5 factors to consider in the Auto Club 400 at transformative track

It’s strange how things work in NASCAR sometimes. Auto Club Speedway used to produce some of the dullest races in the sport. Nowadays, it almost always produces great drama.

Three years ago, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin crashed on the final lap, as the two were going for the victory. Instead, Kyle Busch passed them both and Hamlin ended up with a broken back after hard contact head on into the outside wall.

In 2014, Busch won again, but only after a tense last-lap battle with Kyle Larson and Busch’s older brother, Kurt. Larson had a big weekend that time: He won the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday and had the best finish of his Cup career.

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Last year, Brad Keselowski was fourth with two laps to go, but took the lead on the final lap, the only lap he led all day. And, not coincidentally, the only lap it pays to lead.

And Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race was beyond crazy with Kyle Busch blowing a tire, getting passed on the last lap by teammate Daniel Suarez, who then ran out of fuel. The race ended with Austin Dillon passing Busch in Turn 4 on the last lap to win.

With such a history of wild finishes recently, here’s no reason to expect anything different during Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (FOX, 3 p.m. ET).

The combination of old, worn out pavement — ACS has the oldest asphalt of any Cup tracks — high speeds and NASCAR’s new low-downforce package means the cars will be skating around like rhinos on roller skates, especially on longer runs. It ought to be a tremendously fun race to watch.

Five questions that should decide the outcome of the race:

5. WHO PUTS IT IN THE FENCE? — One of the great things about Auto Club Speedway is how wide it is, which allows drivers to run multiple lines. The bad thing is, there are seams all over the track that are patched and rough. One of the trouble spots is Turn 2, where Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch both hit the fence in practice Saturday. You can bet in Sunday’s race, someone will fence his or her car, too. The only question is, who will it be?

4. WILL HAPPY CARRY THE DAY? — Never count Kevin Harvick out and especially not at this track. In his last seven ACS starts, Harvick has one victory, two runner-up finishes and five finishes of seventh or better. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has shown great long-run speed all weekend and ought to be awfully tough in the race.

3. WILL HENDRICK FIND ITS MOJO? — Six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson holds all the ACS track records worth having: Most victories, most top fives, top 10s and laps led; and best average starting and finishing positions. But Johnson qualified back in 19th, and during the final Happy Hour practice he was just 24th in consecutive 10-lap average speed. Those numbers don’t bode well for the No. 48 team, and the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 27th and was 22nd in Happy Hour.

2. WHO IS BEST OF THE JGR BUNCH? — Face it, Joe Gibbs Racing is the team to beat this year. Already this year, Denny Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 for JGR, and the team has three drivers in the top six in both the season-long points standings and the Auto Club 400 starting lineup. If a JGR driver wins on Sunday, we’ll go out on a limb and say Carl Edwards will be the guy to seal the deal.

1. CAN AUSTIN DILLON FINALLY WIN? — All weekend long, Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet have been what racers like to call bad fast. He qualified on the pole, was first in Friday’s practice and was excellent in both sessions Saturday. This could be the week the No. 3 finally goes back to Victory Lane for the first time in a Cup race since 2000, especially after his amazing last-lap pass for the win in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

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