Auto Club 101: Setting the stage for West Coast voyage
After a busy Speedweeks, NASCAR shifts its focus to the West Coast for the three-week swing that begins at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) marks the final race weekend that the current 2-mile configuration will be used before renovations take place.
RELATED: Final 2-mile race stirs memories | No races in ’24 at Auto Club
While the timeline for Auto Club after this weekend is unknown, there’s much to look forward to and information to keep an eye on after a thrilling open to the season at the Daytona 500.
Legendary music group Earth, Wind & Fire once said “let this groove, get you to move,” and while it wasn’t referencing Auto Club, it’s a good line to have in your mind when watching the 200-lap event. With flatter corners and an older surface than other ovals on the circuit, Auto Club allows multiple grooves to work throughout a run. A driver on fresh tires can utilize the bottom lane early and then work the top to maximize tear wire, but all lanes, including the middle, can be used to make passes.
WEST COAST BIAS
In the 32-race history at Auto Club, 20 drivers from western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Nevada) have won at the 2-mile oval, including the last three with Kyle Busch (2019), Alex Bowman (2020) and Kyle Larson (2022). Busch currently owns the most wins (four) at the track by an active driver.
TRENDS TO WATCH
— Kevin Harvick is set to make his 750th consecutive start in the Cup Series.
— Chevrolet owns four of the last six wins at Auto Club with two of those coming from Larson.
— Nine different teams finished in the top 10 in 2022 with the Next Gen debut at Auto Club.
— Matt Kenseth was the last Cup driver to win the first two races of the season (2009).
— The Stage 1 winner at Auto Club has gone on to win four of the five races since the introduction of stages.
(Via Racing Insights)
1997: California native Jeff Gordon wins inaugural race in Fontana | WATCH
2011: Kevin Harvick outduels Jimmie Johnson on final lap | WATCH
2013: Logano, Hamlin collide in final turn; Kyle Busch wins | WATCH
2013: Logano, Stewart fight post-race on pit road | WATCH
2022: Larson, Austin Dillon, Suárez battle for win | WATCH
Saturday, Feb. 25
— Cup practice: 2:05 p.m. ET [FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio]
— Cup qualifying: 2:50 p.m. ET [FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio]
Sunday, Feb. 26
— Pala Casino 400: 3:30 p.m. ET (FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
MORE: See full Auto Club schedule
GOODYEAR TIRE NOTES/RULE CHANGES
Due to the abrasiveness and age of the asphalt surface at Auto Club, teams will have 14 sets of tires for the weekend, including 12 for Sunday’s race.
The tire codes will be different compared to the 2022 race as the left-side tire features construction and mold shape changes while the right-side tire features a construction update to align with what is run at other speedways.
Entering the 2023 season, competition officials have revised the penalty structure for detached wheels, shifting away from the four-race crew chief suspension that had been in place since 2015.
In the event of a lost wheel that is contained to pit road, the offending team will be subject to a pass-through penalty under green-flag conditions. If the infraction occurs during a caution period, the offending team will restart at the tail end of the field.
If the wheel breaks free outside of pit road, the new rules guidelines mandate a two-lap penalty plus a two-race suspension for two crew members. Each penalty is series-specific: Violations in one series will not impact those crew members‘ eligibility to participate in other series.
MORE: See rules changes for 2023
Fans can get in on the action all season long with NASCAR Fan Rewards, a free program that rewards fans for participating in the action when they watch races and play NASCAR Fantasy.
There‘s no cost to join. Fans must be 18 years or older to participate in the program.
Earn points by checking into a race from home or at the track, setting your Fantasy Live lineup, making purchases on the NASCAR.com shop and more. Points can be redeemed for race tickets, merchandise and VIP experiences at the track, including pace car rides and waving the green flag at qualifying.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 3, and there is a $25,000 prize for the winner.
How to play: Fantasy Live | Set up a team today!
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week, a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.
NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement to the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.