Dr. Diandra: Five races to remember at Auto Club Speedway


NASCAR visits the 2-mile version of Auto Club Speedway for the last time this weekend. Let’s bid farewell by remembering five races that illustrate the track’s transformation from boring to beloved.

1997: The First Race

California Speedway, as the track was originally known, was one of four tracks debuting in the late 1990s. Unlike the new tracks in Texas, Las Vegas and Homestead, the D-shaped California track was 2 miles with 14-degree banking in the turns.

The NASCAR Cup Series hadn’t raced in Southern California since Riverside International Raceway closed in 1988. By race weekend, Californian Jeff Gordon had already collected six checkered flags in 14 races.

The inaugural race featured long green-flag runs (averaging 45.6 laps) and 21 lead changes. Gordon led 113 of 250 laps, beating out eventual second- and third-place finishers Dale Jarrett and Terry Labonte.

The 250-lap (500-mile) race ran three hours and 13 minutes — just 10 minutes longer than 2022’s 400-mile race.

2004: Gordon’s win highlights a problem

Brand-new tracks are exciting by virtue of being new, but they rarely make for great racing. New asphalt offers limited racing lines and makes passing hard. When a driver got the lead at California Speedway, he typically kept it for a while.

In six of the prior seven races, one driver led 100 or more laps out of 250. The exception was 2001, when Rusty Wallace led only 95 laps.

MORE: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. reflects on his path to Daytona 500 win

In 2004, Gordon led 81 laps on the way to victory. But, like Wallace three years earlier, he led the last 47 laps. This was the fourth race out of eight without a lead change in the last 40 laps.

The closest to a late pass for the lead was Gordon’s first win at the track. He led the last 11 laps.

But Gordon didn’t just win the race. His 12.87-second margin of victory is the largest in the track’s Cup Series history.

2011: The first last-lap pass for the win

Aging asphalt at what was now called Auto Club Speedway helped the racing. Passes for the lead happened closer to race end: Two laps from the checkered flag in 2006, more often 10 to 25 laps.

But attendance declines and heat issues plagued races. In 2010, the race was cut from 500 miles to 400. In 2011, Auto Club Speedway went back to one race a year.

Another California native, Kevin Harvick, won the only race in 2011 with a last-lap pass of Jimmie Johnson. Harvick led one lap of the race. Because stage racing hadn’t been invented yet, it was the one lap that mattered.

Three of the next four races also featured last-lap passes, as shown in the graph below.

A bar chart showing the lap on which the last pass for the lead over the history of Auto Club Speedway, including five races to remember

2018: Martin Truex Jr. finds the perfect rules package — for him

Margins of victory decreased over the years, as the graph below shows. Excepting races ending under caution, six out of seven races between 2010-17 had sub-one-second margins of victory.

A bar chart showing the margins of victory over the history of Auto Club Speedway, including five races to remember
The three empty spots are races that ended under caution.

NASCAR changed rules packages as it searched for the best way to design the Next Gen car. In 2018, defending Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. was running for a team that would close at the end of the year. The new package suited Truex, who won the pole and both stages. He led 125 of the race’s 200 laps and won the race by 11.685 seconds, the second-largest margin of victory at the track.

2022: The first Next Gen race

The first Next Gen race at Auto Club Speedway was the third ever Next Gen race. The numbers show it.

The 2022 race tied 2008 for most cautions with 12. But the 2022 field squeezed the same number of cautions into 400 miles as the 2008 field had over 500 miles. This race also set the record for most caution laps: 59 of 200 or 29.5% of the race.

In previous years, 20 to 25 drivers might spin across the season. This one race, however, featured five spins. Chase Elliott, who spun four times in all of 2022, spun twice in the race. (Elliott had a little help on the second spin). Between practice and the race, Ross Chastain wrecked two cars. Kyle Larson won the race.

But Auto Club Speedway had improved so much that most drivers were against changing the track. NASCAR’s recent sale of much of the land surrounding the speedway leaves NASCAR racing in Southern California uncertain.

Teams have an extra year of experience in the Next Gen car. This weekend’s race should tell us whether the new car is hard to drive at this type of track, or if drivers just needed a little time to learn the new vehicle. That, in turn, could have enormous implications on car parity.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.