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NASCAR Fontana postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, March 28, 2011

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Harvick beats Johnson over the line for the win
Getty Images for NASCAR
Over the previous weekend we witnessed absolute proof that the Auto Club Speedway, in southern California, is more than capable of producing a NASCAR racing weekend that leaves their fans breathless. Last weekend more than reversed some of the criticism this maligned speedway has had to endure in the past. With that thought in mind let's begin this week with:

THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick for literally stealing the Auto Club 400 from Jimmie Johnson while the checkered flag was flying in the air approximately 100 yards away. The finish of this race was incredibly exciting and had the large crowd of fans jumping up and down on their feet. It's possible that you could have heard the screams and cheers of the crowd for several miles away.

THUMBS-UP to Jimmie Johnson for a "Twitter" message he sent to Harvick after the race that read: "Great job. Took some balls to pull off that outside pass. Congrats."

THUMBS-UP to driver Brian Vickers and his top ten finish in the Auto Club 400. As all NASCAR fans are aware of, Vickers sat out the 2010 racing season while being treated for blood clots that eventually required open heart surgery. His return to NASCAR Sprint Cup racing this year was much heralded. However it got off to a sluggish start. After four races Vickers only had one top ten finish and was mired down at 31st in the points. The strong effort at the Auto Club Speedway bumped him up to 24th in the championship standings. It was truly great to see Vickers, and his #83 Red Bull Toyota team, with a strong race that often had them running in the top five.

WHAT'S-UP with Denny Hamlin's engine failure at Fontana? Hamlin qualified second for the Auto Club 400 and led some laps early in the event. But, on lap 82, there was a noticeable lack of power in his car. The problem was at first thought to be electrical in nature but, by lap 105, the smoke began to appear and the team knew it was over. It's a scary situation for Joe Gibbs Racing because it's the third time in four races that one of their cars has experienced surprise engine failure. On Sunday morning JGR had to change the engine in Joey Logano's car due to a discovery of a potential problem during final tech inspection. Hamlin said when he heard about his team mate's engine change he became worried saying "the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree."

THUMBS-UP to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for producing five different winners in their first five races. Now that's what they would call a level playing field.

THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch for winning Saturday's Royal Purple 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Busch collected his third win of the season, his 46th series career win and his 91st NASCAR win from all three of NASCAR's national touring series. THUMBS-UP to his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, who made a late race call for two, instead of four, tires that kept his driver in the lead and sent him to victory lane.

By the way, this race drew a healthy 36,000 fans despite the cold, wind and rain. A THUMBS-UP goes to Mother Nature for waiting until later that night to dump a fresh load of rain on California's Inland Empire. By the looks of those skies I would not have bet a nickel that the Royal Purple 300 would have made it to completion without a red flag delay due to weather.

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THUMBS-UP to the Auto Club Speedway for putting on an extremely fan friendly NASCAR weekend that drew an estimated 88,000. In this economy, plus the rising cost of gas, an event that can draw those kind of numbers is indeed a job well done.

THUMBS-UP to the Auto Club Speedway's decision to shorten their Auto Club race from 500 to 400 miles. The reduction added some extra drama, especially on pit road, and led to a better race. It was also a fan friendly move that aided those who had a long drive home after the race.

THUMBS-UP to the stunning double file, shoot out style, restarts that followed the four caution flags during the Auto Club 400. Those restarts on that massive track, measuring 75 feet wide, often produced four wide racing that had an amazing visual effect for the fans.

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Next we have a trio of THUMBS-UPS for some special fan events enjoyed by many during the Auto Club Speedway weekend.

The first is the Coca Cola Family Track Walk. Patrons were treated to a Q&A session with drivers Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip. Then, in the name of good exercise, they all walked a lap around the speedway's two mile oval with the drivers. I heard a good time was had by all.

Next on the THUMBS-UP list is Greg Biffle. Despite a very busy pre race schedule, the Roush Fenway Racing driver found the time to read aloud during the speedway's "Driver Story Time" program.

Then there was the National Joe Day promotion. Apparently it's a non holiday-holiday where everyone is allowed to change their name to Joe for the day. This program featured a reserved ticket to the Auto Club 400 along with a special reception hosted by classic rock radio host Uncle Joe Benson from KLOS FM along with a Q&A session with Joey Logano, the driver of the #20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Much to my surprise the girl friend, a seemingly forever T shirt wearing, card carrying, member of the Junior Nation, and her good friend, a "Happy" Harvick fan who left Fontana very happy, decided to sign up for the Joe promotion despite the fact that neither one of the ladies has ever been that thrilled about the presence of Toyota in Sprint Cup racing to begin with. From what I hear they had a ball and said Logano was fun. Who knows? He may have acquired two new fans. (Personally, I'm for anything that gets me out of those Junior Nation debates at home).

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The final WHAT'S-UP of the week goes to NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Parker Kligerman who apparently had trouble putting a fitted sheet on his bed and then informed the entire world of his misery via a "Twitter" message. The message read: "New fact: if this stretchy sheet was meant to be on a bed, I wouldn't be sweating after getting it on. Was like a wrestling match."

The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to the gentleman, stuck in traffic trying to leave the Auto Club Speedway after the race, who was riding in the back seat of a Yellow Cab. I hope this guy had plenty of cash and was plenty comfortable. From what I observed of the local freeway system he was likely sitting in that cab for quite a long time. Now that's a die hard NASCAR racing fan.

That's why I like travelling with "Six Pack Eddie." He knows a lot about back alley side streets. In seemingly no time at all we were sitting in the cocktail lounge of our hotel while others were still stuck on the freeway screaming words I'm not allowed to use in these columns.

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