If you live on the West Coast and were looking for a NASCAR race to go to this season, you had better hurry because time is running out.
This week’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana (CA) will be the third West Coast race in five weeks. Over the next 31 races, only two will be run in the west with next one being late June at the road course in Sonoma and then in November at Phoenix.
It’s perhaps not the best scheduling made by NASCAR, but it certainly does give us left coast people a feel like were right in the middle of NASCAR season.
Brad Keselowski took over the point lead last week in Bristol and is the only driver to finish in the top-5 of all four races. When last season ended, the team I had initially thought would struggle the most with the new Gen-6 car was Penske Racing.
Even though Keselowski won the 2012 Sprint Cup Championship, the thought of changing manufacturers, engines and adapting to the new car seemed like too big of a transition to overcome.
Well I couldn’t have been more wrong about anything I’ve ever written. Keselowski is running better than anyone and has adapted to the new car perhaps better than anyone. He’s currently 7-to-1 at the LVH Super Book to win the title this year.
Another driver that has made quite an impression is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s currently second in points and has finished in the top-10 of all four races, something only Keselowski can claim. He hasn’t dominated any race yet, nor has he looked great in any of the practice sessions, but at the end of races, there is the No. 88 car sliding into a great finish position. If you think he can continue the pace, 12-to-1 odds to win the title sounds like a good price.
As for who should be best suited to win this week at Fontana, you have to start with Jimmie Johnson who has a 5.4 average finish in 18 starts that includes five wins. This is considered Johnson’s home track because he hails from El Cajon, Ca. He’s always taken things up an extra notch at Fontana because of all the friends and family in the stands. It’s also the site of his first Cup win ever.
With four races run on four different tracks this season, we don’t have a lot of data on the new car to go off of for this race, but we can use Las Vegas as the closest model. Although the banking at Fontana is much flatter than Las Vegas and it’s half-mile larger, the key ingredient here is power and speed. These new cars will be running at max RPM’s, similar to Vegas.
And if we’re going to talk about Vegas, we might as well talk about Carl Edwards who finished fifth there two weeks ago. Edwards has 8.7 average finish and won at Fontana in 2008. In 15 starts, he finished worse than 13th only twice. With the display he put on in Vegas and winning at Phoenix, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him makes his second celebratory flip of the season this week.
Matt Kenseth is a three-time winner at Fontana and should be right there near the end racing for his fourth win on Sunday. We can expect his JGR teammate Kyle Busch to be there as well. Busch won at Fontana in 2005 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports, and has come close several times during his tenure with JGR, but doesn’t have any wins with them yet. He was runner-up last season and third in 2011.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].