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Auto Club 400
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Location: Fontana, Calif.
Specs: 2-mile oval; Banking/Turns:14°; Banking/Straightaways: 11°
2010 Winners: Jimmie Johnson (February), Tony Stewart (October)
2011 Race Length: 400 miles/200 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 188.245 mph (Kyle Busch, 2005)
Race Record: 155.012 mph (Jeff Gordon, 1997)
From the Spotter's Stand
Jimmie Johnson’s first successful drive for five of 2010 came at Auto Club Speedway — the site of JJ’s first win of the season, first career win and 48th career victory. The 48 car led 101 laps and capitalized on a little pit road luck to claim Johnson’s fifth win of the first 21 races in the 14-year history at the Fontana track.
After the race, runner-up Kevin Harvick claimed that Johnson and Chad Knaus “have a golden horseshoe stuck up their…” uh, tailpipe — referring to a caution flag that gave the 48 valuable track position.
In October, Tony Stewart kept his Chase hopes alive with his first win at Fontana. But this year, the second Cup stop at “Cali-boring-ya” has been eliminated.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Getting the car to turn in California’s long, sweeping, flat turns after carrying a ton of speed down the straightaways is the real trick to winning. From a setup point of view, it’s hard to get a car dialed in there, and front end geometry equates to good finishes. Plus, it’s probably the hardest track on engines, hands down, and Michigan is the only track that’s even close. The difference is probably the California heat. Drivers like to run the high groove, but the stopwatches say the bottom is better, so you’ve got to persuade them to try that.”
Looking at Checkers: If you’re picking against the 48, you’re picking wrong. Three of those wins have come in the last five races.
Pretty Solid Pick: Three of the four Roush boys (Biffle, Edwards and Kenseth) make fine picks this week.
Good Sleeper Pick: David Reutimann has taken to the big intermediates.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Marcos Ambrose, no matter the sheet metal.
Insider Tip: Bottom line is they’re going to have to go through Jimmie and Carl.
Classic Moments at Bristol
A tense race weekend turns emotional at what was then known as California Speedway in 2001.
On Friday, rumors spread that defending Cup champion Bobby Labonte has been fatally injured in a plane crash. Putting those false reports to rest, Labonte goes out and wins the pole for the NAPA Auto Parts 500.
In the race, Rusty Wallace is clearly the man to beat, and the cagey veteran doesn’t disappoint. Wallace outduels Jeff Gordon by .27 seconds to win on what would have been Dale Earnhardt’s 50th birthday. Wallace salutes his fallen friend by flying an Earnhardt flag out the driver-side window on his cool-down laps.
Wallace’s 54th career win also marks his 16th straight season with at least one victory. That streak would come to an end the following year.