For what is likely the final time, the NASCAR Xfinity Series takes to the two-mile track at Auto Club Speedway for this weekend’s Production Alliance Group 300.
A jam-packed Saturday of NASCAR Xfinity Series action will see 40 cars practice and qualify, with two cars/teams not making the race Saturday afternoon in Fontana. With multiple 2022 Cup Series winners joining the Xfinity Series field at Auto Club Speedway, qualifying becomes that much tougher for the smaller teams.
Cup Drivers adding some Xfinity X-perience
The small list of full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers taking part in Saturday’s Xfinity Series action is a notable one: 2022 Championship 4 contender Ross Chastain, three-time 2022 Cup Series winner Tyler Reddick, and 2022 Coke 400 winner Austin Dillon. One could imagine that each of these drivers will play a part in the story of Saturday’s race.
Ross Chastain will once again work with DGM Racing, driving their #91 Chevy. Chastain had a similar role with DGM last season but only raced on road courses in the Xfinity Series. The Melon Man did score a top-five finish at an intermediate track in the series last year, albeit with a Big Machine Racing car.
Tyler Reddick found victory lane in Xfinity during the 2022 season, racing the #48 for Big Machine Racing, the team’s very first Xfinity Series victory. He’ll pilot the Sam Hunt Racing #24 Saturday and is one of the betting favorites for the win.
Austin Dillon returns to the Kaulig Racing #10 car for the first time since the 2019 season. Dillon’s part-time exploits in NASCAR’s secondary series in recent years haven’t been spectacular, but his best Xfinity finish in the past five years did come in the #10 Kaulig Racing Chevy, a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas in 2019.
Returning to full-time, returning to victory lane?
One of the major storylines coming into this NASCAR Xfinity Series season was the return of Cole Custer to full-time Xfinity action in the Stewart-Haas Racing #00 Ford. Custer started from the front row at Daytona but didn’t factor in the finish at last weekend’s Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300.
While still driving full-time in the Cup Series last season, Cole Custer won last year’s iteration of the Production Alliance Group 300. Custer started out on the front row, qualifying a hundredth of a second slower than AJ Allmendinger. Custer also won this race in his last full-time Xfinity Series season in 2019.
Back in the Stewart-Haas #00 Ford, there’s a good reason Cole Custer is the outright betting favorite to win at Auto Club at the weekend. He’s back with the team that almost captured the 2019 Xfinity Series title, and should expect to win these races, just as he did in 2019.
Weather permitting, of course
A quick glance at the weekend’s weather forecast at Fontana is, well, not promising. There is a 100% chance of rain on Saturday, and NASCAR has packed all Xfinity Series action into that one day. The rain will likely factor in some way Saturday afternoon, we just have to wait and find out.
If Saturday rains out:
–lineup set by the metric: 25%-driver finish last race, 25% owner finish last race, 35%-2023 (not 2022) owner pts, 15%-fastest lap ranking last race. Who gets in for Xfinity primarily based on 2022 owner pts
–Xfinity race most likely after Cup race Sunday
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 23, 2023
Not only will it be rainy, but it will also be very cold for those used to the usual SoCal weather. The projected high temperature will be 44 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s during the morning before temps start to drop throughout the day.
Even if rain doesn’t impact the on-track action, the cold will make finding tire temperature very difficult for the drivers and could make for an unpredictable race.
Auto Club Speedway is a 2-mile, high-wear, slightly D-shaped oval. It’s one of the flatter intermediate tracks on the NASCAR schedule, with 14 degrees of banking in the turns, 11 degrees on the frontstretch, and a mostly flat 3 degrees on the backstretch.
Roger Penske announced the construction of Auto Club in 1994, The track was opened just 25 years ago and is already fated for drastic change through the scheduled renovations to make it a short track.
This season marks the last time NASCAR as a whole will make laps around the two-mile oval in Fontana, as all reports and statements from NASCAR suggest. The track has already been removed from next year’s schedule, as the aforementioned renovations are slated to begin.
Some additional images from the NASCAR plan to reconfigure Auto Club Speedway to a half-mile. Track would be 44 feet wide. You can see where grandstands added as well as how the garages are adjacent to a fan zone outside the track and how they would enter the track. pic.twitter.com/00IMBIJ6ZR
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) September 14, 2020
Using some of the existing Auto Club infrastructure, the big frontstretch grandstand and press box primarily, the track will begin the process of becoming an almost hybrid Martinsville/Bristol. Martinsville’s tight hairpin corners and long straightaways, and Bristol’s high banking for added speed.
The timing is peculiar for SoCal’s lone NASCAR mainstay. The new Cup Series car breathed new life into the high-wear track and produced a fantastic race last season. But perhaps the success of the Clash at the Coliseum over the past two years has shown NASCAR that SoCal wants short-track racing.
Last week, for the first time in my short time writing these previews here at Last Word on Motorsport, I actually correctly predicted superspeedway ace Austin Hill winning at Daytona. I’m riding high on the hog, let’s try to get two in a row.
Despite Cole Custer’s return to a track where he’s won twice in his last two attempts, I’m going with the full-time Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick to take the win on Saturday. I also predict there will be rain, and that rain will decide the race in some fashion.
How To Watch (All Times EST)
- Practice & Qualifying: Saturday, February 25, 12:05 p.m., FS1
- Production Alliance Group 300: Saturday, February 25, 5 p.m., FS1