NASCAR Cup drivers face last hurrah at Fontana track

The love of NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs for Auto Club Speedway is all but universal.

With Atlanta Motor Speedway having undergone a recent repave, the 2.0-mile speedway in Fontana, Calif., is the last of its kind on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.

The abrasive asphalt chews up tires. Seams between the racing lanes can throw a car out of kilter if a driver misses his marks.

Yet drivers love the challenge of negotiating the D-shaped oval that‘s banked just 14 degrees in the corners. And crew chiefs likewise embrace the difficulty of setting up their cars and calling a race in which tire fall-off is extreme.

Like many love affairs, this one will end—and soon. Auto Club Speedway will drop from the schedule next season as NASCAR contemplates its future. One option is to build a half-mile short track on the property and sell off the rest of the valuable land.

Whatever the case, Sunday‘s Pala Casino 400 will be the last on the two-mile configuration (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“There will be a big emphasis on trying to win the last one,” said Ryan Blaney, who has three top 10s in six Cup starts at Fontana. “It‘s a big, slick, multiple-lane race track. It‘s bumpy and rough, and drivers love that stuff.

“The reason why all of us loved Atlanta before they repaved it. Why all of us loved Texas before they repaved it. Chicago, we don’t even go there anymore but all of us loved that place. Old worn-out tracks with a bunch of grooves and lanes are what drivers like. It is challenging and you are sliding around and there is room to race. Drivers enjoy that.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year‘s race at Fontana, has mixed feelings about the possible move to a short track on the Fontana property. Though he loves racing on the 2.0-mile track, he can understand the value of a short track from a fan‘s perspective.

“I love that race track as is,” Larson said. “I feel like it produces amazing racing, but at the same time, I think we need more short tracks. I feel like, sitting in the stands, it‘s hard to view a two-mile track or even mile-and-a-half.

“They‘re so big. I think short tracks produce exciting racing, exciting finishes, tempers, stuff like that. I’m a proponent of making it a short track, and I think we need more of them.”

Having won two of the last five races at the big track, Larson has to be considered a favorite on Sunday. So is Kyle Busch—now driving a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Busch has won three of the last nine Fontana races, his last victory coming in 2019.

Ford drivers, on the other hand, have work to do. Only one Ford driver—Brad Keselowski—has visited Victory Lane in the last 14 races at Auto Club.

Whether moonlighting or not, Cole Custer is a threat

He‘s back.

Cole Custer, that is.

The driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has won two of the last three NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Auto Club Speedway—and in two different cars.

In 2019, he took the checkered flag in the No. 00 Mustang. In 2020, he moved up to full-time NASCAR Cup Series racing.

While still driving in the Cup Series last season, Custer won the Xfinity Series race at Fontana in the No. 07 Ford prepared by Stewart-Haas for SS GreenLight Racing owner Bobby Dotter.

After three years at the Cup level that saw him win one race, Custer is once again competing for the Xfinity Series championship this season.

Given his success at Fontana, he is almost certain to be a formidable force in Saturday‘s Production Alliance Group 300 (5 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“I always look forward to Fontana,” said Custer, a native of Ladera Ranch, Calif., southeast of Los Angeles. “It‘s always been a good track to me, and we‘ve obviously won two races there in the Xfinity car. It‘s always been one of my favorite tracks, because it‘s fast, it‘s worn out, you‘re slipping and sliding around.

“You have a lot of options as a driver, so you‘re able to figure out something better than the next guy, and how to get around them. It‘s always been a fun track to me and coming back home means a ton, too.”

— NASCAR News Wire —

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