The NASCAR circus stays out west for one final week as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams will take to the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway this weekend. The Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will conclude the NASCAR Goes West Tour. The race is the only trip to the Los Angeles area of the year, as it annually puts on one heck of a race.
Here are some storylines and trends to watch.
Final Race Of West Coast Swing
Fontana will close out the west coast tour, as the next time the series is out of the left coast will be at Sonoma in June. Chase Elliott said back in Atlanta that by time the series heads back east from Fontana, we should know who the true contenders will be for the 2018 championship. Kyle Larson agreed.
The reason is because the teams had already had their west coast cars ready to go. So, anything that they would have learned from Daytona and Atlanta wouldn’t be able to be implemented until they return.
Plus, with a bumpy 1.5-mile track in Atlanta, a smooth 1.5-mile track in Vegas, a short 1.022-mile track in Phoenix and a wide 2-mile track in Fontana over the course of four weeks, that gives us enough info on who will be contenders. If you’re great on all four, then you’re set up for a good run. Some drivers have already been.
Now, imagine when all these notes get brought back home and able to be put on the cars moving forward.
Four Straight For Harvick?
Is there anyone as hot right now than Kevin Harvick. Heading into Fontana, he’s won three consecutive Cup races. He’s done so in dominating fashion. Now, can he get a fourth in-a-row?
He’s been good at Fontana too. Out of his last nine starts on the California track, he’s finished in the top seven in six of them, four of which in the top two at that. In fact, Harvick has finished runner-up in two of the last three Fontana races.
I think his No. 4 Ford is out to make another statement this weekend and go for the west coast sweep.
Can Larson Get Going?
Kyle Larson has been the man on 2-mile D-shaped tracks over the last two years. Since his first career Cup victory at Michigan in 2016, he hasn’t lost a race that he’s entered at either Michigan or Fontana since. He swept both Fontana races (Cup and XFINITY) last year as well as winning both Cup races at Michigan too. Four of his five career Cup wins have come at either Fontana or Michigan.
But, he’s struggled this year.
Will his No. 42 Chevrolet shine again on Sunday?
It’s no secret, Fontana rewards drivers with the most speed. Just look at the recent winners. Kyle Larson last year? Most speed at the time. Jimmie Johnson in 2016. Brad Keselowski in 2015. Kyle Busch in 2013 and 2014. Tony Stewart. Kevin Harvick. Johnson again. Matt Kenseth. Need I say more?
Well, that’s a good problem for Ford drivers, bad for Chevrolet.
Chevy has won the last three poles and last two races in Fontana. But, they’ve led just 129 of the 1,111 laps run in 2018. That’s only 12-percent. Meanwhile Ford has led an astounding 729 laps, or 66-percent. Toyota’s make up the remaining 253 laps or 23-percent of laps led. As you can see, that’s a wide disparity between Ford and the other two manufacturers.
The only reason Chevy got such a big bump is because of how they did last weekend in Phoenix. But, they had just one driver finish in the top 10 in the race itself.
Ford has won all but one of the stages this year and have had the most power. With Fontana being a track that will reward speed, I look for this to be a Ford vs. Toyota show.
Will Chevy show us something though?
The race is called the Auto Club 400, but the last time the race was completed in 400 miles was 2013. The last four years, the race has went into overtime. It normally completely alters the finishing order. There’s a late caution flag that usually flies, then causes some teams to take either two tires or not pit at all. Others will take four tires because of how wide the track is and how much real estate Fontana provides to race on. That creates chaos. That in turn creates even more incidents.
Three of the last four years saw the race end with at least five laps run in overtime.
Starting Position Doesn’t Matter
Only three of the 28 Cup races in Fontana have been won by a front row starter. While the pole sitter (Kyle Larson) just won last year, the last time before that it happened was 2008 and Jimmie Johnson. But, 10 of the 28 (35.7-percent) have been won from a top five starting spot. Even further, over 50-percent were won from a top 10 starting spot. On the flip side, 25-percent of the races have actually been won from outside the top 20.
So, starting position may not matter on Sunday.