Alex Bowman returns to Auto Club a winner but with uncertainty


The last time Auto Club Speedway was on the NASCAR schedule, Alex Bowman was the one speeding through the checkered flag first in March 2020.

That was a long time ago — it will be 728 days between Fontana Cup races, to be specific.

“It feels like it’s been forever,” Bowman said in a Thursday Zoom conference.

The track is still old and worn; the track is still a 2-mile oval; and he’s still driving a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with crew chief Greg Ives atop the pit box. That’s about where the similarities end.

Now piloting the No. 48 car rather than the No. 88 he won with nearly two years ago, Bowman and the rest of the Cup Series finally return to Fontana, California, with hopes of ending the day in that same victory lane. The most obvious and significant challenge stems from the Next Gen car, which hasn’t seen the Southern California oval since William Byron tested a prototype there in 2020 and subsequently crashed.

“I think this is going to be a big test on how it drives and how we’ve guessed at the best setup and how we stack up to start the year,” Bowman said. “It drives so different than what we’ve had in the past. And obviously not having been there before and how slick it is and abrasive it is, we haven’t really been to a place like this with it yet.”

Indeed, Sunday’s race marks the first true race for the new vehicle on an intermediate-style track. The only real-world experience teams have comes from test sessions and mock races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval in November and December. Charlotte’s 1.5-mile track doesn’t compare exceptionally well to Fontana.

Still, anytime a driver can find success at a racetrack provides a reasonable notebook to look back on. Prior to Bowman’s 2020 triumph, his best Auto Club finish in four starts was 13th in 2018, his lone top-20 finish there. The key then was a car that rotated well through the center of the corner. But the balance now shifts to wondering how free the car can be before crossing over the edge of control.

“I don’t think you can drive this year’s car as loose as you could with a previous (generation) car,” Bowman said. “I was really loose that whole weekend. It was just really fast. So I think (we’re) kind of going a little bit different direction than we were then. And this car so different in every way that it’s hard to apply much, but excited to get back to a really fun, really technical racetrack.”

Another wrench in this weekend’s preparation is the resin that will be applied to the track in each of the corners, an attempt by NASCAR officials to help the track hold tire rubber better and more quickly. And while it’s meant to help, Bowman remains unsure how much it will help.

“It’s definitely laid out in a strange manner,” he said. “The way it’s kind of tapered into Turn 1, I feel like it might make passing harder on entry to one just because if you’re inside of somebody, you’re going to be out of the resin, and they’re going to be in it. So it’s gonna be a little interesting to see how it all works out.”

With Auto Club’s spacious lanes comes room to explore and find grip. But if the grip is all in the resin, that could lead to a more condensed racing groove than in years past. Bowman believes that as the race wears on, those multiple grooves will still come into play.

“I think we’ll widen it out, regardless of the resin,” said Bowman, who won a career-high four races in 2021. “The way that resin was put down and laid out is interesting. I don’t necessarily know that it’s going to be great right away. But I think as it wears out, it’ll, it’ll make you move around.”

NASCAR had experimented with different traction compounds like PJ1 dating back to 2017 but debuted its resin application for the inaugural Cup event at Nashville Superspeedway last June.

“We saw in Nashville, right at the end of practice, (the resin) really started to come on,” Bowman said. “But then we kind of wore it out in the race and had to move around. So (Fontana) will still be wide like normal. You’ll still use the seams, you’ll still be slipping and sliding all over the place.”

Bowman just hopes he slides into victory lane by the end of this race.

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.