NASCAR Cup Series News & Notes – Auto Club Speedway

With the announcement that this weekend’s Pala Casino 400 (Feb. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the last NASCAR Cup Series race on the 2-mile configuration, the anticipation for a spectacular final event is steadily growing. Planning continues for a proposed half-mile short track located on a portion of the speedway’s current property, but timing for commencement of that project remains uncertain making this weekend that much more special.

The 2023 Pala Casino 400 will be the 33rd-time the NASCAR Cup Series has competed at the paved 2-mile oval located in Fontana, California. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway took place on June 22, 1997, and was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon driving the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet.

In total, 172 different drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway producing 21 different pole winners and 18 different race winners. Kurt Busch leads the series all-time in poles at Auto Club Speedway with four (2015, 2007 and 2006 sweep), and Jimmie Johnson leads the series in wins with six (2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016).

Five of the 21 NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club Speedway pole winners are active this weekend, led by Denny Hamlin with three poles (2009, 2012, 2013).

Active Auto Club Pole Winners Poles Seasons
Denny Hamlin 3 2009, 2012, 2013
Austin Dillon 2 2016, 2019
Kyle Larson 1 2017
Martin Truex Jr 1 2018
Kyle Busch 1 2005

Six of the 18 NASCAR Cup Series race winners at Auto Club Speedway are active this weekend, led by Kyle Busch with four victories (2005, 2013, 2014, 2019).

Active Auto Club Race Winners Wins Seasons
Kyle Busch 4 2005, 2013, 2014, 2019
Alex Bowman 1 2020
Martin Truex Jr 1 2018
Kyle Larson 1 2017
Brad Keselowski 1 2015
Kevin Harvick 1 2011

All the NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity begins with practice and Busch Light Pole Qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 25 and both events will be televised on FS1 starting at 2 p.m. ET.

JTG Daugherty DAYTONA 500 victory was bog for the organization

JTG Daugherty Racing accomplished a few feats this past weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

First, owner Brad Daugherty became the first African American car owner in the NASCAR Cup Series to win the DAYTONA 500.

Secondly, JTG Daugherty Racing grabbed their second NASCAR Cup Series career victory with the DAYTONA 500 win last weekend, snapping a 482-race winless streak dating back to 2011 when the organization got its first victory with driver A.J. Allmendinger at Watkins Glen International. With the win they became the first single-car team to win the DAYTONA 500 since the Wood Brothers in 2011.

And last but not least, with the win to open the season JTG Daugherty Racing has earned a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Owner Playoffs, and it is just the second-time the organization has qualified for the postseason (2011, 2023) in the series.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earns infamy with DAYTONA 500 win, plus a trip to the Playoffs

No bigger race to win than the DAYTONA 500 and JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. found this out firsthand on Sunday and the following days. Not only did Stenhouse grab his third victory of his career snapping a 199-race winless streak, but also secured his spot in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs – which will be his first appearance in the postseason since 2017.

Now, the Olive Branch, Mississippi native, Stenhouse, heads to Auto Club Speedway looking to become the sixth different driver to win the first two races of a NASCAR Cup Series season; joining Marvin Panch in 1957 (Lancaster, Concord), Bob Welborn in 1959 (Daytona, Champion), David Pearson in 1976 (Riverside, Daytona), Jeff Gordon in 1997 (Daytona, Rockingham) and Matt Kenseth (Daytona, Auto Club). Stenhouse has made nine career starts at Auto Club Speedway posting one top five and two top 10s. His average finish of the 2-mile track is a 17.5.

Joey Logano back on top of Cup point standings just like he ended 2022

Team Penske’s Joey Logano finished the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season as the champion on top of the point standings and following the season-opener of 2023 at Daytona, the 32-year-old finds himself back atop the points right where he left off. Following Daytona, Logano holds a two-point lead over RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher in second.

Logano, finished a close second to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the 2023 DAYTONA 500 earning 42 points on the day, but the Connecticut native managed to win the Duel he was in last week, and in doing so earned an additional 10 points to catapult him to the standings lead heading to Auto Club Speedway.

Logano will look to keep the early season success flowing this weekend at Auto Club Speedway where he has made 15 series career starts, posting seven top fives and eight top 10s. He finished fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club Speedway race last season.

Californian Kyle Larson returns to Auto Club Speedway to defend his last season win

Hailing from Elk Grove, California, Kyle Larson returns to his home state to defend his last season NASCAR Cup Series win at Auto Club Speedway, located in Fontana, California about 420 miles south of Larson’s hometown.

Kyle Larson is looking to become just the third different driver to win back-to-back victories at Auto Club Speedway; joining Jimmie Johnson (2009-2010) and Kyle Busch (2013-2014).

If Larson were to win this weekend, he would extend Hendrick Motorsport’s all-time record for the most NASCAR Cup Series wins at Auto Club Speedway to 13 victories. Larson is one of five Hendrick drivers to win at Auto Club Speedway – 12 victories – Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999, 2004), Kyle Busch (2005), Jimmie Johnson (2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016), Alex Bowman (2020), Kyle Larson (2022).

Larson has made eight career starts at Auto Club Speedway posting one pole, two wins and four top fives. His average finish at Fontana is 13.0.

Harvick to make 750th consecutive NASCAR Cup Series career start this weekend

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick will reach a career milestone this weekend, as he will be making his 750th consecutive NASCAR Cup Series career start at Auto Club Speedway, becoming just the third different driver to accomplish the feat.

Kevin Harvick is ranked third on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time consecutive starts list, behind only Jeff Gordon with 797 consecutive Cup starts from 1992-2015 and Ricky Rudd with 788 consecutive Cup starts from 1981-2005. Harvick’s streak of consecutive starts began on April 21, 2002 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Harvick has made 28 series career starts at Auto Club Speedway posting one win (2011), seven top fives and 14 top 10s.

Among active drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. has the next longest active streak of consecutive starts in the NASCAR Cup Series behind Kevin Harvick with 613.

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Sunoco Rookies jumped right in at Daytona – This season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year class jumped right into 2023 season with both feet and already this season looks as though it will be a close one.

Legacy Motor Club’s Noah Gragson finished in 24th, just ahead of fellow rookie and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs in 25th in the season-opening DAYTONA 500 and earned the season’s first Sunoco Rookie of the Race award.

Gibbs currently ranks higher in the NASCAR Cup Series standings than Gragson due to his sixth-place finish in the first stage of the DAYTONA 500. Gibbs is ranked 23rd in the series standings with 17 points to Gragson’s 25th-place ranking with 13 points.

Both rookies will be making their NASCAR Cup Series track debuts this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, but both drivers have competed at the 2-mile track in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Gibbs made his Xfinity Series Auto Club Speedway debut last season finishing 13th, and Gragson has made three career Xfinity starts posting a best finish of runner-up last season.

Misty May-Treanor Named Honorary Starter for Pala Casino 400 – Auto Club Speedway has named three-time Olympic gold medalist and California native Misty May-Treanor as the honorary starter for the Pala Casino 400 on Sunday, Feb. 26. The beach volleyball champion will wave the green flag ahead of the highly-anticipated NASCAR Cup Series follow-up to the DAYTONA 500.

“We’re thrilled to have Misty as our honorary starter at Auto Club,” said Dave Allen, President of Auto Club Speedway. “She’s an incredible athlete and a sporting legend of the highest degree – the perfect fit for this historic last race on the 2-mile oval.”

Throughout her career, May-Treanor amassed more than 100 championships and competed in four Olympic games, her first in Sydney in 2000; however, it wasn’t until the 2004 Athens games she won her first Olympic gold alongside teammate Kerri Walsh-Jennings. From there, the pair went on to win another gold medal in the 2008 games and again in 2012, becoming the most successful duo in the history of women’s beach volleyball with 112 consecutive wins – a record that still stands today.

Michael Rooker Named Grand Marshal for Pala Casino 400  Michael Rooker will serve as the Grand Marshal for the Pala Casino 400 on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. The actor known for his role as Rowdy Burns in “Days of Thunder” will bellow the famous command “drivers start your engines!”

“Michael Rooker is an immensely successful actor, but his turn as Rowdy Burns is one of the most memorable on-screen depictions of motorsports on the big screen,” said Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen. “We are proud to welcome him as our Grand Marshal, and we can’t wait to hear him give the command for the historic last race on the 2-mile oval.”

“I am grateful for the chance to give the command for this historic event,” Rooker said. “As someone who was raised in NASCAR country, I’ve always appreciated fans asking about my portrayal of Rowdy Burns in ‘Days of Thunder’. As I return to another NASCAR race, I can unequivocally state that I agree with Robert Duvall’s character Harry Hogge who said, ‘rubbin, son, is racin’.”

Alfonso Ribeiro Named Honorary Pace Car Driver for the Pala Casino 400 – Auto Club Speedway announced this week that veteran entertainer Alfonso Ribeiro will serve as the honorary pace car driver for the Pala Casino 400, the final NASCAR Cup Series race on the famed 2-mile oval on Sunday.

Ribeiro serves as host of ABC’s longest running show, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and worked alongside Tyra Banks to co-host “Dancing with the Stars” for its 31st season.

“We’re ecstatic to have a performer of Alfonso’s caliber leading the field to green for the historic final race on our 2-mile oval,” said Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen. “As a veteran in the television industry, Alfonso is all about entertaining and bringing joy to fans. He’ll find himself right at home here at Auto Club Speedway, where fans are first.”

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