Race Weekend Central

Drivers Reminisce on Past Events, Racing of Auto Club’s 2-Mile Configuration

FONTANA, Calif. – As confirmed by Sports Business Journal on Friday (Feb. 24), NASCAR has officially completed a sale for the majority of Auto Club Speedway’s land. 433 of the site’s 522 acres were sold for $544 million, which leaves NASCAR just 89 acres to construct a new short track going forward.

With the last chapter of Auto Club’s two-mile configuration concluding on Sunday (Feb. 26), Michigan International Speedway will be the final remaining two-mile oval on the Cup Series schedule.

The news was a somber occasion for many drivers involved in the industry, as Auto Club had gradually developed into a driver and fan favorite for its worn-out pavement and multiple grooves.

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With a mix of rain and snow slicking the pavement in southern California on Saturday (Feb. 25), the traditional Cup Series media availability was replaced by Zoom calls with the top 10 in series points.

Of the numerous drivers asked about their favorite memories on the two-mile oval, Martin Truex Jr. gave the shortest and simplest answer.

“Winning here in 2018,” Truex said. “These are the ones you remember the most.”

Unlike Truex, Ross Chastain has yet to record a win at Auto Club in the Cup Series. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying the track and the racing it provided.

“It’s been just a fun place to race at from the first time I came here in the red No. 4 [JD Motorsports] car to all the way through all the different vehicles I’ve driven,” Chastain said. “It’s a humbling place for me, it’s not been kind to me, but I love it just from racing.”

Chris Buescher praised the worn-out pavement for the competition that it provided, and he also expressed motivation in winning the final race with the configuration that has been around for 26 years.

“This speedway has been one of my favorite large racetracks that we go to, and I’m definitely on the side of being very bummed that this surface is going away because I do enjoy it,” Buescher said. “I like the opportunities it gives us to move around. I like the character that it has.

“… It would be neat to say that you get the last [win] on this current configuration here.”

AJ Allmendinger, who will be running his first Cup race at Auto Club since 2018 this weekend, lauded the track for the great finishes that it provided through the years.

“I’ve always enjoyed it here the last few years that I ran Cup, really enjoyed this racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “It’s put on great racing and, you know, I’ve had a little bit of success. I’ve run OK.

“But, you know, I think really the biggest things that stand out to me, is just some of the finishes that this racetrack has had. Whether it’s, you know, the Denny [Hamlin] and Joey [Logano] one with Kyle [Busch] winning or Kevin [Harvick] pushing Jimmie [Johnson] down the back straightaway and getting by him. Things like that, it’s just put on great races.”

Like Allmendinger, Ryan Blaney mentioned the 2011 finish between Harvick and Johnson as his favorite memory of Auto Club while also reflecting on a somber occasion at the track three years ago.

“When we raced here in 2020,” Blaney said. “You know, it was a terrible situation. But we ran the Kobe Bryant tribute car after he passed away. … A special memory for me being able to do that with the BodyArmor group because he was a part of that company, you know, and to do it in California and close to Los Angeles.

“A lot of people still come to me to this day and say that car meant a lot to me because I was a big Kobe fan growing up and, you know, for us to kind of pay our respects like that.”

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But while the two-mile configuration will be gone, Joey Logano noted that it will live on through its past moments.

“Sad [the track] is coming to an end of an era, but I’d say some of my favorite memories have happened from rewatching the races, right?” Logano said. “Like, you know, sitting here when we’re reviewing stuff. It’s just fun to watch the race, like you can’t help but to turn into a race fan when you’re studying sometimes.

“… And so, I think some of the memories that I’ll always remember is that we’ll always talk about how awesome this racetrack was.”

Auto Club Speedway will close its first chapter on Sunday and start anew a few years down the road. With NASCAR not returning to the site in 2024, drivers, teams and fans alike will all wait patiently until the new short track is completed for 2025 or 2026.

While the future of racing in southern California is currently unknown, the memories will continue to live on.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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kb

Sad, a short track will not have the success or magic. IMO. Always liked this track as is. Sad.

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