Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Previewing the Auto Club 400

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After stops in Las Vegas and Phoenix, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wraps up their venture to the West Coast this weekend as they roll into Southern California to do battle on the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

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. The track has gone through ownership changes throughout its history, 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.

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 18

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

2017 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet (Started on pole, 110 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:

  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 116.9
  • Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 109.0
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 108.6
  • Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 100.6
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 97.4
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 92.3
  • Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 89.8
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 88.1
  • Kasey Kahne – No. 95 Chevrolet – 88.1
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 86.6

From the Driver’s Seat

“Auto Club Speedway is probably my favorite large-track that we go to,” Chris Buescher said. “It’s one of the coolest large racetracks we go to. The asphalt is probably just as worn out as Atlanta Motor Speedway, but without some of the major bumps (other than the back straightaway). There are all kinds of options for trying to cross the seams there and run different lanes. You can run from the apron of Turns 3 and 4 all the way to the wall. There’s speed to be found in a lot of different places on the racetrack.”

Last Time at Auto Club Speedway

Kyle Larson has been the two-mile king over the last year and the 2017 running of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway only helped to cement that legacy.

Starting on pole, Larson led 110 laps on the day, but it was his relentless effort at the end of the race that showed just how good he is on these types of tracks. After pitting from the lead for fresh tires with seven laps remaining in regulation, Larson surged right back to the lead on the ensuing restart, powering past Denny Hamlin in Turn 2.

Despite the final caution that pushed the race into overtime, Larson stood his ground in the lead, holding off Brad Keselowski for the race win, his first Cup Series triumph in his home state.

Rounding out the top-10 would be Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

“I’m really, you know, fortunate to be driving really fast racecars right now,” said Larson. “Our cars are by far as good as they’ve ever been, really good at every racetrack right now. In both series I feel like I have a shot to win every time I go to the racetrack.  That’s always a lot of fun.  That’s always something I’ve hoped for, to get to a point of that in my NASCAR career.

“In the past, I had racetracks where I knew I would be good at.  But right now we’re going to some tracks that aren’t great for me, and running up front.  It’s a lot of fun to have that confidence in the race team, go to the racetrack, fight hard and run for wins.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, March 16

  • MENCS Practice (2:35 pm to 3:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (7:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, March 17

  • MENCS Practice (12:35 pm to 1:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (3:30 pm to 4:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 18

  • 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 and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.