Roger Diez: The ‘last’ race at Auto Club Speedway

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

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Ricky Stenhouse won his last race five and a half years ago at Daytona’s Coke Zero 400. But on Sunday he nosed out reigning NASCAR Cup champion Joey Logano by inches on a last-lap caution to win the Daytona 530. Yes, it was 530 miles, the longest Daytona 500 in history due to overtime restarts.

The race ran caution free through the first stage and almost to the end of the second stage, but at the end it was pure restrictor plate racing chaos. Only 17 of the 40 cars that took the green flag completed all 212 laps, with several of them limping across the line with damage after the final “big one,” with just 22 classified as “running” at the checker.

Although Stenhouse’s Chevy took the win, the Fords were dominant most of the day, particularly the Roush-Fenway-Keselowski cars of Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher who led 42 and 32 laps respectively. Buescher finished fourth while Brad K. was caught up in the last big wreck and finished a lap down. Jimmie Johnson, returning to NASCAR as a part owner/part-time driver, ran in the top 10 much of the day until he was involved in the first overtime crash.


With Daytona in the record books, NASCAR moves on to Auto Club Speedway, the first race in the spring west coast swing. Kyle Larson is the defending champion there, having won both last year and in 2017. Kyle Busch is the winningest current driver at the track with wins in 2013, 2014, and 2019. There was no 2021 race, but Alex Bowman won in 2020, Martin Truex Jr. in 2018, Brad Keselowski in 2015, and Kevin Harvick in 2011.

Larson is the favorite in the opening odds at 7-1 with Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney at 9-1 and Chase Elliott at 10-1. Logano, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, and Kyle Busch share 11-1 odds with Martin Truex Jr. and Ross Chastain at 12-1. William Byron is 15-1, Kevin Harvick 20-1, and my dark horse pick is A.J. Allmendinger at 100-1.

Xfinity series practice and qualifying will air at 9 a.m. Saturday with Cup practice and qualifying at 11 a.m. The Xfinity Production Alliance Group 300 airs at 2 p.m. All will broadcast on FS1. Fox will broadcast Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 at 12:30 p.m.


It will be the final race at Auto Club Speedway in its current two-mile oval configuration. Pending approval, planning is underway to construct a state-of-the-art short track on the site. However, it is unlikely that the new track will be completed in time for the 2024 season.

There are mixed feelings about the change, with many lamenting the loss of the quarter-century old track, but others glad to have a west coast short track on future schedules.


Next weekend will see the season openers for Formula 1 and the NTT IndyCar series, with NHRA drag racing joining in the following week.

Formula 1 is just concluding its one and only preseason testing session Saturday at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, where there will be a race March 5. No results were available at press time.

An IndyCar test at Sebring two weeks ago saw the three Arrow McLaren cars at the top of the timing chart with Pato O’Ward leading teammates Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist. Interestingly, Will Power’s Penske car was fitted with the hybrid power unit that the series will use from 2024 on. Despite issues that sidelined the car for much of the sessions, Power managed eighth fastest, just 1.9 seconds off O’Ward’s best time.


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