For racing mogul Roger Penske, a win in the Auto Club 400 'would be amazing'

As racing mogul Roger Penske celebrates his 50th anniversary in the sport, the team owner will revisit one of his hallmark feats this weekend when NASCAR returns to Fontana.

Penske's company built the 568-acre Auto Club Speedway complex, originally called California Speedway, which hosts Sunday's fifth race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the Auto Club 400.

Nothing would please Penske more than to have one of his two Cup drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, mark the occasion with a victory on the two-mile speedway.

"It would be amazing" to score another win in Fontana, Penske said. "To have it there would be a real thrill. One of the biggest things we did was to build the California Speedway."

Penske's team rolls into Fontana among the favorites. Keselowski, the former Cup champion who drives the No. 2 Ford, is the defending winner of the Auto Club 400, and he also won two weeks ago in Las Vegas.

"I'm feeling very confident we're going to be in the hunt in California," Penske said.

Nicknamed "The Captain," Penske, 79, oversees teams in NASCAR stock-car racing and in the Verizon IndyCar Series. His IndyCar team also is off to a fast start this year.

Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya won last week's IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Montoya will defend his Indianapolis 500 win in 2015 when the series holds the 100th running of the legendary race in May.

A former race-car driver, Penske also runs an automotive empire that's earned him a net worth of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.

His Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Penske Corp. has interests in car dealerships, truck rentals and transportation logistics. It generates $23 billion in annual revenue and employs 50,000 worldwide.

Penske built the Auto Club Speedway for $120 million in the mid-1990s and later sold the track to its current owner International Speedway Corp., the entity controlled by the France family that also controls NASCAR.

Attendance for NASCAR and IndyCar races at the track has risen and fallen over last 20 years. The speedway opened with 72,000 seats, expanded to 92,000 and, in response to the recession and a leveling off of NASCAR's popularity, cut its capacity to the current 68,000.

Penske, though, has never lost faith in racing's popularity in Southern California.

"Even though there are so many different opportunities for how people spend their spare time" in the region, "the fan base is loyal, there's no question," he said.

Penske's drivers will face stiff competition in Sunday's race, of course, starting with six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who also is the only five-time winner at Auto Club Speedway.

Other front-runners are Kyle Busch, last year's Cup champion, and Matt Kenseth, the 2003 series champion. Each has three Cup wins at Fontana.

Two of the longtime favorites of the Southern California crowd, former champions Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, won't be racing. Stewart is recovering from a preseason back injury and Gordon retired as a driver after last season.

Brian Vickers will substitute for Stewart on Sunday in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

Qualifying for Sunday's race is Friday afternoon, and a race in NASCAR's second-level Xfinity Series is Saturday.

NASCAR at Irwindale

One of NASCAR's minor-league series, the K&N Pro Series West, opens its season at the half-mile Irwindale Speedway on Saturday night with the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150.

Cup drivers Chase Elliott and Riverside's David Gilliland, whose son Todd Gilliland races in the K&N series, are scheduled to attend.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 18, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Penske returns to a special place - A win in the Auto Club 400 on Fontana track he built `would be amazing,' he says." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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