Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

print article archives RSS

Fontana: Auto Club 400

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Track history: From World War II until the end of 1983, this Fontana, California site was home of Kaiser Steel. After Kaiser went bankrupt, the site was left to deteriorate into rusting rubble. In November 1993, Roger Penske and Kaiser Ventures Inc. started discussions on cleaning up the site for a possible superspeedway. On Nov. 22, 1995, after getting race dates from NASCAR and CART, a work force that numbered in the thousands began demolition and construction. More than 21,000 tons of hazardous waste was removed. Then a million more tons of rubble was removed. The final cost of the 2-mile California Speedway was around $120 million. Since then, they have added road courses and a drag strip to the racing complex. The facility hosts NASCAR, IRL, Motorcycle Racing, NHRA and Grand American sports car racing. It is also the home of six different racing schools. In 1998, 15,777 seats were added raising the grandstand capacity to 86,232. The following year, 28 skyboxes were added to the rim of the grandstands, which currently hold about 92,000 fans. There is still plenty of room for expansion at this 568-acre facility. In August 2007, the speedway showcased its multi-million dollar Midway redesign which included Wolfgang Puck's Apex restaurant, a town center and new concert stage. In 2008, ACS added the Camping World Back Lot, a 286-site campground that gives campers the full Hollywood "back lot experience." Campers have various activities, including studio-sponsored movie nights, comfortable common areas, and food stands with a cinematic theme.

In October 2010, Fontana hosted its final fall event. Up until that weekend, all 20 Sprint Cup races held at this track had been 500 mile events. Fontana had hosted 2 NSCS races each year since the fall event was added to the schedule in 2004. The October 2010 race was a 400 mile race. Starting in 2011, the track went back to hosting only one NSCS race in March. Just prior to the start of the 2011 season, after seeing the October 400-miler was better received by the fans, NASCAR decided to shorten the Auto Club 500 to a 400-mile Auto Club 400 starting in 2011.

June 22, 1997: Joe Nemechek put the No. 42 Felix Sabates owned Chevrolet Monte Carlo on the pole for the 1997 California 500 Presented by NAPA with a qualifying lap of 183.015 mph. Jeff Gordon, driving the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet at an average race speed of 155.012 mph, took the inaugural win.

February 21, 2010: Teammates Jamie McMurray (No. 1) and Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42) made it an Earnhardt Ganassi Racing front row at the start of the 2010 Auto Club 500. Montoya passed pole-sitter McMurray before the end of lap 1. McMurray never led a lap and finished 17th. Montoya lost the engine in the 42 on lap 140 and placed 37th. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48), who started 7th, led the most laps (101 of 250) and earned his 5th Fontana win. It was Johnson's 4th victory in the last six races at ACS. Kevin Harvick (No. 29) finished runner-up by 1.5 seconds.

October 10, 2010: The No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet, driven by Jamie McMurray, took the green flag as the pole-sitter of the 2010 Pepsi Max 400. He led 14 laps, had a bad pit stop and never recovered. The No. 1 finished 17th. Mark Martin's No. 5 Chevy led the most laps (41 of 200) and finished 6th. Tony Stewart drove the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet from a 22nd place start to the front of the field on Lap 149. He managed to lead 27 of the last 50 laps, including the final one, to pick up his first career Auto Club Speedway victory.

Your fantasy game won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. There were 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend's Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday's Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California.

Mid-Pack picks

Red Bull Racing PR describes Brian Vickers' performance in the first four 2011 races as "Wreck, Wreck, Good Finish, Wreck" (he was caught up in other drivers' wrecks). Now he's at Fontana where the PR guys say he's "Pretty Damn Good". Vickers gave the team their first top 10 finish here in 2007. Since driving for this team, he picked up a pole and three top 10's. In his 7 Fontana starts with Red Bull, 6 resulted in top-12 finishes. Also, in February 2009, when he won the pole, the team had to change the engine after qualifying. Vickers had to drop to rear at the green flag and plowed his way up to finish 10th. We agree; he is pretty damn good at Auto Club Speedway.

We think this will be a great week for Red Bull Racing. Vickers' teammate, Kasey Kahne, earned one of his 11 Sprint Cup wins at Auto Club Speedway. In his first start at the two-mile track (2004) he scored the pole. Besides his victory in the 2006 fall race, he has logged four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes in 14 Fontana Cup races, including a 4th last October. His overall average finish is a 15.4 for those events. In the Nationwide Series, he has an average finish of 6.1 (including a win) in seven starts. He has two top tens so far this season and an average 13.5 finish. Kahne is coming off a 9th at "Thunder Valley" in Bristol and we expect him to maintain his average this weekend.

Jeff Burton also had a rough start this season. His engine expired at Daytona, got caught up in some else's wreck at Phoenix, had handling problems at Vegas and a loose wheel set him back last weekend at Bristol. He finished 3rd here in February 2010 and 23rd last October. Why are we looking at him at a track where he averages a 17th place? Burton's a real charger at Fontana. He's 4th in NASCAR Statistics "Quality Passes" (passing while running in the top 15) category. He made 615 QP's in the last 12 races at ACS. He did score a Nationwide Series win here as well. A big reason we think he'll be a charger again on Sunday is hunger. He has an 80+ race winless streak going. Put Burton in as your 4th or 5th driver this weekend for a possible top 15.

Finishes of 23rd, 23rd, 33rd and 23rd so far in 2011 translates to a 29th place spot in the driver standings for Joey Logano. Finishes of 14th, 5th and 11th in his last three starts at Fontana says he's a driver to look at this week for a mid-pack pick. In five Nationwide Series starts (2008-2010) at the 2-mile oval, he has five top-7 starts (including 2 poles) and five top-6 finishes (including a win in October 2009). The No. 20 team said ACS is "one of Logano's most consistent tracks" and he's "searching for that illusive first top-10 finish of the 2011 season and hopes to find it at Auto Club Speedway." We're guessing it will be at least a top-15.


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



Highest Searched Drivers over the last 7 days



Video Center

  •  
    Short: Plug in Despaigne?

    Short: Plug in Despaigne?
  •  
    Short: Buy, Hold or Sell

    Short: Buy, Hold or Sell
  •  
    Short: Trade Chris Davis?

    Short: Trade Chris Davis?
  •  
    Short: Cain hits rock bottom

    Short: Cain hits rock bottom
  •  
    Short: Buy, Hold or Sell

    Short: Buy, Hold or Sell
  •  
    Short: Struggling starters

    Short: Struggling starters
  •  
    Short: Will Mauer rebound?

    Short: Will Mauer rebound?
  •  
    Is Chisenhall the real deal?

    Is Chisenhall the real deal?