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Logano, Hamlin, Bowyer hope to end Fontana drought in Auto Club 400

Driver Joey Logano has 24 career victories in the NASCAR Cup series, but none at Auto Club Speedway.
(Stephen M. Dowell / Orlando Sentinel)

Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer are among the top drivers in NASCAR’s Cup Series that share one shortfall in their careers: They’ve never won a Cup race in Fontana in a dozen or more attempts.

Some other NASCAR stars have fared a little better. Former Cup champions Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch each has only one win at Auto Club Speedway in 26 tries apiece, and 2017 Cup title winner Martin Truex Jr. has gone to Victory Lane there once in 19 races.

All of which makes Jimmie Johnson’s career at Fontana — where the seven-time Cup champion has won a record six times — even more notable.

Cup drivers overall rank the sweeping, two-mile oval as one of their favorite tracks. But winning at the speedway, which hosts the Auto Club 400 again Sunday, remains an elusive goal for most of them.

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“Boy, I wish I knew” why, Logano told reporters Friday. “Everything has to line up perfectly.”

Logano, who drives the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, won last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and captured the Cup championship in 2018.

But the best he’s done at Auto Club Speedway was a second-place finish last year, behind four-time Fontana winner Kyle Busch.

“We have been close multiple times,” Logano said. “We have been right there; we just haven’t crossed the line first yet. There are so many different things that go into it. I still look at it as one of our best tracks even if we don’t have a win.”

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The “different things” include having a car and driver capable of handling Auto Club Speedway’s unique track — a wide, relatively flat circuit that has aging asphalt and bumpy seams that drivers must cross without losing grip as they race at nearly 200 mph.

“The experience of knowing how to deal with that stuff, and knowing what you can and can’t do because of what is coming up ahead of you, is the important part here,” Logano said.

NASCAR returns to Fontana this weekend a bit rattled, a bit nostalgic and with its top drivers eager to race again on one of their favorite tracks.

The surface also produces more rapid tire wear, so crews must set up the cars’ handling well and execute several good pit stops to stay among the leaders.

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The only other multiple Cup winners at Fontana, besides Johnson and Kyle Busch, are all retired: Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth had three wins there, and Tony Stewart had two. The track held its first NASCAR race in 1997.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, won the last of his Fontana races in 2016, and attributed his success here to “timing and people.” Those people included his former longtime crew chief, Chad Knaus, who is widely considered one of the brainiest crew chiefs in the garage.

“My timing worked out where the team, manufacturer and organization was all at its peak, and I was able to ride that wave for a long time,” said Johnson, who is racing in his final full-time season in the Cup series.

One of Johnson’s teammates, Alex Bowman, topped the speed charts in both of Friday’s practices for the Auto Club 400 in his No. 88 Chevy. Kyle Larson, who won the race in 2017, and Ryan Blaney also were among the fastest drivers. Qualifying to set the starting grid is Saturday.

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Kyle Busch, the reigning Cup champion, was asked Friday what to expect this weekend. “I have no idea,” he replied. “Can’t say what’s going to happen this time around. There’s been a year’s worth of development on everybody’s side to get to this point.”

While Busch’s No. 18 Toyota “was really, really fast” last year when he won, it “could be a completely different race” on Sunday, he said.


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