FONTANA, Calif. – Aside from butts in seats, the main thing NASCAR officials are hoping for Sunday in Southern California is anything but rain.
Last year's Auto Club 500 took two days to complete because of showers, and now the tour is coming off the rain-shortened Daytona 500 – leaving a large faction of fans with a sour taste in their mouths.
A good show is what NASCAR needs. But will the two-mile Auto Club Speedway deliver?
Here are the top five story lines heading into Sunday's Auto Club 500:
1. Will anyone show up? Auto Club Speedway gets more grief than any track on the circuit (outside of Pocono Raceway, perhaps) for a lack of fans in the stands. Attendance is expected to be down about 10 percent from last year, which track officials are actually happy about.
Considering the economic climate, a 10-percent drop should be expected, but Auto Club Speedway already suffers from lagging attendance, which means the stands Sunday night will be noticeably empty.
And when they are, it will only add fuel to an already roaring fire surrounding whether Auto Club Speedway deserves two Cup dates.
2. What will Tony Stewart do? Entering the season, there was no greater unknown than how competitive the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing venture would be. Auto Club Speedway will be a solid barometer of that.
Fare well, and Stewart and Ryan Newman can be considered legit contenders for the Chase. If they don't fare well, the jury will still be out.
3. Will Carl Edwards dominate? No one could match Edwards' dominance on the intermediate tracks last season. Of Edwards' nine wins in 2008, eight came on intermediate tracks, including this race a year ago. There's no reason not to expect a repeat. Sunday, we'll begin to find out.
4. Will there be a hangover from the Earnhardt-Vickers wreck at Daytona? Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he's talked to Brian Vickers about their Daytona 500 run-in, which took out Vickers and eight other cars. Both say the incident is behind them.
Still, some hard feelings remain. Kyle Busch, who was an innocent bystander in the mess, still feels that Earnhardt Jr. turned his bad day into everyone else's bad day.
5. Will weather be a factor? The forecast calls for cloudy skies, but only a 10-percent chance of rain. That's good news for NASCAR and for fans in Southern California.
A year ago, rain halted this race twice. NASCAR waited some five hours before postponing the race. That didn't sit well with fans, who waited out the rain only to be told the race would be completed the next day.
- Auto Club Speedway