Fontana Another New Challenge For Gen-6 Cars
By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
Fontana, Calif., was once home to one of the largest steel mills in the world, Kaiser Steel, a World War II-era facility, which at one time employed more than 10,000 workers.
The mill shut down in 1983 and just one year later was the backdrop for the final scene in the original “Terminator” movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It was Roger Penske’s bold vision that turned the abandoned Kaiser plant into a state-of-the-art, 2-mile oval track. Opened in 1997 as California Speedway, the track is now known as Auto Club Speedway. It’s a place where the Blue Oval Boys have enjoyed some success, with Fords winning 10 of the 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races run so far here.
Speaking of The Captain, Penske Racing has been on an impressive roll this season, with defending series champion Brad Keselowski leading the Sprint Cup points standings and Sam Hornish Jr. tops in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Keselowski in particular is red hot. In the first four races of the year, he’s posted two third-place finishes and two fourths, for an average finish of 3.5. He’s also the only driver on the circuit to lead laps in all four races so far this season.
For Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe and the rest of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion team, success is a result of constantly working to improve and not resting on their laurels. “I’m not so naïve to think that we can just keep our feet still and not be caught or passed by anyone in the field,” said Keselowski.
The Roush Fenway Racing team is off to a strong start as well, with Greg Biffle fifth in points, Carl Edwards eighth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 11th. Edwards, who already has one race victory this season, has an average finish at ACS of 8.733, second best in the series. Naturally, he’s eager to get back here.
“Auto Club Speedway is one of the most fun race tracks that we go to on the circuit,” said Edwards, who has one victory and seven top-five finishes in 15 starts here. “The speeds are extremely high and the surface has a lot of character. The cars move around a lot, they slide around the corners and you can race three- or four-wide.”
The ACS track is modeled after Michigan International Speedway, another track developed by Penske. Given its layout, with long straightaways and modestly sloped corners with 14 degrees of banking, aerodynamics and horsepower figure heavily in the performance equation.
“It is a big wide track with lots of places to pass, which is nice,” said Hornish. “Tire management is crucial at Fontana as over a long run they will fall off quite a bit. It is a horsepower track, which his good for us as our Ford Mustangs have considerable power.”
“California is all about handling,” said Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Farmland Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. “Being two miles and low banking, you have to have a good handling car to be fast. We tested this car in Vegas and felt good about it. That will help us unload well and hopefully have a good weekend.”
Edwards said he’s looking forward to getting back to racing here.
“It's just a race track with a lot of characteristics and that makes it fun to drive on,” he said. “We have had a lot of success there, and I am really excited to see how the new Subway Ford Fusion races there at such high speeds. It will be a little bit different than Las Vegas, because the banking is lower and the speeds are slightly higher.”
One final footnote: Sunday’s Auto Club 400 will be the fifth Sprint Cup race of the season. All five have been contested on tracks of different sizes -- Daytona International Speedway, 2.5 miles; Phoenix International Raceway, 1.0 miles; Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 1.5 miles; Bristol Motor Speedway, 0.533 miles; and Auto Club Speedway, 2 miles.