Podium Preview: Auto Club 400

Above all, Kurt Busch wants to add another Auto Club 400 victory to his sterling resume. (Photo Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Above all, Kurt Busch wants to add another Auto Club 400 victory to his sterling resume. (Photo Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Certainly, NASCAR competitors, fans, and press embrace the unique challenges presented during the Auto Club 400 at Fontana.  By all means, Auto Club Speedway features sweeping corners, wide straights, and somewhat bumpy asphalt like a frontage road along a major interstate.  With this in mind, today’s Auto Club 400 should be a truly exciting race!

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeIsabelle BeecyKobe LambethMatteo MarcheschiMatt SisolerSean FolsomStephen ConleyTerra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.  This weekend, we consider the parity prevalent at the front of the field at Las Vegas. Also we ruminate about a driver and team capable of overcoming adversities.

Podium Preview
Track Talk
Topic 1
By golly, manufacturer parity in a NASCAR Cup Series race! (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By golly, manufacturer parity in a NASCAR Cup Series race! (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

We saw a good mix of different drivers and manufacturers in the top-10 during the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas.  Will this trend continue for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana?

Sisoler : It’s entirely possible we will. Fontana has produced some great racing in the past. Hopefully the smaller teams can go out and keep running strong and we maybe could see an “upset” winner. 

Tiongson :  It’s a good possibility that we’ll see manufacturer parity on Sunday at Fontana. This track lends itself to pretty exciting racing as evident in its 23-year history.  Above all, I think that the teams have a year of experience with the low horsepower, high downforce package which likely contributed to the great racing we saw at Las Vegas. With more notes on the table and a worn out track surface, this ought to translate into an exciting 200 lap race in Southern California.

Hobbs :  I sure hope so! It’s nice to see not only the manufacturers mixing it up, but different drivers of different team levels as well! The strength we saw from some of the smaller teams in Las Vegas, I can only hope continues that way through the entire season and favorites for each race become less and less predictable.

Marcheschi : Hendrick Motorsports, JTG Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Germain Racing all scored top ten finishes on Sunday afternoon. While there was some pit strategy involved, these teams worked all day to stay in contention, and did not fold when it counted.

While the parity throughout the race was better than any I can remember, the clear defining moment was when Brian Pattie’s pit strategy to stay out until a caution came out worked out late in the race, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was able to stay near the front, trailed by some of the best in the sport. I am extremely optimistic that this will continue, and look forward to seeing a great variety of drivers and teams out front in Southern California!

Jones :   I hope it does! The racing was great throughout the race and the field on Sunday. It was exciting to see Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Austin Dillon, brother Ty, and Bubba Wallace all finish in the top 10. Part of this could be due to the last-second pit stop which shuffled the field, but nonetheless, even John Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick were included in those flirting with the top 10 during the race. With that being said, I’m incredibly hopeful for the upcoming Fontana race.

Topic 2
Consistently, Joey Logano overcomes adversities as evident last Sunday at Las Vegas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Consistently, Joey Logano overcomes adversities as evident last Sunday at Las Vegas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Of the current driver and team combinations, which seems to have the tenacity and wherewithal to overcome tremendous odds and adversities en route to a stellar finish in any given Cup Series race?

Shoppe :  I’d have to say Kyle Busch’s No. 18 JGR Toyota team does the best overall at overcoming adversity. This past week at Las Vegas wasn’t the best of examples. But, just think back and how many times the 18 struggled early, had a pit issue, lost a lap, or had any mistakes. Despite Busch’s attitude or team radio comments, he would somehow be there at the end. I expect this reigning champion team to once again be a title favorite because of this ability to overcome anything. 

Folsom :  I would have to go with the 4 team, Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers. They’re off to an OK start so far this season. But, when it comes down to when it counts, they finish strong. Last year, Harvick didn’t do so hot in the beginning, but when it needed to count to move on in the Playoffs, Harvick and the 4 team got it done when it needed to count.    

Beecy :  I know this is a special circumstance, but I’m gonna go with the 6 team. Given how their year started, I’d say a 27th in Vegas with a driver that wasn’t scheduled to be in that car isn’t that bad – it’s not the greatest, but it could’ve been a lot worse of a finish. Put Ryan Newman back in the car and they could have a pretty solid year.

Lambeth :  Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers are the perfect match at Stewart-Haas Racing. They have claimed multiple race victories and a championship together. When the title is up for grabs, at the end of the season, they are always in the hunt.

Some teams fall into a slump and it takes a while for them to recover. For Harvick and Childers, you should expect a poor result every now and then. Honestly, each team is due for a dreadful day at the office from time to time.

Typically, the No. 4 Ford Mustang usually recovers from a brief downfall. Their 2020 season is off to a solid start with a pair a decent finishes, earning fifth-place at Daytona and coming across the line in eighth at Las Vegas.

Conley :  I think it has to be the team that won in Las Vegas. Paul Wolfe is one the smartest and well prepared crew chiefs in the garage. Plus with Logano behind the wheel, it presents a competitive challenge for the field.

Logano said after the race that no matter how successful the weekend was, even with a win, they’ll be on the plane after the race, planning on what to make better for the next week. I said after the Penske crew swap, watch out for the No. 22 team. There isn’t a mountain they can’t climb faster than everyone else.

Two laps around Fontana and we haven’t chipped our teeth just yet!  Before returning to Fontana for the Auto Club 400, let’s rewind to last Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas!
A trio of panelists prevailed at Las Vegas.

A trio of panelists prevailed at Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, that infernal machine leads the way heading into today's Auto Club 400.

Meanwhile, that infernal machine leads the way heading into today’s Auto Club 400.

Next, Ashley Hobbs breaks the important trends and numbers worth considering by “Crunching the Numbers: Auto Club 400” style!

How does your favorite team fare at Fontana?

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Clearly, Fontana favors some Rowdy Energy Drink.

Clearly, Fontana favors some Rowdy Energy Drink.

Interestingly, the trend for that last caution occurs inside the final 18 laps since 2010.

Interestingly, the trend for that last caution occurs inside the final 18 laps since 2010.

However, the last caution falls before reaching the final 20 laps since 2015.

However, the last caution falls before reaching the final 20 laps since 2015.

Should we get our machine to join Kyle Busch's fan club?

Should we get our machine to join Kyle Busch’s fan club?

Now, the panelists present fearless or logical race picks for today’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana!
Correspondingly, it's a wide open selection of Auto Club 400 race picks.

Correspondingly, it’s a wide open selection of Auto Club 400 race picks.

Sisoler :  This is going to be a tough one to call. Emotions, not to mention my childhood, are saying to go with Ryan Blaney or William Byron. Both are running Kobe Bryant tribute cars.

But the numbers say to go with Kyle Busch. I think it’s a good idea to go with the numbers, and for this track, the winning number for the past few years is one-eight.

Marcheschi :  Kyle Busch has been awfully hard to beat in Southern California, with four wins at Auto Club Speedway, second only to Jimmie Johnson’s six. He’s the defending winner, and did it in convincing fasion, sweeping the stages and leading 134 laps to grab the victory twelve short months ago. In his last eight races at the track, Busch has six top-three finishes, including three wins. The fourth was his first career Cup win, which came in 2005. Long story short, Busch knows how to get around this place.

Folsom :  With multiple wins at Auto Club Speedway, I am hoping for Kyle Busch’s luck to change from the past few races this season by pulling off a win this weekend.

TPF Stats :  The Machine says it is still somewhat early to take 2020 performance into account. If 2020 was taken into account, Kevin Harvick heads to victory lane; however, the Machine does not think 2020 thus far tells the story or Kyle Busch. It is Rowdy who shall head to victory lane this weekend.

Tiongson :  I’m probably being more than fearless. However, Jimmie Johnson knows how to win at Fontana and will prevail after a near three year winless drought.

Conley :    The Hendrick Chevys have finally turned that corner of speed. They showed they’re ready to compete with the Toyotas. And with the best average finish at Fontana, I believe Jimmie Johnson ending his losing streak in front of his home state fans would be one of the biggest wins of his career.

Jones :  Ryan Blaney will pull off the win this weekend for multiple reasons. First, he’s been “this close” the past few weeks. I think the chips (leftover from Vegas) fall his way. Second, with that amazing paint scheme honoring Kobe and Gianna Bryant, along with the others that lost their lives in the heart-breaking helicopter crash, it just seems fitting that he’ll find a way to park it in victory lane. Third, he has three top-10 finishes at Fontana in four starts with his most recent being P5. Finally, Todd Gordon is on the pit box. These two will no doubt make magic happen on track this season, and I think it all starts this weekend.

Lambeth :  NASCAR is honoring the late Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others who lost their lives in the horrific helicopter crash last month. After showing a strong hand, in the first two races, Ryan Blaney will finally become victorious, taking the purple and gold Kobe tribute car to victory lane. I cannot think of a better way to honor the basketball legend than the No. 12 Ford Mustang taking home the checkered flag in the region that Kobe found so much success on and off the court.

Hobbs :  If he can find the speed, keep the speed, and show some 2020 Chevrolet Camo muscle, I think Kyle Larson can find victory lane once again at Auto Club Speedway.

Shoppe :  After a dominant run in Vegas only to run into tire issues late, Chase Elliott is extra motivated to win this weekend. With the most stage wins of any driver this season, Elliott is bound to win early and often in 2020

Beecy :  Martin Truex Jr has been pretty fast this weekend in practice and has some pretty solid results at this track, so I’m predicting he’ll do well yet again this weekend.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2020.  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Lastly, as Ryan Newman continues to progress following his Daytona 500 accident, consider making a donation to the Rescue Ranch Foundation today.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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