Rear View Mirror: Auto Club

Auto Club Speedway

Sunday’s race was the best Sprint Cup Series race ever at the two-mile Southern California track. (Photo: Getty Images)

There is probably no other track on the NASCAR schedule that catches as much criticism as Auto Club Speedway.
But after Sunday’s Pepsi Max 400, some of that criticism should subside.
Simply put, Sunday’s race was the best Sprint Cup Series race ever at the two-mile Southern California track. Side-by-side racing most certainly following caution flags when double file restarts literally were breathtaking definitely helped the cause.
But there were several other extended segments when drivers used every inch of the incredibly wide track and at one point an amazing six-wide convoy raced down the backstretch.
Throw in late race pit strategy, Chase drama and a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag and Sunday’s race was a gem.
It’s probably no coincidence that for the first time ACS held a 400-mile Sprint Cup event and that the end result was more urgency and immediacy from drivers not comfortable with simply riding around “making laps,” as was usually the case during one of the track’s previous 500-mile marathons.
Just like last week’s race in Kansas, Sunday’s race was over in just over three hours and there was barely ever a lull in the action under green flag conditions.
Unfortunately, the idea to cut the distance comes too late in the track’s hope of saving two spots on the Sprint Cup calendar. But maybe just one race a year is just what the Fontana track needs to get back to the success it enjoyed when ACS first welcomed NASCAR back to SoCal in 1997.
The crowd on Sunday wasn’t terrible but by no means close to a sell out. One race – in March when the weather should not be a problem – provides fans with a single opportunity to take in NASCAR’s top division and hopefully the law of supply and demand will result in more ticket sales.
If Sunday’s race is the new template for racing at ACS, the moans and cries from so many fans who claim the track is tired and boring should cease.
Less being more should be the new slogan for Auto Club Speedway in both miles and dates.
• There was a lot of talk about how wide open this Chase was before the 10-race stretch started, and it could still turn out to be a shootout right down to the final race at Homestead. But with four races in the books this movie sure has a very similar look to it, and unless Jimmie Johnson implodes, I find it hard to put together a compelling argument for any driver to overtake the perrenial champion.
• There are no doubt some very nervous folks inside the walls of Roush Fenway Racing after the engine woes and mechanical issues that plagued the team on Sunday. Greg Biffle followed his Kansas win with a blown engine early on Sunday that sucked the momentum right out of the No. 16 team. Carl Edwards had a fuel pick up issue that took him from contention. And Matt Kenseth was fast and led before smoke started to billow from the 17 entry. Four races into the Chase is not a good time for gremlins to rear their ugly heads.
• Kyle Busch didn’t back down from his comments about David Reutimann and their infamous tangle in Kansas last week. But engine issues were his demise, as well as Busch’s hope of using his anger as a motivating point on Sunday were never realized, and it appears his title hopes are over.
• Busch was much better on Saturday with his record 12th Nationwide Series victory of the season. I have the No. 18 Toyota down for 14 before the final checkered flag of the year flies in Homestead, a mark that will most likely never be broken – even by Busch.
• Danica Patrick’s final results show a 30th-place finish in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race but she deserved much better. Patrick had probably a 15th-place run – not great but an improved goal for the Indy Car star – until getting clipped by James Buescher racing on the backstretch and ending her day in a pretty substantial wreck. While Buescher’s move may or may not have been intentional, it sure erased some of the sympathy many gave him after his dust-up with Kyle Busch in the New Hampshire truck race last month. But Patrick does have a shot of confidence despite the disappointing end to her day and will carry that into Friday night’s race in Charlotte – the last for the next generation car this season.

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