Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Fontana: Auto Club 400

Thursday, March 22, 2012


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.

March 27, 2011: Kevin Harvick won the Auto Club 400. It was the No. 29 Chevrolet driver’s first win of 2011 and first victory in 18 races at the Auto Club Speedway. Harvick, who started the race 24th in the lineup, only led the final lap. Drivers leading 5 or more laps: Pole-sitter No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya (7 laps, finished 10th), No. 39 Ryan Newman (8 laps, 5th), No.14 Tony Stewart (11 laps, 13th), No. 11 Denny Hamlin (15 laps, blew an engine, credited with a 39th) and Kyle Busch led the most (151, finished 3rd).

Active drivers who made his Cup series debut at Auto Club Speedway: Greg Biffle on April 28, 2002 and J.J. Yeley on September 5, 2004.

Fantasy games 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 Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. There were 46 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
Note: This is the last week Mid-Pack Attack will look at all drivers except track favorites. The 2012 NSCS championship driver standings are starting to settle down. Since the point swings in and out of the top 15 are at a minimum, beginning next week at Martinsville Speedway, we will only pick from drivers outside of the top 15 in points. 

This might be Mid-Pack’s last shot at Kyle Busch this season since he’s 16th in the points going into Fontana (see note above). He won here in September 2005 and scored another eight top-tens since then.  In Busch’s most recent start, he led the most laps (151) and finished 3rd. He maintains a 12th place average finish at this venue. He ran two Camping World Truck Series races (2008 and 2009); started one on the pole and won both events. Oh yeah, he’s also a 5-time Cali winner in the Nationwide Series. Sounds like an easy (make that cheesy) pick, but while we still can, we’re putting the No. 18 Toyota Camry driver on our fantasy roster for Sunday’s event.

Jeff Burton is a real charger at Fontana. He is ranked 1st in NASCAR Statistics “Green Flag Passes” category after making 1,161 passes under green during the last 13 races at ACS. He is also 3rd in their “Quality Passes” (passing while running in the top-15) category (683 QP's in those 13 races). Burton carries a 16.9 average finish in 22 Cup starts at this track. His last three races resulted in a 3rd, a 23rd and a 15th in the 2011 Auto Club 400. Burton logged a 7.4 average finish in eleven Nationwide Series starts here, including one trip to victory lane. He had a blown engine at Phoenix earlier this month and was credited with a 33rd. His other three races this season (5th, 14th and 6th) averaged an 8.3 finish. We like his chances this weekend.

Kasey Kahne earned one of his twelve Sprint Cup wins at Auto Club Speedway (2006). He also has nine top-tens in his fifteen Cup starts at Fontana, including a 4th and 9th in the last two races. In the Nationwide Series, he has an average finish of 6.1 (including a win) in seven ACS starts. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but, for the first four races of the season, Kahne’s primary sponsor was a car insurance company. He had his share of damaged cars in those events.  This week, Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet is running the Quaker State colors. We’ll see if that makes a difference.

In his last five Fontana starts, Juan Pablo Montoya qualified in the top 5 including the pole for the 2011 Auto Club 400.  Besides the 37th place finish, due to a blown engine after leading 29 laps in the February 2010 race, he backed up those starts with top 14 finishes. Montoya is pretty consistent at this track. During the 2011 race, he ran all but three laps in the top 15 (finished 10th).  He has two open-wheel (CART) starts at Fontana on his resume. He started both in the top 5 and had finishes of 4th and 10th. The 10th place was actually after blowing the engine and finishing several laps down to the leaders. If Montoya can take care of his engine, look for him to be a factor on Sunday.



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



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