NASCAR Cup Series Fontana Preview
With an exciting Speedweeks and Daytona 500 in the rearview mirror, the NASCAR Cup Series kicks its season into high gear this weekend, kicking off the annual west coast swing by traveling to sunny Fontana, California, and the Auto Club Speedway for the running of the WISE Power 400.
It’s been a while since NASCAR has made the journey out to the two-mile oval in southern California. The last race was held near the beginning of the 2020 season, before the pandemic, and Alex Bowman found victory lane on that day.
The track was taken off the schedule in 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions in the state of California, but now makes its triumphant return to the slate, serving as the first non-short track and non-superspeedway race for the Next Gen car.
After adding his name to the Harley J. Earl trophy last weekend, all eyes will be on rookie and 2020 XFINITY Series champion Austin Cindric as he continues through his first full-time campaign, now with an even bigger spotlight shining upon him.
However, Cindric winning this weekend will require doing something that hasn’t been done in 13 years, as Matt Kenseth — who, ironically, will be in the booth on Sunday calling the race for Fox Sports — was the last driver to win the Daytona 500 and then go on to win the following race back in 2009.
In fact, the only Ford driver to win at Fontana since then was the previous driver of the famed No. 2, Brad Keselowski, in 2015.
In recent years, this race has been pretty well dominated by the Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports teams. Those two organizations have combined to win five of the last eight Fontana races, and two other drivers that have won over that span, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex, Jr., now also drive for Hendrick and Gibbs, respectively.
For Larson in particular, his performance will be interesting to watch, as this is his first race at Fontana since joining Hendrick prior to last season.
Those two teams will also be looking to rebound after a tough Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports saw three of their four cars taken out of contention in accidents prior to the checkered flag. Similarly, Joe Gibbs Racing saw all four of their cars caught up in incidents during the race, with only Kyle Busch rebounding enough to be competitive down the stretch.
However, as will be the case during much of the season, the big unknown for this weekend will remain the Next Gen car. The seventh-generation vehicle has passed with flying colors on both the quarter-mile bullring inside the LA Coliseum and the two-and-a-half-mile high banks of Daytona.
But this race could serve as the first true test, as a primary hope for most fans with the Next Gen car was the improvement of racing on intermediate tracks.
The unknowns surrounding the new car could lead to a familiar face finding victory lane, or perhaps another surprise winner. Last year, Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell scored the first two wins of their careers in the first two races of the season.
While Larson, Busch and Truex, Jr. will be among the favorites, look for a driver like Tyler Reddick to potentially make it two straight years with first-time winners in the first two races.
Reddick seems to have a knack for old, worn out, and abrasive racetracks such as Auto Club, and the new Next Gen car might just play into his hands well enough for him to finally pull into victory lane for the first time on Sunday.
Kasey Kreider is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Freshman / Broadcast Journalism