NASCAR Fontana Notebook: Jeff Gordon Leads Large California Contingent At Auto Club Speedway

(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

FONTANA, Calif.—Over the course of Jeff Gordon’s 23-year career in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the composition of the driver pool has changed markedly.

When Gordon debuted in the final race of 1992, NASCAR racing was predominantly a regional sport in the Southeast, and a driver from California was a novelty. Now, drivers from the Golden State are the rule, rather than the exception.

In Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX), for example, California natives will outnumber drivers from North Carolina 10 to two. And Gordon, born in Vallejo, will be foremost in the thoughts of Golden State fans at sold-out Auto Club Speedway, as he makes his final full-time start 18 years after winning the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the two-mile track.

“I always love coming here,” Gordon said on Friday during a question-and-answer session with reporters. “Being in California, even though I feel like we are a long way away from Vallejo, but just the state of California has been amazing for me. This race track has been amazing. We’ve had great success here over the years. We have tremendous fan support out here. I saw a stat the other day about how many Californians that we have out here… that’s pretty amazing.

“How things have changed over the years — 1997 was certainly a great year out here for us. I honestly don’t remember; it was too long ago for me to remember all the details of that race. We were on a pretty good streak there for a while where we were getting wins at inaugural events. This was one that we added to the list that was really cool to be a part of, just to see the race happen here, let alone be the ones to win it.”

For the record, the 10 California drivers who will start Sunday’s race are: Gordon, reigning series champion Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Cole Whitt, David Gilliland, Kyle Larson, AJ Allmendinger, six-time NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto and Josh Wise.


Stewart-Haas Racing has the opportunity to record three different sweeps on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. The rub is that SHR teammates can prevent each other from achieving them.

After winning Saturday’s 300 XFINITY Series race at the two-mile track, Kevin Harvick can sweep the NASCAR weekend with a victory in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. A win also would give Harvick a sweep of the three races on this season’s West Coast swing — Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana.

Teammate Kurt Busch, however, can stop Harvick’s juggernaut with a sweep of his own. Busch won the Coors Light Pole Award for Sunday’s race and has topped the speed chart in all three Sprint Cup practice sessions. A win on Sunday would give him a rare sweep of all track activities during a NSCS weekend.

To make the prospect even more tantalizing, the two Stewart-Haas drivers will start the race side-by-side on the front row.


Fans of motorsports can enjoy a full day of racing Sunday on FOX and FOX Sports 1.

Before FOX Sports coverage from Auto Club Speedway begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, FOX Sports 1 will broadcast a two-hour highlight show of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship at Sebring International Raceway, beginning at 8 a.m. ET.

The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which concludes Saturday night, is the second race on the TUDOR Championship schedule. Following the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Sebring event includes four classes of Prototype and GT class racing.

The TUDOR Championship features some of the foremost drivers from international sports car competition, as well as drivers with previous history in NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One competition.

Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson teamed up with IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan to win the Rolex 24 in January.

Chip Ganassi Racing teammates McMurray and Larson are racing in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana, California.

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