NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series head west this weekend for the Cup Series Auto Club 400 on Sunday, March 24th and the Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 on Saturday, March 23rd, both taking place at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Joe Gibbs Racing’s drivers Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch both have Cup Series wins at the track (Kenseth three and Busch one), and Denny Hamlin would like to add his name to that group as well.
Kenseth’s three wins came in the spring events for Roush-Fenway Racing in 2006, 2007 and 2009 (NASCAR held two annual events at the track from 2004 to 2010); in 2006, Kenseth, driving the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry this weekend, started 31st and came home for the win, the deepest any winner has ever started in the field. His 13 top 10 finishes in 20 races puts him second to just Jimmie Johnson in top 10s at the track.
Busch’s lone victory at Auto Club Speedway came in the fall race in 2005, while running the historic No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports. That win made him the youngest Cup Series winner in the history of the track (20 years, four months, two days), and his pole the at the 2005 spring race made him the youngest pole sitter in the Cup Series there (19 years, nine months, 25 days). In the past two races at the two-mile track, Busch, in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, has finishes of third (2011) and second (2012). Busch will also be running the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, and his successes in that series are even greater: in 14 events, Busch has 11 top 10 finishes, including five wins, and two poles.
Hamlin, in the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, has four top 10 finishes in 12 races at Auto Club Speedway, along with two poles. His best finish was a third in the fall of 2008, while last season he finished a respectable 11th after pacing the field from the pole.
On the Nationwide Series side, JGR has been the dominant team at Auto Club Speedway – in fact the last eight Nationwide Series races at the track have been won by JGR cars. Beginning with Tony Stewart’s win in spring of 2008, Busch has taken five of those eight wins (fall 2008, spring 2009, both races in 2010 and the single race in 2011), with Joey Logano taking home the other two (fall 2009 and single race in 2012).
Joining Busch in the Royal Purple 300 on Saturday are Elliott Sadler in the No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota and Brian Vickers in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota. Sadler has four top 10 finishes in eight races at Auto Club Speedway, while Vickers has five top 10s in seven races there.
Qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 takes place Friday at 4:10 p.m. PT, with the race going green on Sunday at noon PT. Qualifying for the Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 takes place Saturday at 10:35 a.m. PT, followed by the green flag at 2 p.m. PT. Stay up-to-date at www.nascar.com and joegibbsracing.com.
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