Auto Club Speedway Weekend Preview: Larson attempts to extend points lead, notch first win

Kyle Larson (Getty Images)

Kyle Larson achieved a couple of “firsts” when he notched his third straight runner-up in last weekend’s race at Phoenix. He became the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity alum to top the points standings, as well as the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver to lead the standings this late in the season since 2002.

On Sunday, he’ll attempt to notch his first win of the season in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX) – the third and final stop of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ “NASCAR Goes West.”

“It’s weird running all these seconds,” Larson said. “It took me, like, three years to finish second in sprint cars. Now I finish second like every week, so… a little weird, but maybe we’ll turn them into wins soon.”

Larson, who at 24 years, seventh months old, is the sixth-youngest points leader in series history, has come close to earning that elusive win in almost every race this season. He led on the final lap of the Daytona 500 before running out of gas, paced the field at Atlanta with four laps left before Brad Keselowski passed him, and almost tracked down Ryan Newman during the two-lap overtime shootout at Phoenix.

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver claims finishes of second, 26th and 39th in three career starts at Auto Club. He grew up in Elk Grove, California, a 6.5-mile drive from the two-mile track.

“(Auto Club) is a fun race track,” Larson said. “It’s super wide, really slick, lots of lanes to choose from. The seams play a big part in finding grip. It’s somewhat close to home for me. I get to see some old race fans or sprint car fans and friends and stuff. I enjoy going there.”

Allgaier goes for second straight win after ending drought

Justin Allgaier ended an 80-race winless drought by visiting Victory Lane in last Saturday’s DC Solar 200 at Phoenix.

Justin Allgaier, (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

It was his first checkered flag in the NASCAR Xfinity Series since Aug. 18, 2012 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal.

Allgaier hopes the wins begin to pile up, starting with Saturday’s Service King 300 at Auto Club Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FS1).

The No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet driver has three top 10s and an average finish of 14.0 in eight career starts at the two-mile track.

“I’m very much looking forward to going to Auto Club Speedway,” Allgaier said. “It’s fun, it’s fast and it’s slick. I think that when you add those three words together it makes for great racing.”

Auto Club Race Weekend Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Auto Club 400

Place: Auto Club Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What to Watch For: Fourteen-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his 600th career start. … Ryan Newman goes for his second straight victory after snapping a 127-race winless streak at Phoenix last weekend. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones hope to continue their momentum after posting career-high finishes of seventh and eighth, respectively, at Phoenix. … Defending Auto Club winner Jimmie Johnson tries for his track-record seventh win at Auto Club Speedway.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: Service King 300

Place: Auto Club Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, March 25 at 4 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

What to Watch For: Elliott Sadler attempts to grow his points lead. He currently holds an 11-point advantage over second-place William Byron. … A youth movement continues to sweep through the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The average age of the top-12 drivers in the points standings is 26 years old. … Rookie sensation William Byron goes for his fourth top-10 finish in the first five races of the season. … Californians Ryan Reed, Cole Custer, Kyle Larson and Casey Mears can win in front of their hometown crowd.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.