Rain Rain Go Away
Mother Nature may be giving us a blessing this weekend. At the start of the week, it looked as if there was no chance that either race was going to be ran this weekend. Right now, The Weather Channel is only showing a 20% chance of rain and National Weather Service is reporting partly cloudy with little chance of rain on Sunday. Fontana is one of the best tracks on the circuit and always give us a great race. Sadly, it will be off the schedule for the 2024 season as NASCAR is converting the current 2-mile racetrack into a short track.
NASCAR has been trying to find a way to bring in more fans on the western part of the US and one thing every fan of NASCAR agrees on is we all love short track racing. The only short tracks NASCAR goes to for the Cup Series are Richmond, Martinsville, and Bristol. They’re adding North Wilkesboro for the All-Star weekend this year, but that still presents a problem. All those tracks are on the eastern part of the country, with two of them being in the same state of Virginia. Phoenix is about as close as you’re going to get to short track racing out west, but it’s not the same.
Putting a short track out west is a great idea. I just wish they didn’t have to tear up Auto Club Speedway to do it. Personally, I have always enjoyed the racing at this track. With 5 lanes to choose from, we get to see all different kinds of strategies that teams come up with and while we don’t see 25+ cars beating and banging the entire race like a big Daytona or a short Martinsville, we do get to see good technical racing.
Some people don’t like this track because it’s your stereotypical “they’re just turning left” kind of track where cars are spread out and you have to wait for strategies to play out. Very rarely do you see somebody just drive away from the field. I tell people that watching a race at a track like this is similar to watching a baseball game. You have to have patience and be aware of all the things that are happening throughout the race, not just watch the leader turn laps.
If you are someone who doesn’t like this race, I challenge you to try and pay attention to the entire race. Pay attention to the leaderboards when people are coming through the field, not just the top 10. Look at all the different lines the drivers are using. If you watch it from that perspective, you’ll enjoy this race a lot more.
Don’t let me rant though. We got a pretty good race last year from what I remember. A lot of cautions, but the racing wasn’t bad. We even got a good little bit of drama when Kyle Larson accidently took out his teammate Chase Elliott. In the race last weekend, it seemed as though the side drafting in these cars had improved. If it has, that will help runs not stall out this weekend during the race.
Most of the teams looked good at Daytona. Fontana is a bigger track, but it doesn’t race like a superspeedway. This weekend will be the first test of what these teams have in their cars to start the season. You have to bring a well-balanced racecar to this track to even have a chance at winning the race.
We will see the cream rise to the top in this race. Especially with practice and qualifying most likely being rained out on Saturday. The top 10 will be a mix of Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske, and SHR, but I’m going to pick a driver that will go against my preseason predictions. We’ll get to that in a little bit though.
I don’t really put any weight into the results of this race from last season because it was the first race on an intermediate type of track for the next Next-Gen car. Looking back on past years though, there is one consistent thing that you see, or what you don’t see. Since 2010, only 2 drivers have won this race, that weren’t driving for one of the four teams I just mentioned. Those two drivers were Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Larson, who are with JGR and Hendrick now.
There may be one or two surprises in the top-10, but don’t hold your breath on that. This is a very difficult track to set-up for and if you don’t get it right you will be in the back of the pack very quickly. Being so early in the season, the bigger teams tend to be more prepared for it. You never know though. One takeaway from last year we can look at is cautions.
This race had 12 cautions last season including the stage breaks. If this trend continues maybe we’ll see someone like Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, or Chris Buescher have a shot. At least half of those accidents last season were spins so we’ll have to see if that’s something we can expect, or if it was just drivers not being used to the new car yet.
So, who am I picking to win on Sunday?
My pick to win this weekend is Kyle Busch. In his career, he has an average finish of 9.8 at Fontana and has won there 4 times. With how good he has looked to start the season between The Clash and the Daytona 500, and those stats, I don’t see a way to not pick him. This is the most motivated I have seen Kyle in a long time, and it seems come hell or high water he is determined to win.
In all team sports, the greats are defined by how well they elevated the people around them. If Kyle can lift his team to their best, or even higher, than this could be a very dangerous team and a front runner come playoff time. They have been right at the cusp in the first two weekends of the season. We’ll have to see if third time is the charm for Kyle this weekend.