FONTANA, Calif. – Blow it up. Seriously. Blow up Auto Club Speedway and start over.
Talk about a snooze-fest.
There's a reason they can't beg more than 60,000 or so fans to come to this track, let alone sell it out. The racing is boring as all get out. There, it's been said.
Coming to Auto Club Speedway is borderline masochistic. Why else would you subject yourself to this – watching a merry-go-round of a race where the horses go up and down but never pass each other?
In Sunday's Pepsi 500, which covered 250 laps over 3 hours, 36 minutes, there wasn't a single nail-biting moment. Not one. Jimmie Johnson led from the get-go, driving virtually all afternoon and into the evening by himself. His closest competitor was Johnny Sauter, but that was only when Johnson was putting Sauter a lap down.
Try as they might – and track president Gillian Zucker has by adding escalators and a new menu and misters to help with the heat – but until they actually make the racing better, people won't come, not when the most exciting part of the show came when a light standard fell onto the track.
It's clear NASCAR is determined to force itself on Southern California, and that's fine. But if they're going to do it – if they really want to make Auto Club Speedway the "Daytona of the West," as Bill France Jr. charged Zucker to do when she took control of the track in 2005 – give the people a good show.
Do what Michael Waltrip said to do back in February – put in banking, big, 31-degree banking like at Daytona International Speedway. If that means the track needs to be reconfigured, then do it.
Show the people on the left coast what they're missing. Show them what real speed, real drafting, real bumper-to-bumper racing is, and maybe then they could convince some real life movie stars to venture east to Fontana instead of having to roll out the red carpet for Heidi and Spencer, who are B-list celebrities on their own television show The Hills.
And if you don't know who Heidi and Spencer are, well that should tell you something, because 50 miles from Hollywood and that's who NASCAR got to wave the green flag Sunday.
Johnson said he had a great time, and why shouldn't he have? When the highway's wide open and there's no traffic in sight – no slow poke clogging up the passing lane – don't you?
But it wasn't so fun for everyone else.
"It's just that these things are pretty frustrating," said Matt Kenseth, who wound up fifth. "You can't ever really go anywhere. Those top bunch of cars start there and they run there all day.
"You see a lot of races these days like that where a guy will start up front and if they've got a really fast car, they'll just stay there."
Kenseth's frustration has more to do with the new car than the track, which brings up a good point. The racing at most of the 1.5- to 2-mile tracks this season has been follow-the-leader affairs. The Car of Tomorrow, introduced on a full-time basis this season, hasn't produced good shows at these so-called cookie-cutter tracks.
This is a problem for NASCAR, because 14 of the 36 races on the schedule are run on these types of tracks. Obviously they can't reconfigure nine facilities, so tweaking the CoT will be a must.
Still, that won't fix the problem for Auto Club Speedway. The track didn't draw before the new car and it's not drawing now – not even when everyone has the next day off.
"I've made no secret of the fact that there isn't anything that I'm not going to look at if I think it would make for a better experience here at Auto Club Speedway, and the track remains one of those things," Zucker said. "We've talked at length with NASCAR about competition and different things that could possibly be done here at this racetrack.
"What I don't want to do is something drastic, a knee-jerk reaction and response to not enough information. We need to be smart."
In this case, being smart includes a lot of dynamite.
- Auto Club Speedway
- Daytona International Speedway