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NASCAR Cup Series: Auto Club Preview, Predictions, and How To Watch

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 27: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Menards/Quaker State Ford, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 27, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

The annual NASCAR Auto Club race will be held one final time on the current 2-mile layout as reconfiguration looms in 2024.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Fontana, California this weekend for the second race of the 2023 campaign at Auto Club Speedway. It will be a bittersweet weekend, as the track will soon reconfigure, and will be off the schedule in 2024.

The drivers head into the weekend fresh off last weekend’s Daytona 500, won under caution by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for his third career Cup Series win. Always unpredictable, it’s tough to gauge the competitiveness of each driver and team at Daytona. This weekend at Auto Club should paint a bit of a clearer picture of the pecking order for 2023.

Though there will always be favorites, if last year was any indication, this new era may provide unparalleled parity for NASCAR. We saw 19 different drivers celebrate in victory lane last season and predicting winners seemed like choosing lottery numbers. All will become clear soon, but with only 16 playoff spots up for grabs, drivers will focus as much on consistency as they are on chasing that first win moving forward.

Auto Club’s Last Hurrah

On deck, this weekend is one of the most driver-friendly tracks. Though Auto Club has drawn criticism from fans over the lack of close racing and overtaking, the drivers revel in the chance to race there. The slick surface, fast speeds, and ability to run several different lines attract the drivers and make the in-car experience top-notch. Unfortunately for them, if no one is watching none of it matters.

That’s where the reconfiguration comes in. The lack of interest in the spread-out racing at Auto Club has caught the attention of NASCAR, and the track will be reconfigured to create better racing in the future. A short-track configuration is likely, which is a polarizing decision given the short-track struggles of the current package. The hope is that continued improvement to the package, combined with the right tracks will be the best outcome for the quality of the racing.

The reconfiguration will take Auto Club off the calendar for 2024, leaving the Southern California market without a points-paying race. Rumors have been floated that the Clash could become a points race, or that other circuits like Irwindale Speedway could pick up a race, but nothing is set in stone.

Whatever the case, the track’s uncertain future allows us all to appreciate it in its current form one final time. Let’s see who will be the final 2-mile winner at the 25-year-old track.

The Track

Auto Club Speedway opened in 1997 and has hosted 32 NASCAR Cup Series races. The 2-mile-long D-shaped oval is known for its wide surface, fast racing and the variety of lines drivers use to navigate it. California native Jimmie Johnson conquered the track, holding the record for the most wins (6), top-5s (13), top-10s (18), and laps led (990) at the circuit. Last year’s winner was Kyle Larson, while Kyle Busch holds the most wins among active drivers with four.

The track banking is quite shallow. On the front stretch, it is just 11 degrees, while the back straight is a near-flat 3 degrees. The turns have 14-degree banking. The main thing to look out for this weekend is how the drivers attack the track. Some drivers like to run at the bottom, some near the wall, and others right in the middle. The line all depends on what the driver prefers and the car setup, so expect to see some different strategies over the weekend.

Sunday’s race will be 200 laps long and cover 400 miles. Stage 1 will be 65 laps long, while Stage 2 will cover the next 65 laps. Stage 3 will consist of the final 70 laps of the race.

Auto Club Speedway Layout

Points Standings

One race is in the books in 2023, so let’s check out the top ten spots in the standings as we prepare for NASCAR at Auto Club.

  1. Joey Logano, Team Penske – 52 points
  2. Chris Buescher, RFK Racing – 50 points
  3. *Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JTG Daugherty Racing – 48 points
  4. Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing – 44 points
  5. Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports – 41 points
  6. Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing – 38 points
  7. Ryan Blaney, Team Penske – 37 points
  8. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing – 37 points
  9. A.J. Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing – 34 points
  10. Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing – 32 points


Kyle Larson, the defending race winner, is the favorite for this weekend. However, I’m taking a different Kyle to reach victory lane on Sunday. Kyle Busch is a four-time winner at Fontana, and I think he gets his fifth this weekend. Busch has 11 top-5s and 16 top-10s to go with his four wins, showing he’s always in the mix at Auto Club. I don’t think he’ll just be in the mix, but leading the pack for the 2-mile sendoff on Sunday.

  1. Kyle Busch, Richard Childress Racing
  2. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports
  3. Tyler Reddick, 23XI Racing
  4. Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing
  5. Joey Logano, Team Penske

How To Watch: Pala Casino 400 (All Times EST)

  • Practice: Saturday, Feb. 25th – 2:05 p.m. – FS1
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Feb. 25th – 2:50 p.m. – FS1
  • Pala Casino 400: Sunday, Feb. 26th – 3:30 p.m. (Green flag at 3:45 p.m.) – FOX
Featured Image Credit: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images


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