Auto Club Weekend Story Lines
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on March 18, 2016 | 8:40 A.M. EST
"We love the seams. If you hit them wrong, it definitely messes up the direction that the car is going; but it also can be a huge help to you as well." (Photo: Getty Images)
The final stop of the West Coast swing takes place this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
The two-mile southern California track is set to host the XFINITY Series and Sprint Cup Series in a doubleheader to end the three race trip west.
The weekend will be a homecoming for several California natives including Kevin Harvick, who is from nearby Bakersfield.
“I think when you look at California there are a lot of race tracks in California up and down the coast,” Harvick said. “Whether it is asphalt, dirt tracks, go-kart tracks, there is a well-supported community of racing up and down the state of California, even into Washington and Oregon. There is definitely a lot of racing and I think when you look at way back in the day it was mostly a southeastern sport.
“I think Jeff Gordon was obviously somewhat responsible for being able to allow guys like myself and pave the way for us to have a path to have an opportunity to come and race in NASCAR. It’s always been a well-supported racing area and I was fortunate to grow up in Bakersfield, California, which is a very well-supported racing town no matter what you race. There is a lot of racing it just took a while for everybody to figure that out.”
Auto Club Speedway’s worn out racing surface and the new Sprint Cup Series lower downforce aerodynamic rules package has created high hopes for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The last few seasons have seen exciting and entertaining racing, which most competitors believe will only be enhanced by the new rule package.
“Over the past couple of years the races have been so good there,” said AJ Allmendinger. “It’s always nice to see that place packed with fans. The last two years the races have been sold out and that makes it awesome and the finishes have been exciting. There’s been some great racing and I see that being the same case this weekend.”
Despite the surface being so worn out and at times as challenging as any track on the schedule, drivers embrace running at Auto Club Speedway.
“The surface is old and worn out with plenty of bumps,” explained Martin Truex Jr. “The seams in the corners between the lanes are really tricky. There are a lot of things you have to get right there, but through all the difficulty the track is a ton of fun.
“The hardest place on the track is Turn 1 when you’re trying to run the bottom lane. There’s a spot there like someone dumped oil every time you make a lap. It’s definitely line sensitive. If you hit your marks, you’re good. If you miss it by three or four inches, you get sideways. There will be some guys good on the long runs and some on the short runs. There’s a lot of mixing up all day long – it’s just a fun a race track.”
The “fun factor” is echoed by other drivers in Sunday’s field.
“I love what we’re doing in the sport with the new aero package and I think we’re seeing some good racing. It’s been a blast,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “The package allows for all kinds of great things. We’re all having a lot of fun and I hope that continues this weekend. Fontana is another track with multiple grooves, so it should be another fun race.”
“Seams” Like Old Times
One of the track’s most challenging aspects are the seams that dot the surface all around the two-mile layout. While track management has resisted to this point repaving the speedway, there has been work done in recent years that has left behind seams drivers most navigate around.
“No, we love the seams,” last week’s Phoenix winner Harvick said. “If you hit them wrong, it definitely messes up the direction that the car is going; but it also can be a huge help to you as well. If you look at those seams and you look at the amount of grip that’s on one side or the other of them; but they’re definitely slippery and you definitely have to keep them in mind. But I think everybody knows that when you come here, you’re going to have to deal with them.”
McMurray Looking for More
It’s been a somewhat frustrating start to the year for Chip Ganassi Racing. Teammates Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson have not been as competitive as many expected in the new year.
However, McMurray remains optimistic about the direction his team is headed and believes there are better days ahead starting this weekend at ACS.
“Our mile-and-a-half program is not there,’’ McMurray said this week on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. “We’re working feverishly to try to get it better. We made some pretty big changes this weekend for Fontana. I tested Charlotte last week, while I was at the test they were in the shop redoing a bunch of stuff on the bodies and also just coming up with some fresh ideas of things to try at those tracks.
“Listen, when you’re off at the high-speed tracks, there’s nothing you can do about it. We’re just kind of throwing some stuff at it right now and hoping we can hit on something that will get us better at those types of tracks. Then, over the off weekend (Easter), you can rebuild a few cars and apply all of that to the new cars.’’
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's Auto Club Speedway beginning at 2:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.