AUTO CLUB 400
The Calm Before the Storm
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Fri, Mar 18, 2016
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Brian Kennedy
Here we go again with the 175 mile-an-hour zooming down the road in Mustangs, Camaros, and other zoomies. Yes, that’s right—NASCAR’s back in town. This weekend, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana will host the boys from the South—who are, in fact, nowadays the boys from all over, including California—for their annual roundy-round.
It’s 300 miles on Saturday, 400 on Sunday. Mostly different drivers, though some do double-duty. Different cars for sure. In the fictional world that is contemporary stock car racing, on Saturday, the aforementioned Ponycars take to the track. On Sunday, it’s more like family sedan racing day, with Fusions by Ford, Camrys by Toyota, and SSs by Chevrolet doing their best to out-grip and out-hustle one another around the two-mile track.
The series, in case you’re not familiar, are called the Xfinity Series on Saturday, and the Sprint Cup on Sunday.
But if you think those cars have any affinity at all to what you can get in the showroom, oh, you poor thing. They’ve all got identical CID V8s (try getting one of those in a Camry), and the bodies, well, they have “brand identity” bits—mainly stickers which make them resemble, from a distance, the cars they represent. The nose contours, too, kinda-sorta look like the street cars, as long as you don’t follow the front-end air dams all the way to the pavement. But these are no longer in any meaningful way street cars. Never were, as they’re all constructed on purpose-built race chassis.
That doesn’t mean it’s not fun. When these guys fly into turn one with 30,000-plus horsepower between them roaring to life, believe me, if you’re there, you won’t forget it. And when they start going four-wide on the only mildly banked Fontana speedway, you’re gonna like that, too.
In short, NASCAR, maybe more than any other spectator sport on offer, is all spectacle. It’s loud. It’s thrilling. It’s dangerous. If you’re interested in the personality aspect of your entertainment, you’ve got that too—bad boy Harvick versus clean-cut youth Jimmie Johnson; likeable Dale Junior and becoming-invisible Carl Edwards; youngsters like Ray Black, Jr., who is in “real” life a deep-sea scuba diver, a 24 year-old from Florida trying to make a place for himself at the NASCAR table.
And make no mistake: this is not something you could do because you’ve perfected your onramp technique from I 10 to the 605. These guys are on the edge of control, all the time. They can feel what the rest of us can’t. Check this out: you need your tire pressure sensor to light up on the dash when your tire is five pounds off the pressure it should be. These guys can feel the difference of a quarter of a pound, and there ain’t no gauge in there to tell them that’s what’s up. This is a skill—the ability to use the physical body in a super-precise way—that is every bit of that of any other athlete, so if you’re wondering “Is this a sport?” then just think about how exacting their feel is. Heck, you know the old cliché—Dale Earnhardt could “feel” the air around him, and put his car right where he needed to be to take advantage of that. This weekend, the schedule sees the Xfinity guys to at 1pm Saturday, and the Sprint Cup guys (not that they’re all men) take off at 12:30pm Sunday. If you’re used to making it to the Fontana track a couple of times a year, you probably already know that there’s no IndyCar race out there this year. What that means? This is your chance to see this level of racing on this beautiful, giant track this summer. (Yeah, I know it’s spring, but it’s going to be 80 degrees or higher each day of the weekend.) The sights, the sounds, the smell of NASCAR have little equal in spectator entertainment, so go just for the thrill of it. But if you do, despite what I’ve said, insist on going out to the track with the “I could do this if only they’d let me” attitude, then what the hey—you can think it, just as long as you’re part of the show. Screaming is, I must let you know, perfectly acceptable. Notes Who to watch? Well Johnson, Harvick, Keselowski, and Hamlin have each won a race thus far this year. That means, in NASCAR parlance, that they will in almost all likelihood make the season-ending chase for the championship. Thus they can go all-out to win some more. On the other hand, Kyle Busch has won two of the last three races here. Busch has also won three of the four Xfinity races run to date this season. For information and access to the Auto Club 400, click here.