Saturday, February 23, 2008

NASCAR Tracks: Fontana

CaliforniaImage by i heart him via Flickr
Auto Club Speedway (a.k.a. California Speedway) at Fontana, California, is a relatively new stop on the NASCAR circuit. NASCAR wanted to add more races on the west coast, and, in July of 1994, before construction even began, announced plans to sanction races upon completion of the facility. Construction began in November of 1995. The inaugural California 500 was held in June of 1997 and Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag at the event.

As NASCAR moved to other markets, they took some of the old tracks off of the schedule. After Daytona opened the season, NASCAR used to race the next week at Rockingham. That track, along with North Wilkesboro and others, is gone from the NASCAR schedule and now they race in Fontana after Daytona.

In 2003, when a second California race was added to the schedule, they took it from Darlington. The Labor Day race at Darlington, the Southern 500, was moved to Fontana. NASCAR has finally rectified this situation somewhat by moving the holiday weekend race back to the South, to Atlanta, and moving the second California race to October.

Auto Club Speedway is a two-mile D-shaped oval. The turns have 14 degrees of banking, the 3100-foot front stretch has 11 degrees of banking, the 2500-foot back straightaway has just three degrees of banking. The track is very similar to its sister track, Michigan International Speedway.

The Automobile Club of Southern California became the title sponsor of the racetrack in February 2008. The naming rights will last for ten years. The track also has infield segments that can be reconfigured several different ways, allowing the track to host road races, motorcycle races, vehicle testing, and drag races.

Look for a lot of side-by-side racing as drivers run from the wall all the way down to the apron, but also look for the field to get strung out as the faster cars leave the slower ones in the dust. The engines will be in the high rpm range all day long, and usually a couple don't make it out alive. You'll hear a lot about clean air and dirty air during a race broadcast from Fontana -- the leader's car (out in the clean air) will handle a lot better than a car back in the pack (in the dirty air).

Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with five wins at ACS.  Kyle Busch became the youngest driver ever to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race when he won the Auto Club 500 in February 2005 at age 20, but that record has since been bested by Joey Logano at Loudon in 2008. Kyle Busch also holds the Sprint Cup qualifying record at ACS -- 188.245 mph, set that same weekend in February 2005.

Auto Club Speedway currently hosts a Sprint Cup race, the Auto Club 500, and a Nationwide race in February.  In October, Auto Club Speedway hosts a second Cup race and a second Nationwide race.  In an attempt to increase competitiveness, NASCAR decided in January 2010 to decrease the October Cup race by 100 miles.  The Pepsi Max 400 is the fourth race in the ten-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Fontana is not currently on the Camping World Truck Series schedule.

In 2010 NASCAR revamped the schedules for all three national touring series.  The Sprint Cup series will add a second race at Kansas Speedway and added a new track to the lineup -- Kentucky Speedway.  To do that they took one of the two races away from Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.  Starting in 2011, Auto Club Speedway's Cup race will be the fifth race on the season schedule.  It will be held in late February.  The Nationwide Series will race at ACS on the same weekend.

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