Auto Club Speedway schedule, news, media, tickets, and information for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track only on the official site of NASCAR.
Between on-track success and off-track prosperity, Sunoco Rookie of the Year in a great place RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today In putting together one of the most dramatic and impressive Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year seasons in recent memory, 22-year old Kyle Larson recognizes there are plenty of options for defining moments and highlight reels. For some, it will be his last lap tangle with Ryan Newman in the next to last race of the season, which set the championship contender field. Needing one more position on track, Newman pulled his Chevy alongside Larson's and sent the rookie into the wall derailing an 18th top-10 run, while the veteran Newman crossed the finish line in precisely the place he needed to advance to the Chase Championship Round. "I didn't know 100 percent if he needed that spot that I was in,'' Larson said between practices at Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend. "I got loose off (Turn) 2 and they said he had a run and I thought well, he might try something crazy, so I left him a lane and I don't know if I should have done that and he was able to get to me and hit me. "Anybody would have been upset, but I got over it pretty quick because I knew what was at stake. That was a very important spot for him to get." What Larson himself considers his defining moment may surprise. It's not the blazing runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway in his native California in March -- only five races into the schedule. And it's not even his runner-up showings in New Hampshire and Kansas during the Chase. "The best feeling I had this year was probably when I finished fourth at Watkins Glen, (New York)," Larson said, taking a moment to mentally rewind and really think through the question. "I didn't grow up racing on road courses and I struggled really bad the whole practice and qualifying that weekend. So then to end up fourth, which was way, way better than I thought I was going to be -- I was super pumped up about that." The fact that Larson had so many good performances in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet to choose from is not lost on the young talent. Neither is the fact that few picked him to win the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year title before the season started. The Elk Grove, California native didn't come from a racing pedigree, nor had he won a NASCAR development series title. Larson earned his seat showing natural talent and the can't-miss potential that have made him one of NASCAR's biggest young stars in only one full season in the Cup ranks. Like his racing heroes Gordon and Tony Stewart , he came up through the open-wheel ranks of sprint cars and midgets. Team owner Chip Ganassi signed the NASCAR Drive for Diversity grad and Larson realized this was his big opportunity to make it in stock cars. He delivered with two pole positions, three runner-up finishes among his eight top-five showings and his 17 top-10s was more than eight of the 16 Chase drivers. "Really to start the year everyone thought I was going to fail,'' Larson said. "At least three-quarters of the people sitting in the media center probably did. Then I think they realized after the first handful of races that our team was capable of running well and the bar got raised and raised more throughout the year. "My expectations going into the start of the season were top-15 every week would be great and that quickly turned into wanting top-10s every week and lately top-fives and wins are the goal." And he's not the only one who expects great things of the No. 42 team. And expects them soon. The opinion shifting began early and earnestly. The bar has only risen. "I feel we could win every week,'' Larson said with a big grin. "I think (teammate) Jamie (McMurray) feels the same way, all our guys feel that way and Chip definitely feels that way, so his expectations are a lot higher. "That's good though. It's nice coming to the race track every week and knowing your car is going to be fast. In years past, this team maybe hasn't felt like that every week, but now they're in a good spot and I'm definitely glad I got in here when I did." Larson continued, "The best thing to happen to me is being with a really good team that's excited to have a new driver. "I think we're capable enough with more experience and good tracks at the beginning of the year that I'd like to get a win early in the season and know you're going to be in the Chase. … and then you don't have to stress out every other race." Before he suits back up, however, Larson's amazing year will get even better. He and longtime girlfriend Katelyn Sweet are expecting their first child in late December, a son they will name Owen Miyata -- the middle name a nod to Larson's Japanese roots. Miyata is Larson's mom Janet's maiden name and giving it to Owen ensures it will carry on in the family. "As much as I've had a blast racing, I can't wait for the offseason for all the exciting things coming, the baby, the new house -- we just finally stayed in it one night this week,'' Larson said, clearly enjoying the anticipation. Moving in is exciting. Just ask @Katelyn_Sweet pic.twitter.com/DUnX6SaeON — Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) November 19, 2014 "There's been a ton that's happened and it's all been great stuff. I've had great years results-wise, but the baby, the house, first year in Cup probably never been a year as exciting as this.'' 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Nick Ottinger (05) battled to his first win of the season at Auto Club Speedway .
Chat with NASCAR fans while following the racing at Auto Club Speedway
Auto Club Speedway schedule, news, media, tickets, and information for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track only on the official site of NASCAR.
Kyle Busch won at Auto Club Speedway in the spring of 2013
Gillian Zucker leaving Auto Club Speedway for Los Angeles Clippers RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today The NBA's Los Angeles Clippers named Gillian Zucker, former president of Auto Club Speedway , as the club's new president of business operations. Zucker, who has led the speedway's business since 2005, was the first female president of the track, and MSN and FOX once named her one of the five most powerful women in motorsports. "What an exciting time to be part of the L.A. Clippers," Zucker said. "There's something special happening in this organization that has captured the attention of Los Angeles, the NBA and the nation. (Owner) Steve Ballmer's energy and enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring. We are just getting started." Before her tenure as track president, Zucker served as Daytona International Speedway 's vice president of business operations and development. Zucker joined International Speedway Corporation in 1998 as director of business development for Kansas Speedway . Prior to joining ISC, Zucker worked in professional baseball, where she was assistant general manager for the Durham Bulls Baseball Club . She graduated from Hamilton College, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing. "I am extremely happy to add a leader like Gillian to our team," Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said. "Her clear and creative business vision, innovative approach to marketing and experience working in the Los Angeles sports market make her the perfect fit to lead the Clippers during this transcendent time." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Catch all the Sights and Sounds from the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway .
'Smoke' sets Texas track record and makes NASCAR history in second round RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today FORT WORTH, Texas -- For the first time in NASCAR history a driver topped 200 mph in a qualifying lap on a 1.5-mile track, and it was Tony Stewart who did the honors in the second of three rounds of qualifying on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway . Stewart set the track qualifying record with a lap of 200.111 mph, breaking the previous record of 198.282 mph set by Kevin Harvick in April of 2014. The man known as 'Smoke' lit up the leaderboard with the lap of 26.985 seconds and gained the attention of Chase drivers such as Coors Light Pole Award winner Matt Kenseth . "I never dreamed we'd see a lap time like that around here unless they paved it," Kenseth said. "It's incredibly fast." For Stewart it was a highlight in a difficult season, and it came on the heels of a top-five finish at Martinsville. That was Stewart's first top-five since March at Auto Club Speedway , and combined with the good qualifying run gives Stewart something to build on as he looks towards the 2015 season. Stewart was surprised when he broke the 200-mph barrier, saying over the radio, "Didn't look that fast." Although he set the record in the second round, Stewart ended up qualifying sixth and will share Row 3 with teammate Kevin Harvick for the start of Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). He expressed some regret about not being able to hit the top speed in the third round of qualifying but was still pleased with the record. "It is always cool to be the first guy to be able to do anything," Stewart said. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Haunting memories of 2010 are put aside for now RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Unless and until Denny Hamlin wins his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, the legacy of Phoenix International Raceway and the 2010 season will haunt one of NASCAR's most successful drivers. But failure to seize opportunity had to be the furthest thing from Hamlin's mind when dusk turned to darkness in the desert on Saturday. His eyes were fixed on his not-quite-2-year-old daughter Taylor as the toddler wandered toward the media center stage. At the microphone, Daddy was discussing winning his third pole of the season and leading all drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with two races to go. It was a chance for Hamlin to exhale, embrace the moment and think about all the future might hold. Capturing his 20th career pole had come as a pleasant surprise. His car had been far from terrific in practice. He attributed his fast lap, in part, to knowing the track and hitting his marks precisely. Oh, yes, he's been here before, literally and figuratively. But he tries not to think about 2010 and what might have been. Hamlin not only came to Arizona leading the Chase standings by 33 points, but he also led 190 laps at Phoenix that November Sunday and would have likely cruised to victory if not for an ill-fated fuel strategy that forced him to pit with 14 laps to go. That relegated him to a 12th-place finish and reduced his lead to 15 points over reigning champion Jimmie Johnson , who took command from the outset when the chips were on the table the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "You know, I don't think about it actually that often unless we're watching a highlight film or something like that," said Hamlin, who earlier this week admitted to the hangover effect when he got to Homestead. "In 2010, I feel like at Homestead I was still kind of bummed about what happened at Phoenix. I think every now and then about what we could have done differently. But you can't really second-guess." Sunday's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) could go a long way toward exorcising those demons, and Hamlin, once again, knows that he controls his own destiny, even though his path to the championship is not nearly as clear-cut. Although he is tied with Joey Logano for the lead in points, six other drivers are still very much in contention for the crown. Only the top four will advance to next week's Championship Weekend with those title hopes still intact. "We were racing less guys, for sure," says Hamlin, recalling the final races of the 2010 season, including his victory at Texas Motor Speedway , his career-high eighth win of the season that propelled him to the edge of glory. "There was a point in the year where myself, Jimmie and Kevin (Harvick) had kind of broken ourselves away from the pack. Now, there are obviously more players in the game." And, with just one victory under his belt in 2014 (Talladega), Hamlin is hardly brimming with the supreme confidence bred by repeated trips to Victory Lane four years ago. "I don't feel like our performance is (at) as high of a level as it was then," Hamlin said. "So, that's more of an obstacle." That's why Saturday's pole-winning performance was so important from a mental standpoint in addition to gaining the physical advantages of leading the field and pit stall selection. "It definitely came out of the blue from my perspective," Hamlin said. "I didn't think we had a pole-winning car. I thought (starting in) the top eight would have been a huge bonus. But this showed that we have speed in the car. We just have to figure out how to get it optimized for 312 laps around this race track on Sunday." In part, Hamlin thanks the new Chase format for keeping his team in contention. "The best thing that happened (to this sport) in a long time," he said. "Even though some of the better teams throughout the entire year will probably get eliminated this weekend, other teams will be moving on. You still have to go through the due process of making it all the way to the end. The best record in any other sport does not guarantee you to be in the championship matchup." It's not as though Hamlin has not experienced success at Phoenix. He won at PIR in March 2012, one of five wins that season and 14 top-five finishes. But the rewards have been slim the last two seasons, particularly last year when he was sidelined early by a fractured vertebra. This season has not been without incident. In fact, having missed the fifth points race of the season at Auto Club Speedway due to a sliver of metal in his eye, Hamlin has the chance to become the first driver since Richard Petty in 1971 to win a Cup title without competing in every race. But first things, first. With the eight Cup contenders separated by just 18 points, Hamlin must survive Sunday at Phoenix before he can even begin thinking about a trophy run at Homestead. A finish of 11th or better will assure him a spot in the final four, but Hamlin isn't thinking that way. "I think the competition level is just too close and tight to be able to think that you're going to be able to coast to an 11th place," he said. "Nowadays, the difference between 11th and third and 20th is not that much. You've got to go all out every single lap and fight for every position on restarts. There is no backing into this thing and coasting our way to Homestead. "Our team has done a good job of grinding our way through this. We haven't beaten ourselves with bad finishes. Now, we have an opportunity." That opportunity begins with a second chance at Phoenix -- a chance for Hamlin to permanently leave those demons in the rearview mirror. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation