Fontana's Short Track Reconfiguration Remains an Option

The two-mile layout will continue to be used through at least 2023.

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While it remains an open case, NASCAR officials would still like to convert Auto Club Speedway in Southern California into a half-mile short track.

It’s been two years and two days, or 733 days at press time, since Alex Bowman emerged victorious in the most recent Cup Series race at Fontana and much has happened since then. COVID-19 prevented the series from contest a race in Southern California last year and also delayed the intended start of demolition and reconstruction of the existing two-mile superspeedway that opened in 1997.

A reconfiguration was announced in 2020 and the first race on the half-mile was tentatively scheduled for 2022. The first NASCAR weekend at Fontana in two years is scheduled for February 26-27 and track president Dave Allen isn’t sure if the new layout will still happen.

"The plan is to throw a heck of a race in a few short weeks," Allen said when asked before the Clash at the Coliseum. "We’re still working on plans, and they haven’t come together yet, but once they do, we’ll get them approved in a time frame and take it to the public.

"Our goal is to have the best racing that we can and have it for a long time here in Southern California, and once we know how we’re going to do that moving forward, we’ll let you know."

When asked if the uncertainty is a matter of NASCAR, local legislation or state legislation offering its approval, Allen offered a deadpan response.

"Yes."

In other words, NASCAR needs to determine if the future of the Busch Clash is at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where it attracted a crowd of at least 60,000 and holds a two-year contract option for a race on a makeshift quarter mile inside the venerable sports arena. If so, that could satisfy the sanctioning body’s short-term desire for an additional short track and one within its largest market.

If NASCAR does decide to move forward with a reconfiguration, it would require a degree of synergy with state and local lawmakers.

After the on-track success of the Clash, and the continued calls for more short track events, Kyle Busch believes it’s a fait accompli that Auto Club will be reconfigured into a half-mile.

"I would prefer the two-mile, but I guarantee you it’s getting cut up, no question, after what we saw today," Busch said.

Austin Dillon echoed that sentiment.

"Kyle and I both know Fontana is an awesome track," Dillon said. "It's a driver's track. It will need a repave soon and it's been grinded down to almost nothing on the backstretch so that's the only way they can keep it as is.

"But obviously, this car puts on a good show on short tracks, so that's awesome, too."

NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell says it’s fair to link the success of the Clash as a potential reason move forward with any changes to Auto Club Speedway in the future.

"I think that's fair," O'Donnell said. "… California (Speedway) as a race track, we're looking forward to getting back there, but looking forward to the race track we have now. It's historically put on some of our better races. it's the first time for the Next Gen so we'll see how that plays out."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. speculated that the Clash could open the doors for a long-awaited short track revival. Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Chris Gabehart tweeted that Sunday showed why NASCAR needs more true bullring short tracks.

The Next Gen era has opened with the NASCAR industry making a push for more short tracks after a half decade of moving from two road courses on the Cup Series schedule to six.

Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond are the only tracks less than a mile on the Cup Series schedule. Auto Club and Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville would add two more if both clear a political and logistical approval process.

NASCAR also seems poised to move forward with a city street course event at some point over the next decade. That combined with a race on dirt provides a great mix of disciplines across the full 36 races schedule and a dramatic shift away from intermediate length tracks from over the past two decades.

So, with all of that said, could the 2023 race be the last on the two-mile track at Auto Club Speedway?

"Possibly," Allen said. "We don’t know that yet, either. Possibly. We’ll continue to treat it as if it is."

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