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Fantasy Fastlane: Auto Club 400
Who should you have in your lineup? Fantasy-based preview for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Best in-car audio from the Auto Club 400
Check out some of the best in-car audio from the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Auto Club a homecoming for Harvick, Mears, Reed
RELATED: Paint Scheme Preview for Auto Club " Power Rankings post-Phoenix BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- As the colorful and massive NASCAR haulers roll into the California hustle and bustle this week for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway , the small town of Bakersfield -- about a two-and-half hour Interstate drive northwest -- will proudly perk up too. Its own racing contributions will be on full display in the NASCAR garages, its latest crop of high-talent exports ready to roll at the speedway. The 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick , veteran Cup driver Casey Mears and XFINTY driver Ryan Reed -- all Bakersfield bred -- will suit up to compete this weekend. And of course, most of Casey Mears ' famous racing family -- including his dad, Roger, a Baja 1000 and Pikes Peak Hill Climb multi-champion and uncle Rick, a four-time Indy 500 winner -- hail from this humble hamlet, too. NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Ron Hornaday's hometown, Palmdale, is an hour southeast of Bakersfield's oil fields and almond orchards. He raced in the area, too. This is a blue collar, hard-working and weekend-loving region. It's the West Coast's down-home version of "middle America" -- hours from the glitz of Hollywood, the tech heads of San Francisco and the famous beaches of San Diego. And yet it is ironic how the slow pace of Bakersfield daily life is eclipsed by the high-speed distinctions of its many racing natives. They have won a Daytona 500 , a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, Indy 500 rings, IndyCar championships, a Rolex 24 watch, Pikes Peak Hill Climb titles and various USAC crowns. There may not be a higher concentration of this wide-range of racing success in another single hometown in the country. "For years, Bakersfield was kind of the butt of the jokes in L.A. on television with the late night shows," Rick Mears said. "It was a running joke, so that always made it a little sweeter when you put it (Bakersfield) on the map a little bit and could kind of rub it in and say, 'Hey, what are you talking about? Bakersfield's not so bad.' "There is a sense of pride to be able to accomplish those kinds of things and being from there. And now Kevin Harvick doing a similar deal in NASCAR, it's really cool." While surfing -- the water or the Web -- may characterize other parts of the Golden State, racing is the definitive brand here. Go-kart tracks, short tracks, Kern County Raceway Park, Bakersfield Speedway. They are typically packed with spectators, and as history has proven, perhaps the "next great thing" behind a wheel. The former -- and famous -- Mesa Marin Speedway track here has only recently been leveled and used as foundation for a modern sports complex of softball fields. For decades, the birthplace of NASCAR's truck series was a West Coast hub and showcase for the region's racing talent. "I wouldn't say the racing community is huge in Bakersfield, but for some reason it's definitely developed quite a few racers that have gone on to be successful," said Casey Mears , driver of the No. 13 Geico Chevrolet in the Cup Series. "I think everybody in Bakersfield is aware of motorsports and aware of what my family has done, and with Harvick winning the championship [in 2014], I'm sure that was huge. "There's definitely a following but I wouldn't say the racing community itself is large. It's just those that are involved are passionate about it." The first family of Bakersfield Bakersfield residents certainly know Casey Mears grandparents, Bill and Mae Mears, as "beloved regulars." The two ride their scooters around the downtown riverfront on their way to a nice lunch at one of their favorite haunts. The actual food is truly the least of their pursuits. This is social exercise. The Mears are easy to spot because of their wide smiles, friendly handshakes and all the people eager to greet them -- either to share some stories or listen to better ones. The couple is bona fide Bakersfield celebrity -- their offspring some of racing's greatest talents. So it is oh-so perfect that these two -- married 70 years now -- get all around town via scooters. And every so often, Bill says with a laugh, Mae will make a run right by him, speeding along the way just to keep things interesting. Their celebrated racing offspring definitely get their competitive edge and need for speed honestly. The Mears' loved Bakersfield from the moment they came upon it in 1955 -- only a couple years after a major earthquake in the region. "We came out here and saw how nice it was, so we went back home (to Kansas) and sold everything and came back," Bill Mears explained, still today a little amused by the adventure of his own story. "My wife's aunt sent her mom some money to buy gas for us. We brought them out here to see it and just liked it so well, we said, 'We'll go home, give ourselves a couple weeks and we're coming back.' And so we did." They sold most of their belongings in Kansas and motored West to set up home. Racing was not necessarily any grand vision for this couple that ultimately raised some of the country's most celebrated champions in Roger and Rick. "I came out here and I started racing out here and when I quit, the kids started doing it," Bill Mears explained. "We always did everything to be together. We did it for family, never expected to do it for racing. That's why they called it the 'Mears Gang.' We were always together, rode motorcycles together, just grew up in the mountains on the weekends. We had a family deal and it just worked out to be unbelievable," he explained, his voice becoming a little emotional. "It's just been unbelievable. "We would go to L.A. and Rick raced motorcycles, but my wife didn't like him riding. He was winning and everything, but we were afraid he'd get hurt. We went to L.A. and saw a (dune)buggy race, Volkswagens. We watched them race and said to the boys, 'We'll build you one of these if you'll quit racing motorcycles.' So that's how it got started." He remembers his then-teenage sons working hard during the week to raise money for their weekend racing passion -- their fantastic legacies still to be set. "We were all just racers and went out to local tracks on weekends with friends," Bill Mears said. "Harvick's dad came out to our shop and helped us on our first NASCAR pick-up we built. Harvick was just a little kid standing back there watching his dad work on our car. "Just a group that everybody likes racing. We'd just meet at local tracks on weekends and race. I can't believe how many local drivers have made it. And Ryan Reed now. It just shows there's a lot of talent around here." Harvick, Reed welcomed back with open arms A year ago, then-reigning Cup champion Harvick stopped by his hometown to dedicate a YMCA, film a biographical feature for TV, dine with his old friends and supporters, and bask in the love and pride showered upon him by all those fans who remember him when. People stood in front of the brick YMCA building for hours waiting for a handshake or autograph, eager to cheer his entrance. Many wore "vintage" t-shirts from Harvick's late-model days. They remember watching him "when." And yet for many waiting in line, this was yet another chance to see Harvick, who comes back to town several times a year. His mom, father and sister still live in Bakersfield's "Oildale" community, or as Harvick said in accepting one of his early NASCAR trophies, "Not bad for an 08-er," referring to the 93308 zip code for the area. Harvick, Mears and Reed all went to different high schools and are just different enough in age to represent three distinct Bakersfield eras. Reed, 22, who drives the No. 16 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series, considers himself fortunate to have grown up in the town and pursued racing -- and to have the Mears and Harvick to look up to. "For sure this is a racing town," Reed said of Bakersfield. "And it's just a really cool thing. The newspaper, the sports writers, it doesn't matter. In (2014), we finished ninth in the points and they were still doing stories on us. It doesn't matter if you've had a horrible year and they want to know how you'll get better, or you have a great year and they want to brag about it. "They are there to support you, and when I go home I always have people coming up to me and saying, 'Good going.' They're just so proud of me. To hear that is really cool. "And it definitely motivates you." Marion Collins, who used to run Mesa Marin where Reed’s father and later, Harvick raced, is still sentimental about what the track meant to the area and how it contributed to the sport. "We feel really good about all the people that's come through here," Collins said. "Kevin (Harvick), (Ron) Hornaday and just a ton of guys from this part of the country. "At one time, we had the best race track in this part of the country and everyone wanted to come here. Kinda nice to have people come here and then do good things on down the road." Harvick couldn't agree more. And as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver interacts with old friends and former influences in Bakersfield, his pride -- their pride -- couldn't be more apparent. Everyone worked in a large confluence to help racing careers. And it's been an undeniable success. "That's just this town and really the way it's been since I started racing," Harvick said. "You develop the relationships through the years. "That network of people is what made our race teams function well. Getting out there and talking to people, you create friendships and partnerships. You have to put the effort in to make it work. "I come back here all the time and it would be the same type of turnout whether I was winning or losing. These people have supported me through the years, win lose or draw. "That's the type of community it is."
Austin Dillon zips atop first Auto Club practice
RELATED: Practice 1 results Austin Dillon rose to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaderboard in Friday's opening practice at Auto Club Speedway . Dillon drove the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet to a best lap of 188.511 mph on the 2-mile California track. His speed was slightly better than the track qualifying record of 188.425 mph, a benchmark established by Kyle Busch in February 2005. Martin Truex Jr ., piloting the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota, landed the second-fastest lap in early preparation for Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM). Home-state favorite Kevin Harvick , last week's winner by inches at Phoenix, pushed the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet to the third-fastest lap at 188.304 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (188.289 mph) and Chris Buescher (187.829) completed the top five in a pair of Fords. Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson , Hendrick Motorsports teammates, were sixth- and seventh-fastest, respectively. Defending race winner Brad Keselowski registered the 14th-fastest lap in the Team Penske No. 2 Ford. No driver ran more than 10 consecutive laps in the opening 85-minute session. RELATED: See at-track photos from Friday's action Opening practice was slowed once by debris in Turns 1 and 2. Stenhouse's Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford was held 15 minutes at the start of the session as punishment for difficulties passing through the laser inspection station last week at Phoenix. Friday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. ET (FS1).
Danica, Kahne wreck at Auto Club ; No. 5 summoned
WATCH: Kahne explains incident with Danica Danica Patrick took the brunt of contact with Kasey Kahne on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway , sending Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet hard into the frontstretch wall. Patrick's Stewart-Haas Racing entry was trying to overtake Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the low side of the 2-mile track's frontstraight, but the two cars touched -- Patrick's right-rear fender with Kahne's left-front. The contact sent Patrick's car into the outside retaining wall, causing severe damage and abbreviating Patrick's day in the 120th of 200 scheduled laps in the Auto Club 400 . Patrick exited the car unassisted, but before walking to the ambulance for the mandatory trip to the infield care center, she stepped toward the race track to raise her arms at Kahne's passing car -- while still staying below the uppermost white line separating the racing groove from the apron. "She's moving the car so expect a helmet or a steering wheel being thrown your way," warned Kevin Hamlin, Kahne's spotter. "Glad she's OK. Definitely didn't mean to do that," Kahne told his crew during the caution period. "Was just trying to side-draft." Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden were summoned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hauler for a post-race consultation. The driver remained apologetic after talking with NASCAR officials. "I felt bad. I'm glad she got out and is all right," Kahne said after emerging from the hauler. "I passed her in (Turns) 3 and 4, and then she had the momentum off the top and just went back under me going down the frontstretch. So I went just to kind of catch a side draft to make sure that I was in position getting into Turn 1, and it didn’t hold me up when I got there because I was the one coming. I just got too close. Cars moving around, we hit and she had a bad wreck. I felt really bad because it was far from anything but just trying to hold my position that I had just gained." Patrick had her own version of events, suggesting that Kahne's position off the front-running pace may have factored into their full-contact racing. "I don't know what kind of day he was having," Patrick said after exiting the care center. "I just heard he was a lap down, actually, so I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down, because it's just unfortunate. He must be having a very tough time. "I was having a pretty good recovery day, kind of like last weekend, just running good race laps and on the lead lap at the end of the race, back up into the top 20 from a bad starting position, and was looking forward to a good finish and a good off week. Unfortunately now, there's more work to be done at the shop, which is not, I'm sure, what they want." Kahne said he was not surprised to be called in for a post-race discussion with NASCAR competition officials. "I don't see the NASCAR hauler very often other than signing-in on Friday mornings," Kahne said. "So, yeah, I had to go talk to them. They just wanted to make sure that everything is OK from my perspective and that there were no hard feelings prior to the wreck or anything like that. Man, not at all; I've never had an issue with Danica at all. It was an avoidable accident in the middle of the straightaway that was far from anything other than just trying to hold my position that I had just gained." Said his crew chief, Rodden, of the hauler visit: "I don't think NASCAR wants anything to start between any of the drivers. Stuff escalated quickly last year. I think they're just making sure there was no bad blood. Just a normal deal." Kahne took to Twitter post-race to offer his apologies to Patrick. Feel really bad about what happened today with Danica. I'm glad she was ok! That should have never happened and that was all on me. — Kasey Kahne (@kaseykahne) March 21, 2016
Busch, Stevens fighting tire issue at Auto Club
FONTANA, Calif. -- Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch , said his team hasn’t resolved a left rear tire wear issue that surfaced during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway . "I don’t know what it was," Stevens said. "We tried multiple things to remedy it and it’s getting better, but it’s not like it’s gone. We still have some concerns after final practice." Goodyear officials said the problem was traced to air pressures and camber settings, but Stevens said his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team was not “out of the box on any one of those things compared to every car that we’re capable of looking at and past history.” JGR fields four Sprint Cup entries and has a technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing . "But we’re the only ones that seem to be having a problem," he said. "I don’t know what to do to fix it because everybody else is quite similar." Busch qualified sixth for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM Radio). He was fourth fastest in Saturday’s opening practice under cool conditions and 16th in Happy Hour after track temperatures had increased. The wear improved in the final practice, according to Stevens, "but you (still) saw excessive wear," he said. "When it gets hot and gets slick and slows down, a lot of those problems tend to go away," he said. "I don’t know that anything that we’ve done has made it any better, other than just the normal rubbering in of the track and the lap times falling off to be honest." "It’s a worn surface, guys are searching for grip; one of the ways they’ve attacked that in the past and are doing it still is (by) trying to reduce air pressures, trying to run a little bit more camber,” Goodyear’s Greg Stucker said. “Just trying to push the envelope and get as much as they can." Stucker said Goodyear has "gone, in very general terms … softer at every track." "One of the goals was increased falloff and we certainly have seen that, significantly more at Atlanta," he said. "About the same (falloff) at Las Vegas. … More at Phoenix and we’re trending right now at least as much if not more here." As for the No. 18 team, Stucker said officials "are over there working with them and trying to make sure they know where they stand … what kind of changes they’re making. "It’s just one of those levers that they pull," he said. "(NASCAR) took aero away so they are going to go about getting grip back mechanically and that’s one way they do it." Stevens said his team didn’t see the wear issues here last season, but a similar problem did surface at Atlanta earlier this year. "A lot of times you’ll see (that) when it’s real fast and gripped up," he said. "It was (at Atlanta); it was a concern the entire race. And it’ll be a concern tomorrow until we get a couple of sets across it tomorrow, too."
O'Donnell: NASCAR reviewing Kahne, Patrick incident at Auto Club
After a weekend full of passionate moments at Auto Club Speedway , this week's NASCAR competition meeting might run a little longer than most. NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell indicated that officials at the NASCAR Research & Development Center would evaluate a handful of on- and off-track incidents this week. O'Donnell's remarks came Monday morning on one of his regular appearances on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio's "Morning Drive" program with hosts Mike Bagley and Pete Pistone. Among the ground that O'Donnell said would be covered was a high-profile incident with Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick . Shortly past the halfway point of Sunday's Auto Club 400 , the two drivers made contact with Kahne's car hooking Patrick into a severe, nose-first crash on the 2-mile track's frontstretch.
Practice trouble creates 'seamingly' uphill battle at Auto Club Speedway
NASCAR.com's Matthew Dillner and Chris Rice recap trouble in practice for several Auto Club 400 favorites and how the teams will need to battle the seams and Batman V Superman to end up in Victory Lane.
Preview Show: Auto Club Speedway
Marty Snider and Chris Rice break down the historic finish in Phoenix, evaluate the 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year class and look to Auto Club Speedway's refined surface as a key to an entertaining Auto Club 400 .
Full schedule for Auto Club
RELATED: NASCAR Fantasy Live The NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series will head to Auto Club Speedway while the Camping World Truck Series has it off. Check out the full weekend schedule below. Note: All times are ET SUNDAY, MARCH 20: PRE-RACE SCHEDULE —1:30:00 p.m.: NSCS Driver/Crew Chief Meeting (NXS Garage) —3:00:00 p.m.: NSCS Drivers Introductions —3:30:15 p.m.: God Bless America by: American Idol —3:31:15 p.m.: Intro Presentation of Colors and Invocation by: California Army National Guard Color Guard —3:31:35 p.m.: Invocation by: Jeff Hamilton, Official Chaplain of Auto Club Speedway —3:32:15 p.m.: National Anthem by: Jon Foreman of SwitchFoot —3:33:45 p.m.: Fly-by TOT: 2 F-16’s from the 16th Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (Backstretch to Frontstretch) —3:38:45 p.m.: "Command to Start Engines" by: Eric Dane, Currently Starring as U.S. Navy Capt. Tom Chandler on TNT’s hit "THE LAST SHIP" —3:47:00 p.m.: Start of the Auto Club 400 (200 laps, 400 miles) ON TRACK -- 3:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 (200 laps, 400 miles), FOX ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 7 p.m. (approx.): Post-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race DAILY ROUNDUP -- Johnson wins in overtime at Fontana -- Danica upset after contact with Kahne -- Larson goes on a wild ride at Fontana -- See the best photos from Sunday's race FRIDAY, MARCH 18: ON TRACK -- 1:30-2:55 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 3-4:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 5:30-6:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series final practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 7:45 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 12:30 p.m.: Kevin Harvick -- 1:05 p.m.: Brandon Jones -- 1:15 p.m.: Daniel Suarez -- 3:30 p.m.: Carl Edwards -- 4:30 p.m.: Kyle Larson -- 4:45 p.m.: Austin Dillon -- 9 p.m. (approx.): Post-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying and Brad Keselowski GARAGECAM ( Watch live ) --1 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series --2:30 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series DAILY ROUNDUP See the at-track photos from Friday's action Dillon leads opening Cup practice at Fontana Busch, A. Dillon top NXS practices at Fontana A. Dillon wins Coors Light Pole Award SATURDAY, MARCH 19: ON TRACK -- 11-11:55 a.m.:: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, FS2 ( Results ) -- 12:15 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 ( Results ) -- 2:30-3:25 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 4 p.m.: TreatMyClot.com 300 by Janssen (150 laps, 300 miles), FS1 ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 6:30 p.m. (approx.): Post-NASCAR XFINITY Series Race DAILY ROUNDUP Thrilling final laps lead to A. Dillon's Auto Club victory Biffle, Larson involved in practice wreck Practice wreck sends SHR's Busch to backup car France: New manufacturer in NASCAR a possibility Edwards, Kenseth pace practices at Fontana