Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The annual NASCAR Goes West campaign reaches the end of its three week run this weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Southern California for Sunday’s running of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Built on the site of an old steel mill featured in the movie “Terminator”, the two-mile oval has been a part of the NASCAR schedule since opening in 1997. During its 20+ years on the circuit, the track has gone through ownership changes, as well as expanding to two race dates in 2004 and then moving back to one race in 2011 due to attendance problems.

As the track has never been repaved since opening, the aged surface has come to provide some of the best intermediate track racing on the circuit. With the lack of grip that the drivers are faced with, they will race from the apron of the track all the way up to the wall looking for speed and the best line to suit their needs.

On restarts especially, drivers will fan out three and four wide as they battle for position, leading to some great racing, as evidenced by the finishes at the track in the last handful of years.

With the racing that the track already provides, a new wrinkle emerges this year with the introduction of the new aero package. If pre-season testing at the track is any indication, ACS should be able to provide some of the best racing we’ve seen yet with the 550 horsepower configuration with the aero ducts. Of course, we thought the same thing from the racing at Las Vegas two weeks ago before being proven wrong.

By the Numbers

What: Auto Club 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 5 of 36

Where: Auto Club Speedway – Fontana, California (Opened: 1997)

When: Sunday, March 17

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: Two-mile D-shaped oval

Banking: 14 degrees in turns, 11 degrees on frontstretch

Race Length: 200 laps, 400 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 50 laps each, Final stage – 100 laps

Pit Road Speed: 55 mph

Pace Car Speed: 60 mph

2018 Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr. (Started on pole, 125 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 188.511 mph, 38.194 seconds – March 18, 2016

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Auto Club Speedway:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 115.6
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 109.6
  3. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 101.0
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 95.5
  5. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 95.2
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 92.7
  7. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 91.9
  8. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 89.6
  9. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 88.1
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 87.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“The racing is going to be incredible at Auto Club Speedway,” said Aric Almirola. “The restarts have always been really wild and the track is really wide, so it promotes five-wide racing on the restarts. Now, with this new rules package, you’re going to see us all over the place. We’re going to be four- and five-wide for multiple laps in a row. I think it’s going to be insane and I’m excited. Any time you see the racing get crazy like that, it’s an opportunity.”

Last Time at Auto Club Speedway

When was the last time we saw a driver and team just open a can of whoop ass on the field and absolutely dominate from start to finish? If you said last year at Auto Club Speedway, you’d be correct.

In a start to the 2018 season that saw him finish outside the top-five only once in the first six races of the year, the Auto Club 400 was the highlight of that stretch for Martin Truex, Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

Starting on pole, Truex led the first 10 laps of the race before ceding the lead over to fellow Toyota driver Kyle Busch. As the race played out, it became the Martin and Kyle Show, especially after their biggest threat (Kevin Harvick) was sitting on the sidelines following a lap 38 crash.

Truex swept the first two stages and took the lead for the final time with 32 laps to go, never looking back as he pulled away to an 11.685 second margin of victory over Kyle Larson, with Kyle Busch finishing third.

Of the 200 laps in the race, 187 of them were led by either Truex or Busch. Truex led 125 laps to Busch’s 62.

“I knew we really had a good racecar after the first adjustment of the race,” said Truex. “The thing just came alive. From there it was just about managing my tires and being smart. We had a little trouble getting beat out of the pits and that was tough. At one run we fell back to fifth and then we needed to work our way back up. I really just needed to care of my front tires and once we got some clean air this thing was unbelievable.

“I am really proud of my team and everybody here. We’ve started the season out strong. Everyone kept asking when we were going to win and we hadn’t won any stages yet. And I said don’t worry, we are close. We just need to figure it out a little bit. And today, what a damn hotrod.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 15

  • MENCS Practice (1:05 pm to 1:55 pm – No TV – Streamed on NASCAR.com)
  • MENCS Qualifying (5:40 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, March 16

  • MENCS Practice (12:05 pm to 12:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (3:30 pm to 4:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 17

  • MENCS Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (3:30 pm – 200 laps, 400 miles – FOX)

 

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.