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Auto Club Speedway

The Auto Club 400 was shortened by rain at Lap 129 of 200. (Photo: Getty Images)

Auto Club Speedway can’t catch a break.

The much-maligned southern California track has been the topic of controversy nearly from the first time it opened its doors to NASCAR in 1997.

While the early visits by NASCAR’s top division were well attended, ticket sales began to slip in subsequent years.

The decision to strip the Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway and give ACS a Labor Day weekend event will go down as one of the worst decisions in NASCAR history and immediately gave the track a bad reputation it’s been unable to shake.

It was apparent that despite the importance of being in the country’s second largest market, southern California race fans were not interested in supporting a pair of weekends at ACS.

So wisely parent company International Speedway Corporation took one race from Fontana last year to give Kansas Speedway its coveted date. That, along with the reduction of the annual Cup race from 500 to 400 miles, was an immediate upgrade.

Since the track went to 400 miles, the races have been much better with a sense of immediacy to the on track product that just was not there for the 500 mile predecessors. And with only one chance now to see the stars of NASCAR, attendance got a jump-start and good-sized crowds have again returned to Fontana.

This year’s weather issues were the latest blow to Auto Club Speedway’s hopes of building the event back to its hey day of the late 1990s. There was still a nice turnout Sunday despite the iffy weather and hopefully the 2013 edition of the race will be blessed with Chamber of Commerce weather.

NASCAR needs to be in the Los Angeles area. Auto Club Speedway has evolved into a track that does produce interesting and at times exciting racing with its sometimes five wide action stretching across the speedway.

But if ever a track needed a break and a dose of good luck its ACS.

Let’s hope it comes next season.

  • The opening 100 laps were what most expected they’d be with the impending weather as drivers did their best to get to halfway. There wasn’t much in the way on passing for the lead but back in the pack three and four wide racing was the norm. Once the midway point was passed and the race made official business did pick up some but strategy and pit road penalties – as well as Mother Nature – were the variables that decided Sunday’s race.
  • Tony Stewart is on a hot streak of epic proportions. Dating back to last season’s championship drive, Smoke has now won seven of the last 15 races held. He already has two in the book after only five races of 2012 and the Fontana victory Sunday all but locked up a Chase berth with Stewart in great shape for at least a wild card.
  • Jimmie Johnson’s good week continued Sunday when he dodged a major bullet. After making the decision to pit when rain slowed the race under caution and gambling the green flag would come back out, Johnson had a major engine issue with smoke pouring from the No. 48 Chevrolet. But when the red flag came out to freeze the field and then weather ultimately NASCAR calling the race, Johnson eked out a tenth place finish. A resumption of the afternoon coupled with the engine issue would have handed Johnson a finish well outside the first 35 spots.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. was also a beneficiary of the shortened afternoon. He was able to come home third and jumped to third in the standings. Other winners from Sunday were Greg Biffle, who maintained his point lead and Kurt Busch, who got some great pit strategy to help him score his first top 10 finish for the Phoenix Racing team.

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