By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
The West Coast swing is just about complete for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Auto Club Speedway in Fonatana, California is on tap for this weekend, and is the final stop of the swing. The Cup series heads into the track on the high of a photo finish in Phoenix. Overall, four different drivers have won the four races to start the season, and I fully expect there to be a fifth driver claiming their spot in this year’s Chase this weekend.
To be fair, there are some drivers with incredible history at this racetrack who have already won this season.
Brad Keselowski, who won Las Vegas, won this event last year. Jimmie Johnson, who won in Atlanta, has five wins and an average finish of 6.8 at this 2-mile speedway. Kevin Harvick, who won this past weekend in Phoenix, also won this race back in 2011 and is seemingly always in the mix for the win when we come to Fontana.
All of that history be damned, I predict we will see a new winner this weekend in California, and I’d almost be willing to bet that the winner’s name will be Kyle Busch.
Busch collected his first-ever Sprint Cup Series win at this very track back in 2005, but it’s his recent success that has me feeling like it’ll be a good weekend to be a No. 18 fan. Busch won the 2013 and 2014 races held in Fontana, and was unable to attempt to win three in a row as this was one of the 11 races that Busch missed while recovering from a broken leg and ankle last season.
Busch also comes into the Auto Club 400 with a ton of momentum. Not only did is he the reigning series champion, but he also sits in a tie for the championship point lead with Kevin Harvick, and Busch is the only driver on the circuit who has a top-five finish in all four races already contested in 2016.
Busch is knocking on the door, and this weekend he should kick the door in for his first victory of the season.
If Busch doesn’t get the job done this weekend, his other two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates who have yet to reach victory lane this season (Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards) could also reach victory lane. Busch, Edwards and Kenseth rank second, third and fourth in career-average finish at this track among active drivers. Edwards has one win, while Kenseth has three at this facility.
There are also some other people that have a good track record at this track, who may be able to break through this weekend. Kurt Busch is among them. The elder-Busch has had a fast car all season long, but just hasn’t been able to close out a race with a win. He won at this track one time, way back in 2003, but he rides into this weekend with three straight top-five finishes at Auto Club Speedway.
Two other drivers who could surprise the world Sunday would be Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson.
Larson finished second in this race back in his rookie season (2014), and Dillon, who has been one of the most improved drivers so far this year, has a career average finish of 13.5 at this track.
Also don’t forget this track has been very kind to rookie drivers over the years. In addition to Larson finishing second in his first attempt at this track, Jimmie Johnson (2002) and Kyle Busch (2005) won in their first-ever outing at this speedway. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney come into this race as top-10 contenders, if they play their cards right you never know. They could just win this race.
Either way I believe we will see a fresh face in victory lane this weekend.
Image: Chris Trotman/Getty Images