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Race Day: It Should Be A Groovy Day In SoCal

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 25 2012

Jeff Burton takes some laps at the wide, flat 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval – site of today's race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

If you don’t like the racing at the reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway, there is a chance you won’t like today’s Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

The two tracks are about as different as they come: Bristol is a short track with high banks and Auto Club is a superspeedway with relatively little banking. But, they both produce side-by-side racing at the expense of crashing.

Judging from the empty grandstands at Bristol, that side-by-side stuff is not in vogue among fans at the moment. Drivers, however, have different views on different subjects.

Here is what several drivers had to say about Auto Club, the surface of which, is beginning to mature:

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “I think that it becomes more of an Atlanta type of race track all the time. You always hear us talking about the cars sliding around and losing grip and having a lot of fall off in the tires as the run goes on and the groove widening out. It seems to me that this track is starting to see a lot of that. Goodyear has brought a tire that has a little more grip and we’ll see if it has a little more fall off too, usually that’s the case, but they’ve gotten so good at designing these tires that it’s not always the case. To see a third groove already worked in today in practice means that you’re going to see cars all the way up against the fence, all the way down on the apron and everywhere in between and that’s the makings of a great race on Sunday.”

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “I think the track has become more difficult to drive, which I think is good. I think it’s no longer just a big engine, a good aero package makes you faster. You

Carl Edwards a fan of Auto Club. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

really have to have the setup right and you have to drive it perfectly. You have to work on the car through the race, so I think it’s made this track tougher for one team to just dominate. I think you’re gonna see this track give more surprise winners and better races and I think there will be more action because of how dynamic it is and how difficult it is to drive, so I think that might be why we don’t just see the same people up front here that you always have.”

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge: “I never disliked it. I like coming to a wide track to race on. This place, you get a really big draft down the front straightaway when the pack gets together on a restart and that really causes some great racing when we get to Turn 1. I was in one of those great races, in a big wreck because of it. It’s still really cool to get that big run off of Turn 4 and feel that big effect of the draft here. It’s one of the most interesting things about Fontana.”

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota: “It’s taking shape just like Michigan. Michigan, obviously they paved it this year, but it’s one of the most fun race tracks we go to as a race driver. This track has matured great even though it’s got battle scars in the corners and things like that and different seams around the line that people fight — that’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes guys search around and try to find different lines. Even in qualifying, this is one of the very few race tracks where you see guys qualify from all the way at the top, to all the way at the bottom. That’s fun when a driver can make a difference and he can here at California.”

Trivia time

Which driver in today’s field has the best average finish at Auto Club?

All’s well…we think

Jeff Gordon was not too happy with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the race at Bristol last week.

The two tangled on the track and Gordon had some unkind things to say on his radio afterward. But this

Kyle Busch will be looking for his second victory in Fontana. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

is a new week and a new track and here is what the four-time champ had to say about his relationship with Junior:

“You know, he reached out to me. It was just a strange situation that happened where we were racing hard, racing for position after a restart and he definitely got into me, but you could do that 100 times and go on about your business, but in this particular case the tailpipe just lined up perfectly on the left rear. Really to me that is the much bigger issue than the contact between me and Junior.

“I don’t understand why the tailpipes are even capable of getting to the left rear tire. If that happens at a big, fast speedway then that’s a much bigger incident than what that was. I’d like to see that addressed. We talked and I’ve got respect for Dale and I know he has that for me as well. We enjoy being teammates and we I think learned a little bit from that situation about when the time to race hard is and when it isn’t.”

Auto Club – By the numbers

2 – races won from the front row at Auto Club Speedway; one from the pole (2008, Jimmie Johnson)

4 – number of drivers that have competed in all 22 races at ACS (Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek)

4 – fewest cautions for a Sprint Cup race (twice, most recently 3/27/11)

8 – number of jet dryers available for track drying during race weekend

9 – most wins by a car owner in previous 22 races (Rick Hendrick)

11 – races won from a starting spot outside the top 10

12 – most cautions (2/24/08)

14 – different winners in previous 22 races

15 – different pole winners

Mark Martin is a former winner at Auto Club. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

16 – fewest caution laps (3/27/11)

18 – fewest lead changes (three times, most recent 3/27/11)

33 – most lead changes (2/24/08)

51 – most caution laps (9/5/04)

120 – minutes, the amount of time it takes to dry the 2.0-mile track after a significant rainfall

188.245 – mph, track qualifying record (Kyle Busch, 1/25/05)

1995 – year track construction began on site of the former Kaiser Steel Mill; completed in 1996

1997 – year first Sprint Cup race held at the track (6/22/97)

2008 – year facility changed name from California Speedway to Auto Club Speedway

Appealing ideas

A major topic of conversation in Fontana over the weekend has been the penalty situation vis a vis the No. 48 car.

Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing was asked if he thought the entire appeal process is clear to competitors.

”I think the inspection process is pretty clear,” he said. “The tolerances and things they want; I think everybody is pretty clear on that. The one thing that I have expressed before, and I’m glad this situation came up, I still feel like the crew chiefs don’t need to be scared for their life every time they go through the inspection process. This board has had innovation drive it for years, and I think the innovation is what makes it intriguing to people who work on the cars, and know about things that are going on, and try to make your car better than the other guys. It was an interesting process, and I think it’s a fair process. And I think the inspection process is well understood and achieves things that can and will happen, and have happened. You never know what is coming next, but the inspection process is pretty clear.”

Greg Biffle, who drives a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, said, “The way I look at it is there are certain facts about the situation, so I look at it simply. One, NASCAR wouldn’t have taken the part if it was legal. They didn’t take the part with the perception of, ‘we’re gonna take it home and check it’ like they would an engine after a race or something like that. So they took the part because they didn’t like it. That’s pretty cut and dried at that point. There’s no gray area, in my opinion, on that.

“So then I look at the appeals process was upheld and then the appellate officer repealed the points and Chad’s vacation. So at that point he must have felt like, and I can somewhat agree, it’s not like they were trying to hide something underneath here. The part that they brought, that NASCAR didn’t like, was right in front of you. It’s right there, so the appellate officer obviously felt like it indeed wasn’t legal, because they upheld the fine, but maybe this is a little severe for what they did on the car, or what they tried to get through inspection.”

Last time out, at Auto Club

2012 Caution Recap

30 – cautions in the first four Sprint Cup races; 41 after four races last year

16 of 30 – cautions have been for accidents; 24 of 41 for accidents last year

161 of 1,281 laps completed have been under caution; 195 of 1,287 in 2011

217.617 of 1,484.000 miles completed have been under caution; 275.881 of 1,499.000 in 2011

Trivia answer

Jimmie Johnson has the best average finish among drivers in today’s field – 5.1 in 17 starts.

Up next

The Good’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Kevin Harvick won last year’s race Martinsville spring race.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 25 2012
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