[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”240″][/media-credit]A week ago there was a problem with Bristol and the uncharacteristic nature of racing. Now, the attention has been placed on the Auto Club Speedway after they played host to this past weekend’s Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races.
The two-mile oval began hosting NASCAR races in 1997 and has been the venue of first time winners such as five-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson. The facility seats 92,000 but it hasn’t been much of a fan favorite lately.
On Saturday however, following the NNS race some drivers were singing the speedway praises.
“The Nationwide cars put on an awesome show here,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished third. “The way they draft and get around here. This is one of the best races of the year for the Nationwide Series, every year, not just this year. At least my from view, maybe if you could watch it from the in-car camera.”
While his competitors shared Keselowski’s opinion, viewers weren’t impressed. The racing was too strung out, they said and without a whole lot of action. Keselowski led on two different occasions for 37 laps, with a total of 15 lead changes between seven drivers.
The first caution didn’t occur until lap 58 for debris. Through the 150-lap race, there were just four cautions for a total of 18 laps.
Not until the end of the event did the action seem to pick up. Finally there seemed to be more passing with three and four wide and bump drafting down the straightaways.
When pointed out to Keselowski, how calm the action was, he laughed and said, “Hell, what do you want? Every lap? Every corner? That’s a little greedy. You don’t see every pass in football for a touchdown either. Just the way it is, if it worked every time it wouldn’t be cool and it wouldn’t be special.”
Fifth place finisher Austin Dillon followed it up with, “It happened when it needed to and that’s at the end when we’re fighting for a win”
Defending NNS champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who has finished second and fourth in the last two California races, said on Saturday that he hopes more fans will start coming to the track in the future because it’s a fun day.
“This race last year was really exciting also, four of us battling for the lead last year, we ended up fourth,” said Stenhouse. “The Cup race proved to be a really good one last year. I feel like this is an exciting racetrack for the fans to watch.”
And the folks in California have seen their track experience many changes in hopes of pleasing others. Lights were installed, a new fanzone was added behind the main grandstands, it went from hosting two events to just one during the year, their date was changed, and the Sprint Cup race went from 500 to 400 miles.
But it hasn’t been enough to quiet the critics. When it comes to the racing, they always want more, yet the drivers say it’s never been better behind the wheel. Even newcomers like Dillon.
“I have a blast here, this is my first time here,” he said. “It’s pretty wild how much momentum carries here, you lift off the gas at all in a pack and you’re done. It’s wild racing, it’s fun, and I had a blast.”
On Sunday there was even less action, mostly because the Sprint Cup Series race completed just 129 of its 200 scheduled laps. Defending champion Tony Stewart earned the win and while acknowledging that the track has the tendency to spread the field out, it also has multiple grooves and it provides for great action.
Stewart mentioned the battles he had with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. His car was fast enough to chase down the leaders and pass them, even though he had seconds to make up. Proving that passing is possible.
Just as it was last year when Harvick came from third place to take the win in the last two laps. He charged past Jimmie Johnson on the last lap to win in his home state.
As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. And it’s Stewart’s belief that’s the case when it comes to racing in California.
“I watched the Nationwide race [Saturday], it was an awesome race to the end,” said Stewart. “It’s so easy for cars to get separated here, but they had an awesome finish in their race.”