Hopefully Fontana adds excitement to NASCAR season

Mar 15, 2016 3:06 AM

Let’s hope this NASCAR west coast swing goes out with a bang on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the final of three straight races that began with Las Vegas two weeks ago and continued last week at Phoenix.

Let’s just say results from the first two races weren’t as sexy as we may have hoped with the new downforce package.

Last season when the package was introduced that shortened the rear spoiler and front splitter, we saw lots of passing. We saw oustanding competition with several teams showing they could contend. Drivers love the package. But I have to call it as I see it, and as much as I have a west coast bias for NASCAR races, the last two races left me feeling kind of empty.

There were only seven lead changes among four drivers Sunday at Phoenix, where Kevin Harvick again led the most laps (139 of 313), winning for his track record eighth time.

New package, same results, and there appeared to be even a bigger edge for the top guys, which has kind of reverse effect as was intended by NASCAR.

Will that again be the case at Fontana’s two-mile wide layout this weekend? Brad Keselowski won his only race of 2015 at Fontana last season where he led just one lap – the last one. Harvick and teammate Kurt Busch finished second and third while combining to lead 99 of the 209 laps. However, there was a missing element in last year’s race that is active this week – Kyle Busch.

Busch missed the race because of a broken leg suffered in the season opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona. The Las Vegas native is a three-time winner at Fontana, including wins in his last two starts there.

Prior to the 2013-14 wins, last year’s Sprint Cup champ had finished second in 2012 and third in 2011. Yes, he loves the track and the track apparently seems to like him as well. He should be considered the favorite to win Sunday.

The all-time leader in wins at Fontana is Jimmie Johnson with five in 21 starts, including his first career victory there in 2002. The El Cajon, California, native has a 6.7 average finish, also a track record, at what is essentially his home track. His last win there was in 2010, which was the last season when Fontana had two race dates.

Look for the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team to be almost as good as Kyle Busch with Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Harvick and Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Keselowski being strong contenders. Yes, the same cast of characters. Matt Kenseth is a three-time winner and Carl Edwards has a win and second-best 8.7 average finish. The best long shot to win might be Austin Dillon at around 40-to-1 odds.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].