It’s been a big week in NASCAR with news coming from everywhere about anything but Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Before we get to this week’s news and preview, it is worth mentioning how scenic the stretch of tracks are that NASCAR visits early in the year. We’ve seen great views at Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol and California. You see the mountains of Southern Califonia in the background above and again after the jump…
Track info: Auto Club Speedway (formerly California Motor Speedway) is a 2 mile “D-shaped” oval with banking of 14 degrees in the turns and 11 degrees on the long sweeping front stretch. The nice thing about this track is that it is very wide which can make for some very exciting 3 wide (or more) racing. The width of the track also means that many times you will see few cautions and long green flag runs. Particularly, this is a track that I can catch a nice mid-race nap if one of those runs fall at the right time. Thankfully, with DVR, I can just rewind when Darrell Waltrip gets all excited about something to figure out what’s going on. Also, tune in early because Night Ranger will be singing the National Anthem and hopefully following that up with “Sister Christian,” if we are lucky. Green flag should be around 3:15 PM EST so tune in by 3 if you want to catch Night Ranger.
Before we get into more about this weekend, let’s look at the other big news from this week.
Bristol: Track owner Bruton Smith has been vocal this week about the attendance at Bristol recently (did you see last week? it looked empty in many areas) and the track configuration which is blamed for the weak attendance. If you don’t already know, Bristol was a track that was really tough ticket purchase. Always a sellout and a scalper’s dream as they could make a ton on the tickets they bought. However, since the recent reconfiguration in 2007, many have complained that it isn’t the same. I believe the economy and the improved experience on TV are the main reasons for the decline in NASCAR attendance overall but there is certainly a chance that one of NASCAR’s most exciting tracks could be affected by that reconfiguration. The banking was made a little bit lower and progressive as you go up the corner. This has caused more of a “racing” environment on the track versus the bumping and banging style that existed previously. Fans want the demolition derby back. Bruton Smith spoke to Sirius/XM about Bristol. “We completely redid the speedway, and fans got the idea that it’s not the same. I guess it’s not the same, since they told us that, and the race fan is always right,” Smith said, “When the race fans speak, you listen. And that’s what we’re doing now.” It sounds like they are going to go back and change the track to how it used to be. We’ll see if the people show up.
48 team appeal: I’m sure you have already heard and maybe even discussed at length amongst your friends and enemies but Chief Appelate Officer John Middlebrook overturned the suspensions to Chad Knaus and Ron Malec as well as the 25 point penalty in the standings and owner’s points without an explanation as to why. Curiously, the $100,000 fine was left in place and the probations of Knaus and Malec with no explanation either. I won’t get into whether or not it should have been turned over or not because it has been beat to death for over a month now nor will I sit here and try to talk more about how this team is known for cheating. Remember, this is what these guys are supposed to do! They are paid to push the envelope and they know there are consequences. The benefits often outweigh the liabilities. What I do want to ask is why was there was no explanation given? This could have been a circumstance where the teams and fans could have been given a precedent or a guideline to what happens when rules are broken. We don’t even know if one was broken because there was no confirmation from Middlebrook, but you have to assume something happened because the fine stood. It is worth noting that Middlebrook has reduced or overturned all 4 appeals he has heard since taking over the appeals job.
Last year: Last year Kevin Harvick won in the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet. Which give me the opportunity to post this most unfortunate photo (look to the right). Harvick came from 3rd place with 3 laps to go and wiggled Jimmie Johnson loose in turn 4 on the final lap to lead his only lap of the race. You may remember that ending, but you may not remember that Kyle Busch had led 151 laps that day only to finish 3rd. I know that Kyle is desperate to get some positive finishes as I have written the last couple weeks. The early race wreck at Bristol was yet another disappointment for him as it took him out before he could even build anything positive. California is another track where he should race well, but the way 2012 is going, I won’t be surprised if something else goes wrong for “Rowdy” Busch.
This year: I expect for the 29 team to show their progress again and race well today and perhaps even run out front for a while as they did in Las Vegas. I expect Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to be outperformed by the boys at Michael Waltrip Racing again as well. MWR has had good cars this year, they had just kept getting wrecked. That is less likely to happen this weekend on this wide track. I also fully expect the Fast Fords to continue running well. Biffle and Kenseth should both finish in the top 10. Kenseth has won at ACS 3 times and is a place where he no doubt looks forward to racing with his 9.95 average finish (His 4th best track). Biffle will look to maintain his 9 point lead over Kevin Harvick in the championship standings. Let’s hope Kasey Kahne has a better day while being sponsored by Quaker State instead of the awful runs he has had with Farmer’s Insurance. Maybe we’ll have a few less of the Farmer’s commercials while we’re at it. Something to keep in mind is that 16 of the 22 races here have been won by Hendrick or Roush drivers.
The Pick: You will hear this about 50 times this weekend I’m sure. Jimmie Johnson has a 5.1 average finish at this track. 9 out of the last 10 races have been top 5’s. He also has 5 career victories at the track. It’s tough to pick against him. He finished 2nd last year and was less than a half mile away from a 6th victory. This will be the ultimate statement after the appeal made the suspensions and penalties disappear earlier this week.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back on Monday for a recap. Leave your pick for winner in the race comments below.