With four races in the books, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now moves to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for the Auto Club 400.
The handful of races during the early portion of the season have seen four separate winners with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards all collecting victories and virtually securing spots in the Chase at the end of the season.
But with Matt Kenseth taking the pole on Friday night, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver clinched his 12th ever pole, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
After dominating NASCAR through much of the season last year with seven wins before relinquishing the top of the points standings to eventual champion Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth has a winning pedigree and could get his first of the season in California.
Will a driver like Kenseth or Johnson claim his first win of the season, or will one of the previous winners sneak up to snatch another victory? Before the race gets underway, here's a look at all the information NASCAR fans need to know heading into the fast-paced action.
Where: Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, Calif.
When: Sunday, March 23 at 3 p.m. ET
Live Steam: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
|Auto Club 400 Qualifying Order|
|Position||Name||Best Speed||Best Time|
Full qualifying order can be found here.
Drivers to Watch
When a driver wins seven races in a season, a lot is expected of said driver when the next year rolls around.
Kenseth has two top-10 finishes on the season and sits eighth in the points standings, but the Gibbs driver is capable of much more on the track. But after not finishing well in previous qualifying events, Kenseth appears to be improving in his No. 20 car, as Nate Ryan of USA Today notes:
On a track where Kenseth has a total of three wins, eight top fives and 14 top 10s, the JGR driver should have no difficulties keeping his car in contention against even the best drivers this season.
Kenseth gave credit to his team for the having the fastest car in the field, telling Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times, "They gave me the car and all I had to do was not mess it up."
With an average finish of 10.1 and an average running position of 9.4, which ranks third-best in the field of 43 heading into the Auto Club 400, expect to see Kenseth running up front for much of the race and potentially getting his first win of the season in California.
When you think of dominant drivers over the last decade in NASCAR, Johnson's name should always be the first one mentioned.
And when it comes to Auto Club Speedway, Johnson is once again the driver to look for during any race on the track. While "Six-Time" hasn't notched himself a win through the early portion of the season, he's not worried about eventually earning one, according to Nick Bromberg of Yahoo! Sports:
It’s not even close to time yet. When you look at the stats and you have 16 different winners in a year it’s a pretty rare occurrence. I still think that points are every bit as important as they have been until you get to Homestead.
Even when you get into the Chase itself the top guy in points will advance in pretty much every scenario or every scenario, even the final one to race at Homestead. So points are still the focus in what I’m looking at. We have been able to win multiple races a year with a certain mindset.
I am not going to chase home runs. I’m looking at a smooth and consistent 26 races and when we get a look at a home run we are going to swing for it. But we are not stepping up to the plate every time trying to hit it out.
Kenseth's three wins are tied with Jeff Gordon for second, as both drivers trail Johnson's five wins at the track. The El Cajon, Calif. native may not feel the need to earn a win in his home state, but he might just fall into one at Fontana as he's done multiple times in his career.
Along with his series-leading five wins, his average finish of 5.7 and running position of 6.1, both lead all active drivers. Even without a win, expect Johnson to add to his 12 top fives and 14 total top 10s at the track on Sunday afternoon.
Whoa, a rookie is considered a driver to watch in the Sprint Cup Series? Yes, and Kyle Larson is slowly proving that Austin Dillon isn't the only driver who should garner consideration for Rookie of the Year.
The 21-year-old Sacramento native won the Nationwide Series race after holding off drivers like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Larson spoke about the victory in his home state, per Reid Spencer of NASCAR.com:
I’m shaking still; this is awesome. I thought maybe we could get away [after the last restart], but the 54 (Busch) and 5 (Harvick) were really good behind us, and I had to race with those guys.
Man, it was amazing. Those last 11 or 12 laps were the longest laps of my life… It was pretty cool to beat those guys. The 54 and the 22 (Joey Logano) have dominated the series for a while now, and Harvick’s with a good team. It was a blast.
The Nationwide win was the first of his career, so a win isn't necessarily expected for the young driver. But with Larson starting in the 11th position for the Auto Club 400, expect him to run near the front throughout the day and potentially take a top-10 finish to go along with his Saturday win.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter. He's got grease under his fingernails.