track in the corners. You have to revert back to what that feels like, but it’s also very fast down the straightaways. It’s a tough track that brings the best out of you.”
BYRON ON HOW IMPORTANT LANE CHOICE IS AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“You spend a lot of time listening to your spotter and your team on where other guys are running and what the data says. I think you also can feel a lot and see where other guys are running on track around you. It’s a track where you try to get out of the wake of the guy in front of you and try to find a lane that has clean air. I think that’s what makes it such a good race, you can find different lanes to run and you’re not dependent on the guy in front of you holding you up. It’s fun in that aspect. It really is a race-the-racetrack type of place. You can’t air-block somebody because they’re just going to find a new lane.”
RUDY FUGLE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 AXALTA CAMARO ZL1
FUGLE ON WHY HE LIKES AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“This used to be one of my favorite tracks and I’m excited to get back there. It’s been a while since I’ve been and I’m sure the track characteristics have changed a lot, but that’s what I love about it. This is a track where it takes everything to have a good run. You need the right car setup, great pit stops, the right strategy with tires being such a big factor, and a driver who knows when to be aggressive. It’s really a track that highlights who has it all clicking. One mistake shows a lot. This will be my first Cup start at Auto Club, but I’m more than ready to get there and see what we have.”
ALEX BOWMAN, NO. 48 ALLY CAMARO ZL1
BOWMAN ON DEFENDING HIS 2020 FONTANA WIN:
“I’m excited to get back to Fontana. I feel like we had the best car we have had ever when we raced there in 2020. I love the track and how big it is, so going back with a win in my last appearance and a lot of good thoughts gives me a lot of confidence. Obviously, the car is different so we can’t lean too much on our notes from last time, but I know our team will put together a great car for this year’s event.”
GREG IVES, CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 ALLY CAMARO ZL1
IVES ON RETURNING TO FONTANA:
“When Fontana came off the schedule, I was pretty bummed about it especially with the way we ran in 2020. When I saw we got the chance to go back there, I was obviously pretty excited. We are still expecting to race well even though we have the Next Gen car, which is not the same as the Gen Six car. The racetrack is fun to drive. There is a lot of character to it, and you are able to run the bottom apron all the way to the wall, so it gives us a lot of options. There will be a lot of tire wear and I’m sure pit strategy will come into play. I’m looking forward to bringing a lot of speed with another great No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with this high-horsepower package.”
DANIEL SUAREZ, NO. 99 FREEWAY INSURANCE CAMARO ZL1
ARE YOU READY FOR FONTANA?
"It's been a while since we have been there, but I think it is a fun track. I'm looking forward to the weekend. We have a busy weekend plan and I hope we get to meet some of our fans at the Freeway Insurance store Saturday afternoon. "
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AFTER DAYTONA?
"We were disappointed with the speeding penalty and a loose wheel put us behind and we couldn't make up the two lost laps. If we can bring that fast of a Chevrolet to the track each weekend we are going to have a great 2022 season."
HOW IS ROSS CHASTAIN DIFFERENT FROM OTHER TEAMMATES THAT YOU HAVE HAD?
"Well, I've been fortunate that I've been part of some teams that have a lot of teammates and some of them with a lot of experience, some of them with not so much experience, and everyone is different. Every team is different. Something that I mentioned to (Trackhouse founder) Justin (Marks) and to (President) Ty (Norris) since the very beginning about Ross is that I like ‑‑ at the time I just didn't know Ross to the point where I know him today, but I knew that he was hungry, and for me and for our team, I think that's extremely important, having somebody that wants to do something, somebody that is hungry.
"There is a lot of drivers that are talented out there, and not all of them put actually the work to be better. I feel that it's always good to have a good teammate because you start pushing each other. You start trying to find out what he's doing better than me and what am I doing better than him and then trying to push each other and in that way be able to bring Trackhouse to the next level.
"Right now we have a lot of good things coming our way in Trackhouse Racing, but the reality is that the plan is to do all our talking on the track, and that is going to be with trophies. The better the work together, the better that journey is going to be."