For the final time, the NASCAR Sprint Cup cars have raced at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in the fall. Next year there will only be one race on the grounds of the former Kaiser steel mill 45 miles east of Los Angeles.
Ever since 2004 when NASCAR awarded a second date to that track by taking the historic Southern 500 away from Darlington, attendance has suffered.
Pundits from everywhere have cited many reasons for the decline. The Southern California area is saturated with ?other things to do?. The races at the wide, one mile oval tended to be boring parades with little side-by-side racing and drivers trying to go just fast enough to win while still going slow enough to make it to the end without needing an extra fuel stop. The fall date for the track?s second race of the year is normally blistering hot in the inland valley where the track is located and fans have rejected the idea of spending 4 to 6 hours sitting in 100+ degree heat.
Add to that all of the usual factors that almost all of the tracks on the NASCAR circuit are struggling with, the down economy, high motel rates, high ticket prices, and you can see that it isn?t easy being Auto Club Speedway these days.
But the fans that stayed home this time or didn?t tune in on TV missed what just might have been the best race this track has ever put on.
No fewer than fourteen drivers took a turn at leading and fan favorite Mark Martin led more laps than anyone else. Only 36 laps of the 200 lap distance were run under caution and every double file restart almost immediately morphed into four and even five wide racing.
And thanks to a lap 195 yellow flag due to a wreck involving David Ragen and Kurt Busch, the margin of victory from Tony Stewart back to second place Clint Bowyer was less than a half second.
The announced attendance of 70,000 was probably optimistic, the track has seats for almost twice that many.
Southern California is the second most populous region of the United States. There are 24.2 million people within a two hour drive from the speedway. Everyone involved with Auto Club Speedway hopes that by cutting back to just a single race next year, more of those millions can be coaxed into coming out to the races.
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