The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule features plenty of races that will entertain viewers for a variety of reasons. Auto Club Speedway in particular stands out as a must-see early race because of its unique setup, history, and upcoming changes.
The two-mile Southern California trail 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 and offers the drivers a multitude of opportunities to go four and five wide as they jostle for position. The best drivers use every foot of the surface as they move up and down the track, colliding within inches of each other as they try to throw blocks.
While the track has a significant speed comparable to Michigan’s, there are no pack races or alliances with manufacturers. The drivers are all to themselves, resulting in teammates and friends yelling over the radio or sending each other into the wall.
In addition to the size and speed, the rough road surface constantly tests the skills of the drivers behind the wheel. The stock cars are constantly bouncing and sliding around as the Cup Series stars fight to maintain control. Jeff Gordon even explained ahead of the 2020 race that the drivers with a history of dirt track racing have had success given their experience with the increased difficulty.
In terms of winners, none have a history of dominance, resulting in an aura of mystery surrounding each race. Several drivers have made it to Victory Lane, including Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Joey Logano, by comparison, posted five consecutive top-10 finishes ahead of the 2020 race, including a runner-up in 2019.
Bowman dominated in a previous race
Auto Club Speedway has a history of exciting Cup Series racing, including the 2020 journey. There were some bleak moments as residents and drivers alike reflected on Kobe Bryant’s death, but the action on the track didn’t disappoint.
Clint Bowyer took pole position after beating just seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. The two veterans led the field to green on their final start at the Fontana circuit, but they didn’t stay at the front of the pack for long. Instead, Alex Bowman jumped early in the No. 88 Cincinnati Chevrolet Camaro forward and put in a dominant performance.
Bowman led most of Stage 1 before taking the green and white checkered flag. He lost his lead during the pit stops in the stage break to Johnson after the number 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 in second, and he won the second leg.
Bowman ended up leading a race-high 110 laps, the most in his career at the time — before taking the checkered flag. He reached Victory Lane and secured a spot in the 2020 play-offs.
Auto Club Speedway may change before 2023
A major reason why the race at Auto Club Speedway will be a must is that it may well be the last race of its current format. In 2020, plans surfaced for a massive circuit reconfiguration in Southern California. Instead of staying at two miles, the change would turn Auto Club Speedway into a different short track.
The proposed refurbishment plans obtained by The Athletic in September 2020 showed that the new version of Auto Club Speedway would have long straights, similar to Martinsville Speedway, with high-sloping corners similar to Bristol Motor Speedway. The aim of the changes is to create some frenetic races with non-stop action.
The original plan was for the construction crews to begin work after the 2022 race and to finish before the 2023 season. Though this timeline remains questionable due to numerous supply chain shortages. There is no guarantee that sufficient material will be present to complete the reconfiguration in the proposed timeline.
If construction goes to plan, the 2022 race will be the last chance for fans to see Auto Club Speedway in its current configuration. It will be the last race with the long, flat straights and the big, twisty corners.
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