Consolation Prize: Christopher Bell claims pole at rain-soaked Auto Club Speedway

Consolation Prize: Christopher Bell claims pole at rain-soaked Auto Club Speedway
Courtesy of Toyota Racing

FONTANA, Calif.—Following a report from Sports Business Journal that NASCAR had closed on the sale of 433 acres of Auto Club Speedway through its California Speedway Corp. subsidiary, it appears the days of the two-mile track are numbered.

On Saturday, rain, sleet and snow pelted the venue destined to be reconfigured following the Pala Casino 400 and Production Alliance Group 300 doubleheader--a doubleheader necessitated by the postponement of the latter Xfinity Series event until Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

Neither NASCAR’s Cup or Xfinity Series were able to practice or qualify. Both race lineups were set using the metric qualifying formula which elevated Christopher Bell to the pole for the Cup race.

“I would have probably rather had practice just to know what we have,” Bell said. “Honestly, I was good either way. I would rather have practice, but winning the pole by the formula deal is pretty gratifying.”

Last weekend’s Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will share the front row with Bell. But he feels like a bit of a guinea pig heading into battle from that position.

“Being at the front of the field, I’ll definitely be one of the first ones to go through some of the track conditions,” said Stenhouse. “Obviously, they put down PJ1 or resin or whatever, throughout the week so it will be interesting to see how that reacts after all this rain and weather on it.

“It’s the same for everybody, but you don’t want it so bad that it turns into a major issue. We know where we run. Even when it’s dry, we stay off the seams as much as possible. The seams are wide, they’re slick and don’t have much grip either. We’re always dodging things at Fontana anyway. So hopefully, we can drive around them and race.”

The NASCAR Cup race is scheduled for 3:30 ET on Sunday. Still, most crew chiefs don’t have a playbook for Auto Club Speedway for low 40-degree temperatures with water seeping through the 26-year-old surface.

“I’m not as concerned about the cold temperatures as I am about the track weeping,” said Joey Logano, who starts third. “I think at this point, that’s what everybody is nervous about—older track surface, lots of cracks and stuff. 

“I would assume it’s going to be really hard to dry this thing. We’re probably going to start the race with wet spots on the race track. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to get them all, and it’s hard to do it because the track is so wide. The racing groove is so wide. I would assume that, as the race goes, the bottom whether on the front straightaway, in the seams themselves, it’s probably going to be weeping the whole race.

“I think that will be the most sketchy moments out there. At what point do we call it, ‘Good enough?’ I think that’s going to be the tricky part.”

Logano is still seeking his first win at the Southern California track. In 15 starts, he has posted seven top fives and eight top 10s. When the defending Cup champion heard the news of the two-mile track’s demise, Logano said his initial response was one of sadness. 

With millions of dollars to be gained for the sanctioning body, Logano believes the decision is simple.

“Business is business, and how do you go against that when you hear what some of the numbers were?” said Logano. “How do you not take that, right? Here’s also the part that makes me feel a little better about it, too. Yes, the racing here is spectacular. It’s one of the best race tracks we have. Period. 

“But the facts are it’s getting old. The asphalt is coming apart. And if we were to repave it and just leave it the same way, the racing would be terrible. The racing would be awful. With that in mind, it’s just the end of an era.”

Featured Video

Follow on Facebook

Follow on Twitter