Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The annual NASCAR Goes West campaign enters its second week as the 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.

By the Numbers

What: Auto Club 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 3 of 36

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

When: Sunday, March 1

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 – 60 laps each, Final stage – 80 laps

Pit Road Speed: 55 mph

Pace Car Speed: 60 mph

2019 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started fourth, 134 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 – 114.0
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 111.5
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.1
  4. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 93.6
  5. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 93.4
  6. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 92.4
  7. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 90.9
  8. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 90.4
  9. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 89.9
  10. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 88.6

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s a tough track to get a hold of for sure,” said William Byron. “The bumps are difficult to deal with but it’s a lot of fun to drive. I think it’s a good track that’s fun to run and be able to move around the track to find grip. We’ve definitely learned a lot since we were there last year. It’s going to be interesting though to see how things go since we only race there once a year, but we have a lot of things to apply from last year’s efforts.”

Last Time at Auto Club Speedway

Kyle Busch rolled into the weekend at Auto Club Speedway last year with one goal – win one of the two races that weekend and claim win No. 200 across all three NASCAR National Series.

While a pit road penalty derailed his efforts in the Xfinity Series and threatened to do the same in the Cup Series race, Busch was able to rebound from a speeding penalty at the end of Stage 2 with the help of a timely caution, eventually getting back into the fight for the lead a short time later.

Busch took over the lead for the final time with 26 laps to go and never looked back, crossing the finish line with a 2.354 second advantage over Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. The remainder of the top-five went to Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney.

The win was the fourth for Busch at Auto Club Speedway, the site of his first Cup Series win in 2005.

“Feels just like number one,” Busch said.  “Feels just like yesterday. Man, that was such an awesome racecar.  I mean, dang.  This Interstate Batteries Camry was awesome today.  I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for all these fans out here in California at Auto Club Speedway.

“All these other guys were at a disadvantage.  The Interstate Batteries Green Machine was flying today. Just awesome.  Just awesome.

“To win 200, I mean, whatever it means, it means a lot to me.  It means a lot to all my guys, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing.  You guys are all the best.  Toyota, TRD. It’s an amazing opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs.  I cherish every minute of it, love it always.  Just wish that we could keep it going, keep it going like this, running strong, running well, and winning these races.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, February 28

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (4:05 pm to 4:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Final Practice (5:35 pm to 6:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, February 29

  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (2:35 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, March 1

  • 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.