5 things I’m watching for Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN)


Unfortunately, mother nature is the name of the game this weekend. Saturday’s P&Q was a washout and while Sunday’s forecast looks better in terms of precipitation, how much of a role will the weepers play?

While you can’t plan for weepers, it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re going to see them at some point on Sunday. The battle of the day is going to be trying to combat them and how wet is too wet to race?

With a 30% chance of rain on Sunday still, any moisture in the air isn’t going to help. That’s because the track is so saturated from Saturday’s rain showers, with an aged surface, the water has no where else to go but up. We see this a lot with older pavement.

This is going to be a byproduct of that.

The problem is, Monday’s forecast is worse than Sunday’s with a 72% chance of rain. Tuesday is a 66% chance. Wednesday is an 82% chance. If you can’t get it in on Sunday, when can you?

That’s a lot of rain falling and the weepers are only going to get worse and worse as the days go on next week.

The only good news is that the temperatures aren’t going to be high and that will help keep some moisture from coming up. However, it’s also not warm enough to help aid in track dryer so it’s a double edge sword.

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 26: Josh Bilicki, driver of the #77 Pacific Coast Termite Chevrolet, and Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford, drive during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

What Will The Racing Actually Look Like?

Fontana has been a track that in order to win, you must hit the setup right. That in turn has led to some dominating performances over the years. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle 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. Alex Bowman led 110 of 200 laps in 2020. Ryan Blaney led 54 of the other 90.

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?

It did last year but only because of a late race caution. 3 of the last 4 years have seen the final green flag run last 31 or more laps (68 laps in 2018, 31 in 2019, 73 in 2020). That’s why you get a large gap at the finish between first and second. Last year’s final run was only four laps which contributed to a final margin of victory being just .195-seconds.

We have a return to practice this past weekend albeit a very short session. It’s just like last year’s. That leads to the question, which do you focus on – long run or short run speed which in turn has led to some dominance.

If you don’t have a good short run car or a good burst of speed, you have no shot in the event of a late race restart like we saw a year ago. But we’ve also seen some long runs to the end here too, which if you have a better long run car, you have a better shot of a win.

So, what do you focus on this weekend and how do you get your car dialed in for both?

I mean, Fontana is an aged surface so handling is key. With more downforce to help you on these cars, it makes passing more challenging and therefore track position is a big part of this equation.

With qualifying, short run speed helps and also gets you closer to the front at the start of the race and in turn gives you a better shot at a win too. We didn’t qualify on Saturday and these cars are impounded. So what do you do?

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.

But, what if you have a good short run car to qualify well but not good on long runs and can’t stay there for long There’s a balance to be had but how hard is it to find it?

3 of the top 4 finishers last year started 13th or worse. With a jumbled up lineup based off the metrics from Daytona, this could really be a wild show whenever we can get going.

Which is why setups and decision making/gameplans off the truck are so crucial here this weekend and why you can typically spot out the race winner early.

3 of the last 4 years we’ve witnessed stage sweeps with all five races in the stage era being won by a driver that had finished no worse than fifth in any stage run. In fact, prior to last year, the eventual winner was in the top two of every stage.

  • Stage 1 finishes for eventual race winners: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 5th
  • Stage 2 finishes for eventual race winners: 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 5th

Joey Logano celebrates his 2nd championship in front of the fans last Fall in Phoenix

Is This A Championship Preview?

A wildly underrated topic heading to Fontana is the fact that the second race of the season as well as the Auto Club Speedway in general has been a great measuring point for not only defending series champions, but eventual champions as well.

Last year as an example, Joey Logano who won the season title, finished 5th in Fontana. The defending series champ, Kyle Larson, won.

In 2020, Chase Elliott later won the championship, but finished 26th in the second race of the season at Vegas and 4th though in Fontana. Kyle Busch, the 2019 champion, was 15th in Vegas but second in Fontana.

A year prior, the second race was in Atlanta and Busch was 6th. He did win Fontana. Joey Logano won the 2018 championship and was 23rd in Atlanta but 2nd in Fontana.

In 2018, Logano was 6th in Atlanta and 5th in Fontana while Truex Jr. was 5th and 1st respectively.

In 2017, it was Truex Jr. being 8th in Atlanta and 4th in Fontana while Jimmie Johnson was 19th and 21st respectively.

In Fontana, the eventual series champion has 6 straight top 5 finishes (Johnson 1st, Truex Jr. 4th, Logano 5th, KyBusch, 1st, Elliott 4th, no race in 2021, Logano 5th).

Also in Fontana, the defending series champion has 4 straight top 2 finishes (Truex Jr. 1st, Logano 2nd, KyBusch 2nd, Larson 1st).

Does that make this a potential championship preview?

Kyle Busch vs. Tyler Reddick

This is a true test to see how the Next Gen responds in the second year. Kyle Busch has been so good at Fontana in the past. Busch has six Top-3 finishes in his last nine Cup Series starts in Fontana. In Xfinity Series competition at Fontana, Busch has nine straight Top-8 finishes and 13 Top-3 results in his last 14 tries. He’s a six-time winner (2008, 2009, 2010, 2010, 2011, 2013) at that. Just last year, he went from multiple laps down to rebound to finish 14th. Now, he gets a car that led the most laps a year ago. Does that translate over to a win?

Tyler Reddick swept both stages and led 90 of 200 laps last February. Essentially, he and Busch swapped over in a way that Reddick is in a Toyota and Busch in Reddick’s old Chevrolet ride.

Reddick actually takes over Busch’s brothers’ ride, Kurt Busch, the one that finished eighth in 2022. So, do each hit the ground running and pick up where they left off last year even though it was with opposite teams?


Fontana a year ago was a place that saw some parity up front. Tyler Reddick with RCR led the most laps (90). Erik Jones finished second in each stage and was third in the end. Austin Dillon was one spot better in second. Daniel Suarez came home fourth.

Now, can each keep that success going?

Dillon has four Top-11 finishes on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval in his last five tries including two straight 10th place results between 2018 and 2019 and a runner-up just last season. Suarez also has a top 10 here prior when he was JGR.

You also have Aric Almirola who’s improved his finishing position in each of the last five races here. He has just three Top-10 finishes in 14 career Fontana starts, but all three came in the last three years including a sixth placed result last February.

You also have Brad Keselowski who has six Top-10 finishes in his last seven starts on this track including a win in 2015 and four Top-5’s in his last 5 tries in general. Last year RFK struggled, but they now have a full year’s worth of data too.

Top Stat

Harvick to make 750th consecutive NASCAR Cup Series career start this weekend

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick will reach a career milestone this weekend, as he will be making his 750th consecutive NASCAR Cup Series career start at Auto Club Speedway, becoming just the third different driver to accomplish the feat.

Harvick is ranked third on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time consecutive starts list, behind only Jeff Gordon with 797 consecutive Cup starts from 1992-2015 and Ricky Rudd with 788 consecutive Cup starts from 1981-2005. Harvick’s streak of consecutive starts began on April 21, 2002 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Harvick has made 28 series career starts at Auto Club Speedway posting one win (2011), seven top fives and 14 top 10s.

Among active drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. has the next longest active streak of consecutive starts in the NASCAR Cup Series behind Kevin Harvick with 613.

Top Live Bet Trend

  • Since the stage era began in 2017, the worst a winning driver has finished in a stage is 5th. Kyle Larson did so in both stages (5th) last year. Prior, the Stage 1 winner also won the race in all 4 years. The eventual winner finished 2nd, 1st, 1st and 2nd in Stage 2. By the end of the second stage, whomever is in the top 2 is a wise bet. I wouldn’t go much past 5th at that point to find your race winner.
  • 3 of the last 4 years has someone swept both stages.
  • Stage 1 finishes for eventual race winners: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 5th
  • Stage 2 finishes for eventual race winners: 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 5th

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