The Frontstretch: Cali-bore-ya or Sunshine Superspeedway? Some (Sort Of) Good Things About SoCal's Racing by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 24, 2011

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Cali-bore-ya or Sunshine Superspeedway? Some (Sort Of) Good Things About SoCal's Racing

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday March 24, 2011


The NASCAR circuit swings westward this week to Fontana, California and the Auto Club Speedway, the much-maligned 2-mile oval that replaced the road course at Riverside as NASCAR’s southern California staple. The track has a reputation for acting as a narcotic, producing more snores than racing. In fact, this was the subject of our featured newsletter commentary on Thursday. And the fan responses poured in to defend the speedway. Okay, that’s kind of an exaggeration. A fan response poured in to defend the speedway.

Kevin in SoCal is a longtime and valued Frontstretch reader as well as frequent commentator on the site, and is a staunch supporter of ACS. His email takes exception to the poor treatment the track receives from the media. “California (Auto Club Speedway) does not deserve the bashing it gets from you, or anyone else for that matter,” Kevin writes. “The track was built by Roger Penske as a dual-use track for his Indy Cars and NASCAR, and he cloned Michigan because the races there were usually pretty good…

“Instead of rehashing the same old tired, worn out excuses for Fontana, why not challenge yourself to actually write some GOOD things about the track, the race, or the area?”

I’m going to try. Kevin, this one’s for you.

A cool fact about Fontana, California is that Foothill Boulevard is actually a part of the legendary Route 66, the Mother Road that represented the hopes and dreams of Americans when hopes and dreams were at a premium. The road and all it represented became romanticized and symbolic for better days ahead, just beyond the horizon. The San Gabriel Mountains loom in the background of the city, whose population is just shy of 200,000. Racing was cool in Fontana long before NASCAR came to town; Fontana Drag City hosted NHRA events half a century ago.

SoCal natives Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick had and continue to have a dramatic impact on the Sprint Cup Series circuit.

Southern California has contributed to today’s NASCAR quite admirably. Most notable of late, the area has given the sport five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who hails from El Cajon, a couple hours down I-15. If you stick to I-5, Bakersfield is just under three hours in the other direction, and from that city we get a two-fer: Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears both hail from Bakersfield. Southern California has also given us Robby Gordon and AJ Allmendinger. All of these are most definitely positives to come out of SoCal. Take heart, California fans, your state has indeed been good for NASCAR.

As for the racetrack, well, it’s true that Roger Penske did build it as a dual-purpose venue to accommodate both NASCAR and open wheel racing. And that’s where the problems start. While it’s nice to be able to host multiple series at a track from the owner’s standpoint, the reality is that one form of racing is generally going to suffer, and that’s what happened here. The stock car set suffers. But it can host two series, if you’re into that kind of thing. And the open wheel racing, when they ran there was actually good. Except for the death of Greg Moore, anyway. That kind of casts a wide shadow on the track.

It’s always great to see a driver win his first race, though, and Auto Club Speedway has given us…uh, well two first time winners. I guess that’s better than none. Thank you, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, for giving us that particular feel-good moment. They both even made it exciting by ACS standards, winning by just over half a second, or a few carlengths. Unfortunately, many fans were distracted by wondering who Jimmie Johnson was and by disliking Kyle Busch. Oh, well, it almost got good there for a minute.

The races…um, well, let’s see. It really depends on what one defines as an exciting race, I suppose, but to me a big part of that is the margin of victory. As in the smaller that is, the better the ending. The 12.871 second margin that Jeff Gordon enjoyed at ACS in 2004, for example, was not exciting. You could have taken a powernap before the second place car crossed the line. In 21 races, ACS has produced a few races with a margin under half a second-five, to be exact. The closest was in 2005, when Greg Biffle won by .231 seconds-which is still over a car length in reality. Side-by-side finishes? Well, there was that one…no there wasn’t.

Great races… If you’re a Jeff Gordon fan, that 12.8 second deal might have been exciting for the sheer domination…except it was largely due to fuel mileage. If you’re a Jimmie Johnson fan, he’s put on a few driving clinics…much to the chagrin of nearly everyone else. His wins look easy, and disgust people.

Uh, there were some great races at Riverside when…oops, never mind. Well, there was that time, no wait-that was Rockingham. Great races from Fontana. Let’s see. Did I mention Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch got their first wins there?

There was that open wheel race…darn.

So, it’s true that Southern California has given us, among others, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. They have some pretty scenery and a great racetrack if you love open-wheel racing and can overlook the death of Greg Moore, as there have been some pretty exciting races at ACS in its day…in the open wheel divisions. We got the first Cup wins of the two guys who compete for the loudest boos every week, though. I guess that’s something.

One more positive: this is the only time the Cup Series will visit Fontana this year. It was the best racing move made since NASCAR gave the track a race.

So there you have it, Kevin. That’s the best I can do. Sorry, Fontana.

Contact Amy Henderson

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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03/25/2011 05:17 AM

Good story Amy…I can see how hard it was to write anything positive about that track.

If Smoke was still winless there, I would have angry words. A win, only one race and finally 400 miles, that works for me.

You forgot that Gordon is originally from California and moved away to race. They could solve this all by racing at Irwindale — a 450 lap short-track race in the Chase?

03/25/2011 09:08 AM

Rightly or wrongly, that track is blamed for the loss of the Southern 500 in 2004. Though, it got the labor day weekend, I believe Phoenix actually took the date. I think that is the origin of much of the hate. It’s not the worst track, Pocono has more consistently boring finishes. Last year’s fall race was decent, and I think 400 miles is the right distance for the 1.5-2 mile tracks. At this point they should think about reconfiguring the corners or banking to make it more stock car friendly since open wheel doesn’t race there anymore.

Kevin in SoCal
03/25/2011 10:48 AM

Geez that was painful to read. Sorry to put you thru that Amy. You wouldnt be my first choice to write such an article.

I do have to ask though, if first time winners is a measure of how good a track is, how many first time winners have there been at Bristol, or Martinsville, or even Darlington?
And, how many other races in recent years have had winners by more than 10 seconds, fuel mileage or otherwise?

03/25/2011 12:48 PM

Fans disdain for Fontana has to do with the fact that in many fans eyes, the racing at Fontana has never lived up to replacing a date at Darlington that always provided good racing.

They are far from alone at producing boring races, they just get the worst rap due to what happened with Darlington.

Last years race actually wasn’t bad. Hopefully the 400 miles will keep it more interesting in the future.

03/25/2011 01:07 PM

Cheers to Greg Moore – A great racer taken too young.

Daddy wiltone
03/25/2011 03:08 PM

I think part of the problem at ACS is the lack camping. They stuck the darn thing in the middle of an urban / industrial complex. That works for short tracks or cart tracks. But an event such as a nascar race is more than just a destination for many people. In my mind it is just part of a much bigger event. I’m glad my MIS has hundreds of acres of camping in the surrounding area. It makes for one huge nascar party for every “race weekend.”

03/25/2011 06:41 PM

I went to ACS a few years ago and sat through a JJ clinic. Not only was it boring, trying to get out of there was a nightmare. They had everyone funneling through one area and it took forever. Plus you couldn’t see any part of the race down the backstretch because it’s so far away from the seats. It is a beautiful area though. You can spend your time looking at the mountains.

03/25/2011 07:13 PM

To Kevin in SoCal,

at Bristol alone first time winners include

Dale Earnhardt
Rusty Wallace
Kurt Busch
Elliott Sadler
Ernie Irvan

That’s just off the top of my head, as for the other circuits I’m not too sure.

Tom Dalfonzo
03/27/2011 07:48 PM

The thing that Fontana needs to make itself exciting is a banking upgrade. Calfornia Speedway has had the luxury of seeing Homestead and Las Vegas upgrade their race tracks to great results, so what is Fontana’s problem?

I say the banking in the turns should be doubled from 14 to 28 degrees. Also, Fontana needs a new general staff, people that know and love racing, and with the money necessary to make the banking upgrade happen.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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