Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, October 11, 2010

Best Fontana Race Ever?

Sunday's Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway was historic on a couple fronts -- most notably as the last Chase race at the 2-mile oval in southern California and the first race at the track to be 400 miles instead of 500.

The result? Quite possibly the best race ever at a track that has often produced pedestrian racing.

The first half of the race was typical Fontana; long green-flag runs, a lot of single-file racing and the leader checking out on the field. But the final 100 laps produced enough excitement to make up for it, with battles up front for the lead complimented by four-, five- and sometimes even six-wide racing back in the pack.

Sometimes, the action on the backstretch more closely resembled Talladega than Fontana.

But why was this race so thrilling when so many others at this track have been snoozers? Was it the hot conditions, leading to a slicker race track that had less grip? Was there desperation on everyone's part to beat points leader Jimmie Johnson at a track he has so thoroughly dominated? Was it the fact that there were 50 fewer laps, and thus a greater sense of urgency?

Possibly all of the above; though I would definitely be in favor of every Sprint Cup race at this track being 400 miles. Some tracks don't take kindly to 500-mile marathons, and Fontana is one of them.

Now, to get Pocono down to 400 miles ...

Tony Stewart won the race to vault himself into fifth in the standings, 107 behind Johnson (who finished third). Stewart also whittled down his list of Sprint Cup tracks on which he has yet to win to two -- Las Vegas and Darlington.

On a day where a lot of other Chase drivers struggled -- blown motors for Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch, an accident for Kurt Busch -- Stewart truly helped his championship hopes goes into the last six races.

Don't count Stewart out. He's got four guys to leapfrog over (Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon), but if anyone can do it, it's him.

Does Sunday's race mean Fontana deserved to keep both dates after all? No, because the attendance issues still haven't been resolved. That was what prompted NASCAR to move one date from Fontana to Kansas in the first place -- not the mediocre racing, but all those empty seats. Sunday's race had its share, and the thinking is that with one date starting next year -- in late March -- interest in the race will rekindle.

If that race sticks to 400 miles, and we see the sort of side-by-side, slipping and sliding action we saw on Sunday, something tells me the fans will start coming back to Fontana.

No comments: