The 2023 Cup Series schedule dropped on September 14 and confirmed that Auto Club Speedway will return as the second race of the season. NASCAR also revealed the track’s future layout with a press release.
According to the sanctioning body and track officials, the upcoming race weekend at Auto Club Speedway will be the last under its current format. Construction will take place after the Cup Series race on February 26 as crews convert the California venue into a short track.
This process has already begun. NASCAR and Auto Club Speedway have been working with Hillwood Properties to redevelop certain portions of the property. Crews have also already removed portions of the grandstands in Turns 1 and 4.
“This is going to be a can’t-miss event,” said Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen. “This two-mile oval has produced so many incredible memories during the past 25 years, and we know the final race on this surface will produce more memories that will last a lifetime.
“Moreover, the continued redevelopment of this property will inject more fuel into the local economy, and we’re excited what the future holds for our racetrack and the Inland Empire as a whole.”
The Track Has Hosted 32 Cup Series Races
The two-mile track first opened in 1997 as California Speedway, and it quickly became a venue where California fans could flock to witness some high-speed battles. There have since been 32 Cup Series races, 32 Xfinity Series races, and 13 Camping World Truck Series races.
Some of the biggest names in NASCAR have won races at Auto Club Speedway. This list includes Jeff Gordon, who won two of the first three events, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, and Brad Keselowski among many others.
One of the more festive races at Auto Club Speedway took place during the 2016 season. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran rival superhero schemes to promote “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Johnson was in the red and blue Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet while Earnhardt drove the grey and black Nationwide/Batman Chevrolet.
Kevin Harvick had one of the best cars during the race, and he used it to lead 142 laps after starting second overall. However, it was Johnson who took the lead during overtime and ended his day in Victory Lane. This race marked his sixth career win at Auto Club Speedway, and it was his second win in the first five races of the 2016 season.
Plans for a Conversion Have Remained Since 2020
NASCAR confirming Auto Club Speedway’s conversion into a short track is not a groundbreaking piece of information. There have been plans in place since the 2020 season. However, they were placed on hold due to COVID-19, supply chain issues, and other unexpected hurdles.
News surfaced in September 2020 that NASCAR had proposed massive renovations to the two-mile track in Southern California. The plan at the time was to convert Auto Club Speedway into a half-mile short track with high-banked corners like Bristol Motor Speedway while simultaneously focusing on upgraded suites and hospitality areas.
The expectation all along was that NASCAR and Auto Club Speedway would move forward with these plans, but there was some pushback after the 2022 race delivered considerable excitement.
FOX Sports analyst Larry McReynolds, in particular, said that he wants a short track on the west coast but that he doesn’t necessarily want it to be Auto Club Speedway. Kyle Busch also expressed a similar opinion early in 2022 before taking on the track for the first time in the Next Gen car.
“Now, I will say I think a short track out on the west coast would be a great thing,” McReynolds said on March 1. “But I want to go back to that two-mile facility with the Next Gen car because when we go back in 2023, I think the racing will only be better.”
“I think after what we saw today, the answer is probably yes,” Busch told media members after finishing second in the Busch Light Clash on February 6. “I would prefer the two-mile [track], but I guarantee you it’s getting cut up, no question, after what we saw today.”