NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Fontana Track Trends, race preview, etc.

TRACK: Auto Club Speedway (2-Mile, D-Shaped Oval) DISTANCE: 200 Laps – STAGE 1/2 60 LAPS, FINAL STAGE 80 LAPS (400 MILES)

Key Trends To Know

Can Toyota Win 3rd Time In 4 Tries?

Martin Truex Jr. dominated the 2018 Fontana race in leading 125 of the 200 laps en route to an easy victory.

In 2019, Kyle Busch dominated himself with earning his 200th career NASCAR win. Busch, led 134 of 200 laps that day.

Now, can pick back up where they left off in 2019 after a down 2020 race?

Ford Could Struggle

After dominating Speedweeks Fords could struggled on Sunday.

While Team Penske and Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) has been good in Fontana, they just have struggled to win. Since 2010, a Ford went to victory lane just once (2015) in 11 races

Race Has Seen 6 Straight Different Winners

The last six races in Fontana have been won by five different drivers from five different teams: Brad Keselowski (2015), Jimmie Johnson (2016), Kyle Larson (2017), Martin Truex Jr. (2018), Kyle Busch (2019) and Alex Bowman (2020).

Race Has Seen Dominance

Truex and Busch combined to lead 187 of the 200 laps in the 2018 edition. Busch and Brad Keselowski combined to lead 176 of 200 laps in 2019. Bowman led 110 of 200 laps in 2020. Blaney led 54 of the other 90. Will we see a similar domination in this weekend’s race?

Truex, won by 11.685 seconds in 2018. Busch, won by 2.354-seconds in 2019 and Bowman by 8.904-seconds in 2020. Will this race tighten up?

Few Cautions

We’ve only had 12 combined caution flags fly in Fontana in each of the last three years. There were five in 2018, four in 2019 and three in 2020. Take out the six combined stage breaks and you only get six yellows in three years. Out of those six, two of which were for debris and four were for single car incidents.

I expect this weekend to race the same, meaning track position is going to be so key here.

Starting Position Matters

In Fontana, starting position has mattered more recently than ever before. The 2018 races saw the top three qualifiers finish there too. Four of the top five starters that day came from a top six starting spot.

In 2019, three of the top four finishers came from a top five starting spot.

Two of the top three in 2020 came from the top 2 Rows.

The worst spot that an eventual race winner came from over the last four years in Fontana is fourth with two of those three coming from the pole. Five of the last six came from the top 4 Rows.


Track Comparison

Michigan is the only other one to compare this to but that track has been repaved in recent years where Fontana still has the original asphalt. Atlanta then would be the next closest but they had a repave this offseason.


Favorites

Kyle Busch

Busch, has six top three finishes in his last eight Cup Series starts in Fontana. In Xfinity Series competition at Fontana, Busch has nine straight top eight finishes and 13 top three finishes in his last 14 tries. He’s a six time winner (2008, 2009, 2010, 2010, 2011, 2013) at that.

Kevin Harvick 

While he hasn’t led a single lap in his last four Fontana starts, he does have three top four finishes in his last six starts there though. Harvick, was fourth in 2019 and runner-up in back-to-back years (2015, 2016). Worth a gamble.

Joey Logano 

Logano has four top five finishes in his last five starts at Fontana and five top sevens in his last six there overall.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, has three top eight finishes in his last four Fontana tries and four top eight’s in his last six tries. He’s led 25 laps, 21 laps, 73 laps, 125 laps and 3 laps in five of his last six Fontana starts too.

Kyle Larson 

Larson has three top two finishes in six career Fontana tries including a win in 2017 and a runner-up in 2018. While he was only 12th last year, he didn’t quite have a handle on the new racing package yet. He’s the other driver with a top 10 finishes in both races this season. Larson, was second and eighth (1 lap), 11th and 16th (5 laps), 10th (10 lap), ninth (15 lap) and sixth (20 lap) himself.

Ryan Blaney

His stats keep getting better and better in Fontana. He was ninth in 2017, eighth in 2018, fifth in 2019 and the only reason he was 12th in 2020 was due to a late race cut tire while running inside the top three. He led the second most laps (54) that day and was a top car all weekend.


Sleepers

Brad Keselowski 

He’s been good of late in Fontana. Keselowski, has six straight top 10 finishes on this track including a win in 2015 and four straight top fives. Does that translate over to RFR? They were good on older surfaces last year.

Alex Bowman

He won the last time out for his first top 10 in five Fontana tries.

Kurt Busch

The 2004 series champion has six top 10 finishes in his last nine starts at Fontana including a sixth place run in 2019 and third in 2020. He also has five top six finishes in his last eight too.

Austin Dillon 

Fontana has been very kind to him in the past. Dillon, has three top 11 finishes on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval in his last four tries including two straight 10th place results between 2018 and 2019.

Aric Almirola

He has just two top 10 in 13 career Fontana starts. That’s the reason his number is so low here. But, both came in the last two years too.


Who To Fade

Chase Elliott 

While he does have four top 11 finishes in five Fontana tries, only one of which have resulted in a top five.

Denny Hamlin 

He’s scored just one top five finish at Fontana since 2009. That was a third place effort in 2016. He does have four top seven finishes in his last five Fontana starts though and has led at least one lap in eight of his last nine races there including 10 of the last 12 overall.

William Byron

He’s finished 15th in all three of his Fontana starts.


Who Had The Best Cars The Last Time Out

Last time out, Alex Bowman was the overall favorite. He’d end up winning too. Bowman, had a great long run car in 2020 at this point of the season.

Bowman, set quick time in both practice sessions on Friday of the Fontana weekend in 2020 to go along with having the time speeds in five lap as well as 10 lap averages too. His No. 88 Chevrolet sure looked quick. He also qualified third.

The second best car was the second best car a week prior too in Ryan Blaney. Bowman, was chasing Blaney down at the end of the Vegas race prior to Fontana in 2020. The duo would have came home 1-2 if not for that late race yellow.

Blaney, was ninth and second respectively in the two sessions on single lap speeds on Friday to go along with being third in both sessions on the five lap chart, second on the 10 lap and quickest on the 15 and 20 lap averages. He would lead the second most laps of the day that year and had a tire go down in the end while running in the top three.

The Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson then were the next best. Busch, was fourth in both sessions on single lap averages, sixth and second on five laps, second and eighth on 10 laps, fifth on 15 laps and second on 20 lap runs. He qualified fourth and finished third.

Larson, was second and eighth (1 lap), 11th and 16th (5 laps), 10th (10 lap), ninth (15 lap) and sixth (20 lap) himself. He qualified his No. 42 Chevrolet ninth that year.

The Toyota’s didn’t have much short run speed and that didn’t lead to good qualifying efforts. By virtue of that, they didn’t have track position early and it hurt them in scoring only two cars in the top 13 for the race.

Fontana is a large, abrasive track, so long run speed means so much more than short run pace.


Top Stat

Since 2017, the stage 1 winner won the race outright all three years.

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