NASCAR's fifth race of 36, the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, will roar to life with the green flag on March 24. Action on the two-mile D-shaped oval track with 14 degree banking in Fontana, California can be experienced from one of 90,988 seats in the stands or viewed on FOX at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The California facility, built on 568 acres, is one of NASCAR's longest at the aforementioned two miles. The wide track is favored by some of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) drivers as it facilitates passing high and low with average race speeds of 145 mph plus.
It's week 12 of 52 in 2013 and NASCAR races on 36 weeks during this year so the fifth race of 36 may not yet seem critical to the NSCS championship. Yet every race has a total of 48 potential points and every point could count big later on as only 12 drivers will become champion contenders.
The top-five drivers in the point standings, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle had thoughts going into Fontana.
NASCAR fans might learn more about what to expect at the next race from those leader comments. The next 400 miles of stock car racing equals 200 fast laps of action.
The new Gen-6 cars should like the long, wide track at Auto Club Speedway and provide a race that is fun to watch.
The show between the green flag and checkered flag will tell fans whether their viewing time was well spent.
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford)
Brad Keselowski has brought some momentum from his 2012 NSCS championship into the 2013 season. That doesn't always happen; plus his Penske Racing team has switched from Dodge to Ford a factor that often leads to a slow start. Keselowski and team are showing some strong adaptation skills. His Fontana thoughts:
We've run really well with the Nationwide car at Auto Club Speedway over the last couple of years. We don't yet have a win to show for it, but it gives me a boost of confidence because Fontana has been one of the tougher tracks for me over the years. I'm really looking forward to going back this weekend and having a solid race with the Miller Lite Ford.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has no problem getting the most popularity votes or the most gear sales on midways and on the Internet. Last year's good performance has continued into this season. His second place spot is proof. He had many words about Fontana:
I like the way the track has gotten really wide and you can run at the bottom, at the top or the middle. I love tracks like that. They put on really good races, and there are opportunities to pass when you run a guy down, you can change the line you're running and get some clean air on your car. You feel confident that if you do the right thing and drive the car well, that you can make a pass. I love that about that race track. The surface has got a good age on it and we even run on the apron some down there in Turns 3 and 4, which is a lot of fun when you can get your car to do that. It's a wide track; I think the racing there is a lot of fun for a driver.
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
Jimmie Johnson and team with Chad Knaus don't have to occupy the No. 1 spot all year to snatch the championship. They have proven that. But this year they're near the top already and that may be a good sign going forward. Jimmie shared his Fontana thoughts:
I think it's going to be a fun race. We have a lot of race track to race on. We're all getting smarter about the cars. I'm excited that Lowe's is allowing me to have my foundation's colors on the race car. That combination has been awfully successful for us over the years.
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
Clint Bowyer will be buoyed for sure coming into Fontana. Recently, he was able to buy the dealership he worked at before working his way to NASCAR. Bowyer didn't have comments about Fontana but his mood is obvious. He shared his hometown thoughts:
This is really a dream come true for me in so many ways. I used to work at that dealership before I ever got to the Sprint Cup Series. I was the young guy running around doing anything and everything that needed to be done. Now I'm in a position to partner with the Davis-Moore Auto Group to buy the dealership and continue giving back to the community that I grew up in. This is where I'm from. It's where my parents still live. I couldn't be any prouder or happier to be in this position and to continue to support my hometown community.
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
Greg Biffle and team always seem to pull out a win when few see them ready for one. But Biffle owns NCWTS and NNS crowns and could be the first to ever get three in NASCAR if he can pull off an NSCS crown. Biffle was happy to share his thoughts:
I can't wait for California, I love that race track and I love going out west. That track is big, fast and bumpy, but I don't know how it will be with the Gen-6 car. We are working on getting over the bumps, which obviously didn't work out well for us in Las Vegas. So we have a new plan for California. I look forward to picking up our first win of the season; I think we can do it at California.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.