Fontana has potential drama brewing

March, 22, 2012

FONTANA, Calif. -- A few interesting things that might happen this weekend at Auto Club Speedway:

First awkward moment: When the No. 48 Chevy rolls into the inspection area Friday morning -- sort of like taking your free-pass gold card into the forbidden zone.

No C-post jokes allowed. No high-fiving by 48 crew guys in front of the inspectors. And no team shirts that read: John Middlebrook For President.

Bad crowd comparisons: A half-full Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend still is more people than you probably will see at Fontana on Sunday, but empty seats at ACS won't be headline news because it isn't unusual.

Nevertheless, some people will say NASCAR should stop racing at Fontana because it can't sell out one Cup event a year. Not going to happen.

NASCAR races at ACS because it's in the second-largest market in the country. It's good for sponsors and driver appearances to spend a few days in SoCal. No one will admit it, but the number of people who actually attend the event is a secondary consideration.

A Danica improvement: Danica Patrick should be better than the first two times she raced at ACS, which isn't saying much. She finished 31st, three laps down, in her first Nationwide race at Fontana in February 2010. Patrick finished 30th after a crash later that year at ACS, but she was running 14th before the accident late in the race. She needs a top-10, something she hasn't done yet this season.

A fifth consecutive Nationwide race without a Cup winner: A seemingly impossible thought before the season started, but it could happen. Only three Cup regulars are on the entry list at Fontana -- Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

Granted, one of those three easily could win. Busch won it last year at ACS, but he was in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment then. Kyle's in his own car now, and that hasn't looked so hot.

The cream to rise to the top Sunday: The past nine winners (and 11 of the past 12) were drivers who made the 2011 Chase. And the past nine winners also were guys who finished in the top six last season. Cup champions have won fourteen of 22 Cup races at Fontana.

Bad luck for the Lap 1 leader: Note to pole winner: You may want to back off on that first lap. Here's the weird stat of the week. No driver has ever won the ACS Cup race if he led the first lap of the event.

Bad luck for Joe Gibbs Racing: Fontana is the only track where JGR is winless in Cup. What makes that seem so crazy is the fact that a JGR driver has won the past seven Nationwide races at ACS.

Rick Hendrick gets that elusive 200th victory: The Hendrick Motorsports quartet has gone 10 consecutive Cup races (dating back to last season) without a win. But Hendrick's drivers have won nine of 22 races at ACS, including four of the past eight by Jimmie Johnson.

Second awkward moment: Postrace inspection if Johnson wins it. Under that scenario, crew chief Chad Knaus may want to take a restroom break before heading over to the room of doom. That inspection might take awhile.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer


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