After the brief practice session followed by two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, this race on the worn and bumpy 2-mile surface of the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California looks to be an adventurous affair to say the least. A number of cars either spun or crashed during those sessions and it wasn’t rookies and no-names who were involved in the mishaps. The likes of NASCAR Cup Series champions Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott were among those to find trouble.
Several drivers will find themselves in an early hole because of the issues they had on Saturday. Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Justin Haley will have to start from the rear due to unapproved adjustments after technical inspection had been completed.
Chastain had to go to a backup car after hard wall contact during practice which did heavy damage to the No. 1 Chevrolet. Also, Kurt Busch will not only have to start from the rear but will have to serve a pass-thru penalty at the start of the race because of his car failing inspection three times.
It may be more interesting watching to see how all of those drivers handle being at the tail of the field as it will be watching the leaders battle for positions at the front of the pack.
The Next Gen car is proving to be a difficult one to drive in its early days. That is what the drivers asked for and that’s how it should be. Racing at the sport’s top level should not be easy. The average fan should not be able to sit on his/her couch or in the grandstands and think they could do that.
Obviously, the teams and drivers are going to have to adjust.
One driver who doesn’t seem to be having any issues early on in the 2022 season is Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric. The driver of the No. 2 Ford followed up his Daytona 500 win by claiming the pole position for Sunday’s race. Another interesting aspect of all that transpired on Saturday was the outside front row qualifying effort of Erik Jones in the Petty GMS Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet.
It is said that this new car could prove to be a great equalizer among the teams and Jones has an opportunity to prove that in Sunday’s race being that his team does not have anywhere near the same resources as the likes of Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing.
But in terms of how all of this will impact today’s Wise Power 400 NASCAR Cup Series event, drivers may have little choice but to use caution during the first 300 miles or so. The parts shortages and low number of cars in the shops did not magically get better following the Daytona 500. As a matter of fact, that could be a story all throughout the season depending on the multitude of political and international issues going on around the world.
All that said, this race is filled with unknowns even before it starts. It should make for an interesting day, to say the least.
Predicted Winner: This feels like a race that will go to a driver who is patient makes the fewest mistakes and keeps his car in good shape to the end. My prediction is that Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney will be that driver.
The Wise Power 400 will air live on Fox with the start time slated for 3:47pm.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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