Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Auto Club 400

Thursday, March 21, 2013

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.

On February 21, 2008, the Automobile Club of Southern California (ACSC) became the title sponsor of the raceway, making Auto Club Speedway the track's official name. The naming rights deal will last for ten years. Also 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.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Tony Stewart 3/25/12, Kevin Harvick 3/27/11, Tony Stewart 10/10/10, Jimmie Johnson 2/21/10 and Jimmie Johnson 10/11/09.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Greg Biffle 4/28/02, J.J. Yeley 9/5/04 and Kevin Conway 2/21/10.
First Cup pole: Joe Nemechek 6/22/97, Kyle Busch 2/27/05 and Carl Edwards 9/4/05.
First Cup win: Jimmie Johnson 4/28/02 and Kyle Busch 9/4/05.

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 five or more laps: Pole-sitter No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya seven laps, finished 10th; No. 39 Ryan Newman eight laps, finished fifth; No.14 Tony Stewart 11 laps, finished 13th; No. 11 Denny Hamlin  15 laps, blew an engine, credited with a 39th; and Kyle Busch led the most (151, finished third).

March 25, 2012: Tony Stewart won the Auto Club 400, his 46th victory in 469 Sprint Cup races. It was the No. 14 Chevrolet driver's second victory and second victory in 21 races at Auto Club Speedway. The race was rain-shortened after 129 of the 200 scheduled laps were completed. Drivers leading one or more laps: Pole-sitter No. 11 Denny Hamlin two laps, finished 11th; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson two laps, finished 10th; No. 24 Jeff Gordon three laps, finished 26th; Race-winner Stewart 42 laps; and No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most (80 of the 129 laps) and finished second.

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 20 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. 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

Note: This is the last race Mid-Pack Attack will consider all drivers except track favorites. The 2013 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 with the April 7th race at Martinsville Speedway, we will only pick from drivers outside of the top 15 in points. We will continue to ignore track favorites even if they are lower than top 15th in the standings.

That being said, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second in the points right now but he’s still fair game for us this week. With a 20.8 average finish in 20 Cup races at Fontana, he is definitely not a track favorite. We like him this week because of how his 2013 season is progressing. His worst finish in the first four races is a seventh place. Dale Jr. has done a lot better at this track since they shortened it to a 400-miler. He had engine failures and wrecks in five 500-mile races with less than 25 miles to go. He finished 16th or better in his last three Fontana 400-milers. Find a spot for the No. 88 Chevrolet SS driver this week.

All three Rookie of the Year contenders are making their first Sprint Cup start at ACS. Timmy Hill suffered a DNQ in qualifying for the 2012 race but, with only 43 teams entered this week, he’ll make the show. His best finish at the track was a 32nd in the 2012 Nationwide Series (NNS) race. Danica Patrick had three NNS starts with an average finish of 32nd. She also finished 18th in a 22-car IndyCar race at the track. That brings us to our pick of the rookies this week. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has four Fontana Nationwide Series starts on his resume. His first two were nothing to talk about but his last two resulted in finishes of fourth in 2011 and a second place in 2012. The No. 17 Ford Fusion driver has finished 18th or better in the four races this season and there’s no reason not to expect that to continue on Sunday.

We’re going with part-timer AJ Allmendinger for a possible top-20. That’s where the California native finished in his last three Sprint Cup starts, his lone Nationwide Series start and his last Camping World Truck Series start at this track. Allmendinger is running a very limited schedule (tentatively only four races; others may be added) in the No. 51 Chevrolet SS for Phoenix Racing. He finished 11th at Phoenix, 13th at Bristol, and has Fontana and Martinsville in April on his schedule. We think the Dinger would be a good buy in most salary cap games and, generally, a decent pick for fourth or fifth driver on most fantasy rosters.

Our deepest pick this week for a top-20 finish is Casey Mears who has an average finish of 23.2 in 16 Sprint Cup starts at ACS. The Bakersfield, California native also had an average finish of around eighth place in six open-wheel races at the track. He had second place finishes in two of his five Nationwide Series starts here as well. Why are we looking at a driver who finished no higher than 21st in the last 14 races in 2012? Mears has two top-15’s so far this year, including a 15th last week at beatin’ and bangin’ Bristol. Fight the urge to use up your allotment of favorite picks this early in the season. Instead, take a gamble on the No. 13 Ford Fusion.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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