The 2020 season was supposed to be the final race on the two-mile version of Auto Club Speedway.
Work was already set to begin on tearing up that course and replacing it with a high-banked, short track, similar to Bristol Motor Speedway. COVID-19 had different plans, so now this February will mark the final laps around a track that is remarkably similar to Michigan International Speedway.
When we say the two tracks are similar, we mean it. California Speedway – as this was initially named – was literally built from the blueprint of Michigan as Roger Penske owned both courses. The warm sunny climate of California is significantly different than Michigan, but even as the track aged, the two courses remained alike. Drivers who ran well on one, often did so on the other.
The wide corners and sweeping frontstretch of the 2-mile tracks contributed to some of the best races on the calendar. As NASCAR struggled with aero-push through many of the recent seasons, this is a track where racers can pass the competition by taking a different line. As such, it rewards methodical drivers with good long run setups.
The 2-mile courses are prone to streaks for individual drivers and teams. Both Team Penske and RFK Racing, formerly Roush-Fenway Racing, have placed all or most of their drivers in the top 10 on multiple occasions in the not-so-distant past. Brad Keselowski will enter the 2022 season with four consecutive top-fives and six straight top-10s. Joey Logano saw a four-race streak of top-10s end in 2020, the last time NASCAR raced on this track, while Ryan Blaney had a three-race, top-10 streak end.
The numbers only get better when Michigan is added. Kyle Busch has a 13-race, top-10 streak going. Kevin Harvick ended an eight-race streak on this course type last year while Denny Hamlin has 10 straight results of 12th or better. Kyle Larson once scored six consecutive top-threes on these two tracks.
There are several others with notable strings, making this one of the more predictable types on the schedule.
But as NASCAR realigns their schedule to create more road course racing in 2021 and 2022, with an eye to marginally increasing short track in 2023, the 2-mile tracks are falling into disfavor.
NASCAR remains committed to southern California. The Busch Clash will be held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this spring and when the series returns to Fontana in 2023, it will be to this same acreage. Unfortunately, the 2-miler and its predictability will no longer be part of the landscape.
February 27, Auto Club 400
11: Kyle Busch
8: Kurt Busch
7: Kevin Harvick
6: Joey Logano
5: Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski
3: Kyle Larson
2: Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin
1: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott
Brad Keselowski: 6 top-10s, 4 top-5s, 6 lead lap finishes
Kyle Busch: 4 top-10s; 9 lead lap finishes
Denny Hamlin: 3 top-10s, 6 lead lap finishes
Aric Almirola: 2 top-10s; 2 lead lap finishes
Kurt Busch: 2 top-10s, 2 lead lap finishes
Kevin Harvick: 2 top-10, 2 lead lap finishes
Joey Logano: 6 lead lap finishes
Erik Jones: 4 lead lap finishes (entire career)
Martin Truex, Jr.: 4 lead lap finishes
Alex Bowman: 2 lead lap finishes
William Byron: 2 lead lap finishes
Chase Elliott: 2 lead lap finishes
Matt DiBenedetto: 2 lead lap finishes
Two-mile tracks: Auto Club Speedway and Michigan International Speedway