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NASCAR Starting Lineup for Sunday's Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway

NASCAR Starting Lineup for Sunday's Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Rookie Austin Cindric keeps his Daytona 500 momentum going by earning the pole at Auto Club Speedway

As the dust clears from a successful Daytona 500, the NASCAR Cup Series season starts in earnest this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. The Wise Power 400, the first Cup race held at this two-mile track in two years, will host the debut of the Next Gen car on an intermediate-style facility.

Just like in the season opener, no one really knows how this chassis will perform during a full race. The pack racing of Daytona is an animal all its own, a special type of competition limited to four times a year. Tracks like Auto Club, 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway next week, and one-mile Phoenix Raceway (site of the Championship 4 event in November) are much better tests of the car’s long-term viability.

So far this weekend at ACS, there's already been one unexpected twist. A track known for long green-flag runs and few wrecks has seen its share of crashes already, with over a half-dozen drivers spinning out in practice or qualifying. The list includes 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick, Trackhouse Racing Team's Ross Chastain, and NASCAR Most Popular Driver Chase Elliott, who looped it trying to earn the pole in his second-round qualifying lap.

In the end, it was Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric continuing a dream start to his rookie season, earning the top spot with a speed of 174.647 mph. The run was some five miles an hour slower than Clint Bowyer in 2020, hard proof the new car won’t be breaking any track records. But if Saturday alone was any indication, it looks ready to spice up the competition.

Only 36 cars showed up to qualify at ACS, a far cry from the 42 that attempted to make the Daytona 500. All of them were guaranteed a spot due to NASCAR's charter system, leaving everyone eligible to make the race and the grid four short of a full 40-car field.

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1. Austin Cindric (R)
2. Erik Jones
3. Kyle Busch
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Daniel Hemric (i)
6. Ryan Blaney
7. Joey Logano
8. Chase Elliott
9. Brad Keselowski
10. William Byron Jr.
11. Tyler Reddick
12. Martin Truex Jr.
13. Kyle Larson
14. Alex Bowman
15. Daniel Suarez
16. Austin Dillon
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
18. Ty Dillon
19. Christopher Bell
20. Chris Buescher
21. Cole Custer
22. Harrison Burton (R)
23. Michael McDowell
24. Chase Briscoe
25. Corey LaJoie
26. Todd Gilliland (R)
27. Cody Ware
28. Josh Bilicki (i)
29. Garrett Smithley
30. BJ McLeod
31. Aric Almirola
32. Kevin Harvick
33. Ross Chastain
34. Bubba Wallace
35. Justin Haley
36. Kurt Busch

(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points

Qualifying Notes

  • Austin Cindric (pole) is seeking to become the first driver since Matt Kenseth in 2009 to start the year by winning back-to-back Cup races.
  • Erik Jones (second) earned his best starting spot in a Cup race since Texas Motor Speedway in November 2019.
  • Kyle Busch (third) was the highest-qualifying Toyota.
  • Daniel Hemric (fifth) was the highest-qualifying Chevrolet. It’s his best starting position in a Cup car since winning the pole at Kansas Speedway in October 2019.
  • Josh Bilicki (28th) took the wheel of the second Spire Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend, replacing Landon Cassill. Bilicki will run the car for the majority of the season.
  • Garrett Smithley (29th) slid behind the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford for Auto Club Speedway, replacing David Ragan. Smithley will run a number of races for the team.
  • Six drivers did not make a full qualifying lap Saturday: Aric Almirola (31st), Kevin Harvick (32nd), Ross Chastain (33rd), Bubba Wallace (34th), Justin Haley (35th), and Kurt Busch (36th). Busch failed inspection three times while Almirola spun on his qualifying lap; everyone else wrecked in practice and didn’t have their car ready in time.
  • Joey Logano (7th), Chase Elliott (8th), Brad Keselowski (9th), and William Byron (10th) all crashed on their qualifying laps during the second round.

NASCAR Race Breakdown

Race: Wise Power 400
Track: Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, California)
Date: Sunday, Feb. 27
TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 laps (400 miles)
Stage 1: 65 Laps
Stage 2: 65 Laps
Final Stage: 70 Laps

Pre-Race Preview

How has Live Fast Motorsports handled the transition to the Next Gen racecar? BJ and Jessica McLeod stop by the Frontstretch Podcast this week to explain how the No. 78 team is utilizing the Gen-7 to be more competitive in 2022 while becoming a trailblazer by naming Jessica as team CEO. Then, host Davey Segal and NASCAR on NBC’s Zach Sturniolo look ahead to try and figure out the mystery of how these Next Gen machines will perform during a full weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Don't forget about Athlon Sports' 2022 Racing magazine. With 144 pages of racing content, it's the most complete preview available today. Click here to get your copy or purchase the digital edition for instant access.