There’s a consensus NASCAR’s new rules package in 2019 offers some of the wildest and craziest racing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tour has witnessed in years – especially on the restarts.
Cars are often four- and even five-wide as they battle for all-important track position once the green flag flies. Drivers know that it’s easier to gain spots in the opening laps than later in the run, when passing is most difficult. This weekend, the Cup Series travels to 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which has long been known for its frenzied restarts.
Combining this year’s new rules package with Fontana’s wide turns might be the recipe for something NASCAR fans and competitors will long remember after this weekend’s Auto Club 400 is done.
“I think the crew chiefs will be covering their eyes on restarts,” said Clint Bowyer with a laugh about piloting his No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) on Sunday. “These restarts are going to be crazy. They have been in the past at that track, so who knows how wild they’ll be this weekend.”
For proof of Bowyer’s claim, one only needs to tune in to FOX at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday to watch the fifth race of the 2018 Cup Series season. Bowyer says the wild restarts at the track east of Los Angeles pose a dilemma for the drivers.
“The restarts at California have always been awesome,” said Bowyer, who added that drivers can choose from among five different racing lines on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval. “I think it’s great for the fans. As a driver, you think I should get up there and race and get as many positions as I can. But, part of you is thinking that maybe I should just be safe this early in the race, hang back a bit and make sure we survive. Problem is, if you hang back and they don’t wreck, you feel stupid.”
Two years ago at Fontana under the old rules package, Bowyer restarted a third overtime in seventh place and raced to third in the two laps of competition before the checkered flag waved.
NASCAR officials in October announced two baseline rules packages for the 2019 season, making a move to bolster competition with enhanced aerodynamic and engine configurations. The different packages are tailored to the specific tracks on the Cup Series circuit, with a combination of a smaller tapered spacer to reduce engine horsepower to a target goal of 550 – from 750 – and aero ducts to foster tighter racing on a majority of speedways measuring longer than 1 mile. Both features will be in place for 17 of the 36 races.
Sunday, Bowyer will make his 473rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start and his 19th career Cup Series start at Fontana. He owns three top-five finishes and eight top-10s and has led 47 laps there. Bowyer said he loves the challenge the track presents to the drivers and teams.
“The speeds are always very fast at California and, on top of that, the grip level goes away drastically fast,” Bowyer said. “For me, I love that. I love how the track slicks off and you have to focus on the balance. You can’t have that front end turning too good and have that rear end pulling out from under you, and vice versa.”
The width of the track also poses some challenges for both the driver and his spotter.
“You really have to focus in on the communication with your spotter,” Bowyer said. “When your spotter says they are running the top, you have to think about what he really means. With a track as wide as California, you have to know where the other cars are at all times.”
Bowyer arrives at the end of the Cup Series’ three-race West Coast swing after finishing 11th at ISM Raceway near Phoenix last weekend. That finish, coupled with a 20th at Daytona, fifth at Atlanta and 14th at Las Vegas, vaulted Bowyer to 11th place in the standings. His SHR team has had a great deal of success at Auto Club Speedway as well, posting two wins, 11 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 35 starts.
Bowyer’s No. 14 Mustang will carry the logos of Rush Truck Centers and Haas Automation this weekend. Rush has been the primary partner for the No. 14 team since Bowyer arrived at SHR in 2017 and has been with the organization since 2010. The Texas-based company has used Bowyer and the team to appeal to NASCAR fans as one way to recruit the technicians it needs to operate the largest network of commercial truck and bus dealerships in the country, with locations in 22 states. According to Rush Truck Centers, the trucking industry is expected to need 200,000 diesel technicians over the next 10 years to keep up with maintenance demands. Rush Truck Centers wants to make NASCAR fans aware of these opportunities and knows that, with Bowyer’s background, he is the right guy to help get the message out.
Haas Automation, owned by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Haas in 1983, Haas Automation manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are built in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in nearby Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets
“I know Rush and Haas will have a lot of guests this weekend,” Bowyer said. “I’d love nothing better than to give them a good run. Heck, I’d let the Haas folks take the trophy back to Oxnard if we win it.”
CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Haas Automation Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts about SHR co-owner and California native Gene Haas?
“Everybody knows what Tony (Stewart) brought to the table. Gene is that rock. He is the rock behind all of us. That enables us to go out and perform at our best. It’s never a question of, ‘What does it take financially?’ or anything else. It’s, ‘What does it take to win?’ What does it take to be better? What does it take to find victory lane?’ Those are the questions Gene Haas asks and that’s it. He doesn’t talk about, ‘Well, that was a good top-10 finish.’ You can be proud of a good run somewhere. Maybe that was a track you struggle at, maybe you run fifth or sixth – no call. Winning and winning only is what he does in his industry. It bleeds through to his employees and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
What is it like to drive at Auto Club Speedway?
“I think these new rules are going to have a drastic impact on the race you are going to see this weekend. Who knows what to expect, other than some pretty wild restarts and lots of room in the corners. We’re all curious to see what happens.”