Preview: Auto Club 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Race

Kevin Harvick set an official track record at Fontana recording a 189.066 mph lap on Friday, but can he win his fourth consecutive race this season?

byT. Walker|
NASCAR photo


Stock car racing is still out West and the next stop is Hollywood—sort of. NASCAR is preparing for the final stop on its NASCAR Goes West tour by rolling into the Auto Club Speedway for a fast 400 miles in Fontana, just outside the glitz and glam of Los Angeles, California. The weather hasn’t exactly been ideal for NASCAR’s West Coast swing with frigid temperatures in Las Vegas and rain in Phoenix, but things are heating up in Fontana thanks to Kevin Harvick.

Harvick won his third consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race of the season last week at ISM Raceway. Showing no signs that he is ready to slow down, Harvick set an official track record at the Auto Club Speedway on Friday during practice recording a 189.066 mile per hour lap. He broke the previous record of 188.511 mph set in a qualifying session by Denny Hamlin in 2016.

While many are asking if Harvick can win his fourth consecutive race, NASCAR fans and analysts are wondering why so many drivers failed to clear tech inspection during Saturday’s Cup qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. went out and captured the Auto Club 400 pole for the second consecutive week, but all talk was on the thirteen cup teams that didn’t make it out on the track to run a lap to qualify.

Below are all the details on who qualified, who didn’t run a lap in qualifying, the starting line-up, and some other notable information you need to know about the Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway.


FONTANA, CA - MARCH 16: The crew for the #48 Lowe's For Pros Chevrolet, driven by Jimmie Johnson (not pictured), attempt to work on their car after failing inspection during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 16, 2018 in Fontana, California, Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Schedule for Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, CA):

 Auto Club 400 (Follow live)

The Place: Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, CA)

The Date: Sunday, March 18

The Time: 3:30 p.m. EST

TV: FOX, 3 p.m. EST

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

Press Pass (watch live)

Post-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race: 6:45 p.m. EST

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 16: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota, poses with the Busch Pole Award after qualifying on the pole for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 16, 2018 in Fontana, California., Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Starting Line-up

(Position, Driver, Manufacturer, Speed)

1. Martin Truex Jr., Bass Pro Shops/5-hour Energy Toyota, 186.567

2. Kyle Busch, Interstate Batteries Toyota, 186.437

3. Kyle Larson, DC Solar Chevrolet, 186.128

4. Erik Jones, SiriusXM Toyota, 186.047

5. Austin Dillon, Dow Coating Chevrolet, 185.711

6. Joey Logano, Auto Club of Southern California Ford, 185.577

7. Kurt Busch, Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford, 185.185

8. Ryan Blaney, PPG Ford, 185.076

9. Ryan Newman, Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet, 184.848

10. Kevin Harvick, Busch Beer Ford, 184.436

11. Brad Keselowski Wurth Ford, 184.360

12. Chris Buescher, Healthy Choice Power Bowls Chevrolet, 184.341

13. Trevor Bayne, Performance Plus Ford, 184.743

14. Paul Menard, Menards/FVP Ford, 184.596

15. Jamie McMurray  McDonald's Chevrolet, 184.115

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford Ford, 183.819

17. Ty Dillon, Twisted Tea Chevrolet, 183.683

18. Matt DiBenedetto, Can-Am/Wholey Ford, 183.397

19. Darrell Wallace Jr., Farmer John Chevrolet, 182.848

20. Gray Gaulding, Earthwater Toyota, 175.161

21. David Ragan, Ford, 183.870

22. Michael McDowell, Love's Travel Stops Ford, 183.603

23. Jeffrey Earnhardt, VRX Simulators Chevrolet, 176.043

24. Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 133.735

25. Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota, 0.000

26. Clint Bowyer, Rush Truck Centers Ford, 0.000  

27. Aric Almirola, Smithfield Ford, 0.000  

28. Alex Bowman, Nationwide Chevrolet, 0.000  

29. William Byron, AXALTA Chevrolet, 0.000  

30. Daniel Suarez   ARRIS Toyota, 0.000  

31. Chase Elliott, NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, 0.000  

32. AJ Allmendinger Kroger ClickList Chevrolet,  0.000  

33. Jimmie Johnson  Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet, 0.000  

34. Kasey Kahne, WRL General Contractors Chevrolet, 0.000  

35. Timmy Hill, Bubba Burgers Chevrolet, 0.000  

36. Ross Chastain,  LowT Center Chevrolet, 0.000  

37. Cole Whitt, SoCal Chevy Chevrolet, 0.000  

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet, climbs into his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 17, 2018 in Fontana, California., Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Past 10 Winners at the Auto Club Speedway

(Year, Driver, Manufacturer)

2008, Carl Edwards, Ford

2009, Matt Kenseth, Ford

2010, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet

2011, Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet

2012, Tony Stewart, Chevrolet

2013, Kyle Busch, Toyota

2014, Kyle Busch, Toyota

2015, Brad Keselowski, Ford

2016, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet

2017, Kyle Larson, Chevrolet

Note: The Auto Club Speedway hosted two NASCAR race weekends prior to 2011. The past 10 winners above represent the first race of the year at the Auto Club Speedway.

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 17: (L-R) Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet, talk in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 17, 2018 in Fontana, California., Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Getting Past Inspection

Getting through tech inspection proved to be harder than crossing the finish line in first place over the weekend. The thirteen drivers that did not pass inspection before qualifying include Kasey Kahne, Timmy Hill, Cole Whitt, Ross Chastain, AJ Allmendinger, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson. Worth noting, the entire Hendrick Motorsports team did not qualify, while two team members from both Joe Gibbs Racing and the Stewart-Hass team also had to sit out of qualifying due to failing inspection. If NASCAR can get by without making changes to the current way inspection are done remains to be seen. Kyle Busch, who will start second from the first row was quoted as saying, "This is a whole new system…You've got to give them a little more time." Although 13 cars failed tech, all 37 car entries for the race at the Auto Club Speedway will line up and take the green flag on Sunday.  

Who Will Win?

Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, sits on the newly named “Busch Pole Award,” but can he get his first win at the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday? Names floating around for the win in Fontana include California native Kyle Larson, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, and, of course, the man in the No. 4, Kevin Harvick.

Larson is no stranger to winning at the Auto Club Speedway. In 2017, he swept the weekend by winning both the Xfinity and Cup races. He will start from the second row in the third position on Sunday.

Kyle Busch is a three-time Cup winner and a six-time Xfinity Series winner at the Auto Club Speedway. He also won the last two Camping World Truck Series races at the Speedway in 2008 and 2009. His last Cup win at the track was in 2014.

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 17: (R-L) Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, talk in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 17, 2018 in Fontana, California., Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images


We know Harvick, who is starting 10th, will be going for his 4th straight victory. We have also witnessed that whenever he has a grouse with the governing body that is NASCAR or is disgruntled in any way, he tends to let his performance on the track speak for itself. Similarly, after receiving the penalty before going out and winning in Phoenix last week, will he step up again this week? The Stewart-Haas Racing driver voiced his concerns about the way failed inspections were handled this week. Harvick said, "It’ll be interesting to start the race." He also went on to add: "You’ve got all the cars with penalties all on brand-new tires, so you’re penalized because you’re out here and went through tech and qualified good at the start of the race, so we’ll have to manage through that."

What About Jimmie Johnson?

One driver that is seemingly being overlooked is Jimmie Johnson. It was recently announced that his long-time sponsor Lowe’s will not be back as the primary sponsor for the No. 48 Chevrolet, but nonetheless, Johnson remains optimistic stating that “the desire to keep racing is absolutely there.” He did not run a qualifying lap due to failing inspection on Saturday, but we shouldn’t count the oldest driver at Hendrick Motorsports out. At 42 years old with 7 championships under his belt, at some point he should return to his winning ways—and let’s not forget that Johnson is a six-time winner at the Auto Club Speedway.