FONTANA, Calif.(March 20, 2012) – As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads west for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team is looking east.
This Sunday marks the once-a-year trip to Auto Club Speedway, so setup notes are thin. And maybe less than helpful, according to Drive To End Hunger crew chief Alan Gustafson.
“It’s more difficult when you visit a track only once per season,” said Gustafson. “Time is obviously a big thing – everything stems off that one event. What has time changed? The track usually. Every year the track changes and when you race there only once you have only half the information.
“And over a year’s time, the cars and setups evolve significantly. I don’t put much stock in our California notes (from last March). I look at [August] Michigan – a similar track and the notes are way more current.
“If you look at the car we had at California last year and the car we will run this week, they’re very different.”
In 22 starts at the two-mile track, Jeff Gordon has three wins (inaugural event in 1997, 1999 and 2004), two poles, 10 top-fives and 11 top-10’s. The four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has led 619 laps at the Southern California track.
“We may only race here once a year, but it doesn’t take long to get back in the rhythm,” said the native of California. “And I love that you can race high, low and everywhere in between here. That gives us the ability to search for a line that works.
“And I think the fans love the fact you’ll see three, four and sometimes five-wide racing here.”
Gustafson is also a fan of the multiple grooves and the track.
“Jeff can adjust his line to suit the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet,” said the crew chief that led Gordon to an 85th career win in Atlanta last season. “It won’t make the car automatically great, but it can loosen the impact of a car that is not handling well.
“And racing at Atlanta is a lot like California in the fact you will see drivers run the bottom early in the run and then move up the track and run the top. That’s what is so cool about a track with multiple grooves – the driver can compensate.”
And if Gordon can compensate well enough on Sunday, the No. 24 team may just replicate that Atlanta success.