NASCAR preview: A look at the Auto Club 400 in California
This week the Monster Energy series heads for the high banks of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. for the Auto Club 400. Designed in 1996 by legendary car owner Roger Penske, this track is MASSIVE; it's two miles in length and has fourteen degrees of banking. This place has plenty of room, so it is not uncommon to see three or four wide racing.
Last year Kyle Larson went on to his second career victory after beating Brad Keselowski, a victory that kicked off a career year for the third-year driver. This year you can expect a lot of the same type of racing, lots of passing for position and long green flag runs. The race, however has a trend of late race cautions. (Some for questionable reasons but that’s for a different article) Since 2012, there has been a caution within the final four laps of every race, and as the great Darrell Waltrip always said, "Cautions breed Cautions."
When there is a chance for a restart there is an even likelier chance for another yellow flag, and that was case last year when something as simple as a Corey Lajoie's single car spin lead to a multi-car crash involving Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The favorite going into this race is clearly the man who has won the last three races, Kevin Harvick.
I have been watching NASCAR as far as I can remember being alive and I do not recall someone having this dominant of a start to a season. It was always known that Harvick is good on the West Coast part of the season, but never did I imagine he would have a shot to sweep all four races and sure enough here we are. Auto Club is another track that holds a lot of sentimental value because it's his home track. Harvick grew up two hours away in Bakersfield, so getting a victory in front of his home state crowd would be a signature win for his career, especially considering he has never won here before.
Regardless he has ran great here at this track with a 7.50 since average finish since 2016 which is fifth all time amongs active drivers so look for the Jimmy John's Ford to be freaky fast this weekend. The driver I think that will go to victory lane. however. is Martin Truex, Jr. Truex is coming off three consecutive top five finishes, and while this is not a track that he has been great on, last year he had a good run going as he led the second most laps in the race with 77 and won the second stage.
This weekend will be the race where Truex breaks through and gets his first win of the season as he defends last year's championship. A dark horse to watch for this weekend is Daniel Suarez. In his debut at Fontana he went on to a seventh-place finish, and the sophomore driver is coming off his best finish of the year last week. He looks to be turning a corner as one of the next great young drivers in NASCAR so look for him and his bright orange Toyota Camry to be up front.
This race is one that I always look forward to due to the amount of lead changes we have seen in years past -- last year this race had 17 and the year before that had 26. With the aero package that NASCAR has brought to this race track over the last few years it is strange that there is only one race here. Nonetheless look for it to be a good race.
(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)