Photo via Chris Graythen/Getty Images
With the NASCAR season beginning to get rolling, week three of the Cup Series culminates to this afternoon. The field of drivers continues with the West Coast Swing for a date in Southern California at Fontana for the Auto Club 400.
After an intense qualifying session, Clint Bowyer will sit on the pole this afternoon after edging out Jimmie Johnson by .007 seconds. Johnson will sit in second, while fellow Chevy drivers Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will follow behind in 3rd and 4th. Kevin Harvick rounds out the top 5. For Johnson, the longtime Chevy and California native looks to cap off his career with another premier finish. Johnson leads all active drivers in career wins at Fontana (6) and finished with a top-5 last week in Vegas.
Joey Logano, who won last week’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after a wreck with less than three laps to go, starts in 7th. In the 2019 Auto Club 400, the Ford driver finished runner-up to Kyle Busch.
While Fords and Chevys have made moves for prime field position in this race, Toyotas will need to make a significant bounce back after last week in Las Vegas, where the highest finisher for the manufacturer was Kyle Busch (15th). Busch, who led 134 laps in last year’s race and was the eventual winner, starts in 17th. Fellow Toyota and 2020 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin starts in 28th. After failing to fight back to a top-15 finish last weekend in Vegas, the Toyota driver looks to bounce back in a big way this week. Luckily for Hamlin, he has had past success in the Auto Club contest. The 39-year-old has finished in the top-10 in three of his last four races in Fontana, with his best finish in that bunch coming in 2016 (3rd).
For all drivers, the two-mile track will be a race that will determine the durability of the cars in addition to the patience of them. With the aero-package revolving around high-downforce, similar strategies used in Vegas will be utilized, but with the extra half-mile, more emphasis on fuel conservation could be undertaken. How, and who wins the pit stop battles will be key to the outcome of this race.
Other notable starting places in the race include Ross Chastain in 27th, who is still subbing for Ryan Newman after his wreck in Daytona. Martin Truex Jr., meanwhile, brings up the rear of the field, starting in 38th after failing three mechanical inspections and missing qualifying altogether.
The race begins at 3:30 p.m. EST on FOX.