There's no track on the Sprint Cup circuit, with the possible exception of Pocono, that draws more grief and fan criticism than Auto Club Speedway in California. Dull racing, the conventional wisdom goes; no matter how much the speedway touts "five-wide" racing in promos, the actual racing tends to be more, well, sedate.
The track already lost one date. Is this a make-or-break weekend for Fontana? First, let's back up and see what got us to this point.
In order for a track to take root in NASCAR, it has to have some combination of the following elements: a deep connection to history, a fervent fan base, a distinctive configuration or a favorable location on the schedule. Daytona, Martinsville and Talladega have all four; Bristol and Atlanta have three; Homestead and Vegas skate by with one (the last one).
California has exactly none of those. In fact, it's got a negative historical component, since it took over races from the legendary Rockingham. As with Bristol, what the drivers enjoy isn't what the fans enjoy. In this case, it's wide-open racing that gives the drivers the freedom to pursue their own strategies and lines. But the relatively low banking of the track makes for a more boring race in the eyes of fans.
So what's to be done? Auto Club already lost one race this year, so all eyes will be on the gate this weekend. It's not likely that the track will lose both dates; the track's proximity to Los Angeles simply offers too many venues for promotion.
Could the track get a reconfiguration, this time with the intent of tightening up the racing? Perhaps, but what if the track were to spend millions on reworking the track, and still nobody showed up?
The best move Auto Club Speedway could easily make is one they've already made, shortening the race to 400 miles. That lops a chunk of the middle ride-around racing out of the mix, and should keep fans a little more tightly connected. (The Pepsi Max 400 last year, the first 400-mile race, finished in just over three hours, where its 500-mile counterparts had averaged about 45 minutes longer.)
So Auto Club Speedway is in the midst of a transition now, one which could, if not revitalize the track, at least keep it relevant. Now it's your turn: your take on Fontana? What would you like to see done there that's not already being done? Have your say.