Sunday's Races at Auto Club Speedway
Sunday was nothing like normal in NASCAR-land
With Saturday's plans cancelled due to weather, Sunday was different in many ways...
By Brian Kennedy
Sun, Feb 26, 2023 11:52 AM PST
Images by Brian Kennedy
Fontana, CA - After a disappointing Saturday during which NASCAR tried to get some racing in but could not, Sunday dawned clear and cold at Auto Club Speedway. The plan: to race Cup at 12:30 and Xfinity later in the afternoon, at 5pm. The Xfinity race had been scheduled for Saturday mid-afternoon. The cars did get on track, but only for parade laps squeezed between two rain storms. The sanctioning body gave up soon after, and everyone was put back in the garage. The cars were impounded. They would not be touched again until 2pm Sunday, according to a crew member LA Car spoke with.
Sunday was nothing like normal in NASCAR-land. Normally, the garages open early, and the crowds flow in. Cars are tuned and put into final shape, and then they have to pass inspection. This is done via laser sensors which measure body dimensions and suspension mounting points, among other things. I didn’t see any of that happening on this Sunday. Rather, the garages opened at 9 o’clock. Cars were tuned with laptops as usual. But there was no inspection. And there had been no qualifying, because of the rain which blanketed the area late in the week and through Saturday. Nobody could tell me the whens and whats of the inspection process. Was it done? Would they rely only on post-race, taking the top few cars for scrutiny?
With no qualifying, and the only points race of the year thus far being Daytona last weekend, the cars lined up in finishing order. There were 36 entries, a slightly smaller field than what took the green flag for the Daytona 500. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won that one, and thus would pace Sunday’s field, at least until the start.
The temperature near grid time for the Cup cars was mid-40s. The race would be 400 miles, 200 laps. It would start, to be precise, at 12:47pm, with volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor throwing the green flag. She earlier addressed the media, detailing her life as a kid race fan who attended races with her dad. She also betrayed an interest in a certain uncle’s muscle car and said that she and her partner were hoping to get into car collecting as part of their next adventurer in life.
NASCAR was very likely hoping that the race would be true to its average length as measured by the clock: 3:03:27. That would put it at an end right around 4pm local time. The next race was to start in an hour. In fact, if Xfinity were to get going late, it wouldn’t matter that much—there are lights on the track which would have to be used anyway, because even if they fired off on time just past 5pm, the cars would be in semi-darkness within 45 minutes. Sundown was indicated at 5:43pm.
The track announced just prior to the start that the race was a sell-out. Certainly there was a large crowd, and the infield motor home area was absolutely at capacity.
For those attending on nostalgic grounds because this was to be the last race on the long track, an official implored the crowd on that note: “Hang in there with us. There will be more to come on [the future of racing at this venue].” The tradition started in 1997 with a Jeff Gordon win will not be reprised next year, but by 2025, things should be operating at the new normal for this facility—possibly a half-mile oval.
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.