NASCAR wraps up its West Coast swing as the Monster Energy Cup Series stops in Fontana, California, for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, March 17. This two-mile oval has already put forth an initial impression this season that NASCAR would soon like to forget after a disastrous qualifying session ended with no one completing a lap in the requisite time.
As a result, Austin Dillon was awarded the pole based on having the best time in an earlier qualifying round. Both NASCAR officials and fans were none too pleased with the outcome, so it will be up to the racers to produce a race that can at least erase that bad taste from everyone's mouth.
So if you're wondering, "What NASCAR race is on TV this today?" know this: FOX is airing the Auto Club 400 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Auto Club 400 Race Time/TV Channel
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET (Sunday) green flag drops
Track: Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.)
TV: FOX, coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
NASCAR's 2019 game of strategy under its new handling package hit a whole other level Friday at Auto Club Speedway. The sport’s final round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying ended in embarrassment... and, should we say, a lesson in punctuality. When the clock expired, not one of the 12 drivers eligible for the pole crossed the finish line in time to make a lap.
The sequence ended with fans booing and NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller claiming drivers "made a mockery of the qualifying process."
NASCAR qualifying is in urgent need of a revamp and Friday was the red flag moment that should produce major changes.
The biggest problem in 2019 is the importance of the draft with NASCAR's new, lower-horsepower package on intermediate tracks. Drivers running wide open are now seeking extra ways to add speed; the best way you can do that in one-lap qualifying is drafting off someone else. To draft up to someone, you can’t be the car in front; that's what caused Friday’s unnecessary drama. Everyone was waiting for another driver to blink in order to race behind someone else on track.
NASCAR officials are appropriately aghast at the situation but hesitant to go back to single-car qualifying. But they may have no choice. There's limited incentive to keep this group system anyway, needlessly expanding qualifying in a series where 36 cars are guaranteed starting spots on the grid no matter what. In fact, NASCAR hasn't had a full 40-car field since the season-opening Daytona 500.
Whatever the solution, NASCAR has to find one. If nothing else, Fontana's follies made their qualifying problem too large to ignore.