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Raceday: Attendance again an issue?

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Mar. 25, 2012

Three things to watch

1. Jimmie Johnson got his points back, now he's looking for wins. Auto Club Speedway is a good place to start – Johnson has won four of the last eight races at the track.

2. Michael Waltrip Racing had a spectacular day at Bristol, with all three cars finishing in the top-five. Can it produce a similar result here? It seems possible as all three cars were fast in practice and qualifying.

3. Kevin Harvick, last year's race winner, qualified seventh – a good sign for a driver who typically doesn't qualify well.

Observations

What is the end game with the aftermath of Hendrick Motorsports' mostly successful appeal of the NASCAR penalties issued to its No. 48 team at Daytona? Both sides claim victory, but neither side can be entirely confident of its claims as there is evidence to support both sides. It appears this issue is heading toward another showdown. If the No. 48 truly believes it proved the C-posts used on its Daytona 500 car were legal, it should have no reason not to use them at the next restrictor-plate race at Talladega. And if NASCAR truly believes the posts remain illegal, its inspectors should be ready at Talladega to confiscate them – again.

All signs – including the tarp covering a large section of seats in Turn 1 – point toward a less then stellar crowd for today's race. For whatever reason, Auto Club Speedway's reduction to one race per season does not seem to have helped increase attendance in the one race it still has. Track officials once floated the idea of altering the track configuration in attempt to promote better racing. In the wake of the uproar over Bristol's lower attendance last weekend, could that discussion begin again here?

It will be interesting to watch the next NASCAR penalty that reaches the desk of chief appellate officer, John Middlebrook. Given the aftermath of this week's ruling, he will be in a no-win situation the next time. Should he uphold the next penalty, he will face criticism it was only done because of the uproar over rescinding much of Jimmie Johnson's penalty. Should he reduce or overturn the next penalty, he will be criticized for extending his perfect record of reducing the penalties in every case appealed to him.

Best bets

Jim Utter gives you three picks for your fantasy racing league:

Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin

Notes

Nominations sought: The NASCAR Foundation is seeking passionate fans that are making an impact with children in communities across the country to submit nominations for the 2012 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. Nominations are being accepted through May 31 at NASCAR.com/foundation, with the recipient being awarded with $100,000 from the NASCAR Foundation toward the children’s charity of their choice.

In addition, the winner will receive expense paid trips to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekend and the 2012 Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas in December, as well as a 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

The nominating criteria include demonstrating a long term commitment to children’s causes, how the donation will be used, the impact on the community and their passion for NASCAR.

Hamlin leads final practice: Denny Hamlin, who will start from the pole today, was fastest in both practice sessions on Saturday. In the final session, Hamlin led the way with a lap at 182.034 mph. Jeff Gordon was second-fastest, Clint Bowyer third, Jamie McMurray fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.

Race facts

Where: Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif.

Track type: 2-mile paved banked oval

Race distance: 200 laps or 400 miles

Weather: Cloudy with a near 100 percent chance of rain.

TV: Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on Fox. Green flag is 3:16 p.m.

Radio: Motor Racing Network

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