April 13, 2021

by a NASCAR fanatic - not affiliated with NASCAR

The list of names is as staggering as all the things they’ve accomplished in racing:

Jimmie Johnson, seven-time champion in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 series champion.

Kevin Harvick, the 2014 series champ.

Brad Keselowski, winner of the 2012 title.

Daytona 500 winner and 2004 champion Kurt Busch.

Current points leader Kyle Larson.

Rising star Chase Elliott.

And that’s only a partial list.

What do they have in common?

Each of these drivers — all among NASCAR’s very best — has had issues this weekend during the preliminaries for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX) at Auto Club Speedway.

Johnson spun in practice Friday and had to go to a back-up car when his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet caught its front end in the infield grass, tearing up the nose.

Keselowski tagged the wall in qualifying Friday. “I hit the wall, which is really embarrassing, but I was trying to get all it had and just reached a little too far,” he said.

Harvick, Kurt Busch, Larson and Elliott all made contact with the ACS walls on Saturday, as did Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and David Ragan.

And towards the end of Happy Hour Saturday, Kyle Busch, normally one of the surest hands at the wheel spun, too.

What’s causing all the mayhem?

Two things, mostly: The first is the fact that NASCAR has whacked the downforce on the Cup cars again this year, making them harder to drive.

Second, and more importantly, is the racing surface at Auto Club Speedway. Yes, it’s conventional asphalt all around but there are seams most everywhere, and those seams are extremely disruptive when a driver runs over them. And they are so ubiquitous that they are almost impossible to avoid.

The preponderance of seams makes the track brutally rough to drive on, especially now that the cars are so low to ground. If you watch the action in slow motion, it looks like the cars are running over railroad ties — except in real life, they’re doing it at 210+ miles per hour entering the corners.

“You pull your seatbelts tight and just pray for the best,” was how seven-time series champion and six time ACS winner Johnson described a lap at this track.

And yet, this track is a favorite of drivers.

“It’s a super-wide race track and you can run anywhere from the bottom to the top,” said pole-winner Kyle Larson, who won Saturday’s XFINITY Series race. “Got to be conservative on your tires and be patient against the wall, but also aggressive. It’s an intense race track. The race has always felt fairly long because it’s so demanding, but yeah, I wish there were more race tracks like this.”

So expect to see a lot more mayhem on Sunday.

“This race track always seems to provide good three- and sometimes four- or five-wide racing,” said Ryan Newman, last week’s winner at Phoenix. “But, I think just seeing cars sliding around will be a lot more fun this week than usual.”

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