Auto Club Speedway Headlines Early ‘Must Watch’ Races

Auto Club Speedway

Getty The race at Auto Club Speedway will be a 'must-watch' in 2022.

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule features numerous races that will entertain viewers for a wide variety of reasons. Auto Club Speedway, in particular, stands out as an early “must-watch” race due to its unique setup, history, and upcoming changes.

The two-mile track in Southern California has a unique layout with its sweeping, 14-degree turns and a three-degree backstretch. Auto Club Speedway is one of the widest tracks at 75 feet, providing a multitude of opportunities for the drivers to go four and five-wide while jostling for position. The top drivers use up every foot of the surface while moving up and down the track and come within inches of colliding each other while trying to throw blocks.

While the track has a considerable amount of speed similar to Michigan, there is no pack racing or manufacturer alliances. The drivers are all out for themselves, resulting in teammates and friends screaming over the radio or sending each other into the wall.

In addition to the size and speed, the rough track surface constantly tests the drivers’ skills behind the wheel. The stock cars constantly bounce violently and slide around as the Cup Series stars fight to maintain control. Jeff Gordon even explained prior to the 2020 race that the drivers with a history of dirt track racing have success given their experience with the increased difficulty.

In terms of winners, there is no one that has a history of dominance, resulting in an aura of mystery around each race. Several drivers have reached Victory Lane, including Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski. Joey Logano, for comparison, posted five consecutive top-10 finishes prior to the 2020 race, including a runner-up in 2019.

Bowman Dominated During a Previous Race

Auto Club Speedway has a history of exciting Cup Series races, including the 2020 trip. There were some somber moments due to the residents and drivers alike reflecting on the death of Kobe Bryant, but the action on the track did not disappoint.

Clint Bowyer won the pole position after barely edging out seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. The two veterans led the field to green in their final start at the Fontana track, but they did not remain at the front of the pack for long. Instead, Alex Bowman jumped to the front of the pack early in the No. 88 Cincinnati Chevrolet Camaro, and he turned in a dominant performance.

Bowman led the majority of Stage 1 before taking the green and white checkered flag. He lost his lead during the stage break pit stops to Johnson after the No. 48 pit crew turned in the best stop. However, Ryan Blaney took the lead from Johnson in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford with Bowman running second, and he won the second stage.

Bowman ultimately led a race-high 110 laps, the most in his career at that point — before taking the checkered flag. He reached Victory Lane and locked up a spot in the 2020 playoffs.

Auto Club Speedway Will Potentially Change Before 2023

One major reason why the race at Auto Club Speedway will be a must-watch is that it may be the last race with the current format. Plans surfaced in 2020 showing a massive reconfiguration of the Southern California track. Instead of remaining at two miles, the change would transform Auto Club Speedway into another short track.

The proposed renovation plans obtained by The Athletic in September 2020 showed that the new version of Auto Club Speedway would have long straightaways similar to Martinsville Speedway with high-banked turns similar to Bristol Motor Speedway. The goal of the changes is to create some hectic races with nonstop action.

The original plan was for the construction crews to begin work after the 2022 race and finish before the 2023 season. Though this timeline remains in doubt due to numerous supply chain shortages. There is no guarantee that there will be enough materials on hand to complete the reconfiguration in the proposed timeline.

If the construction takes place as planned, the 2022 race will be the final opportunity for fans to see Auto Club Speedway in its current configuration. It will be the last race featuring the long, flat straightaways and the big, sweeping corners.

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