NASCAR’s WISE Power 400 Qualifier Gets Messy – Press Enterprise

FONTANA — A freeway sign on the 210 Freeway just west of the 15 Freeway read, “Gusty Winds Ahead.” It was a warning to motorists, but it could also have served as a warning to NASCAR drivers and their crews working nearby took part in competitions.

Another warning sign specifically for the NASCAR folks could have read: “Next Gen cars ahead.”

Morning winds of 30 to 40 mph combined with the apparent difficulty of adjusting to NASCAR’s redesigned next-gen cars turned Saturday’s Auto Club Speedway into crash city.

Another reason for the many accidents and spins on a clear, cool day may have been the fact that this location hadn’t hosted a NASCAR race in two years due to last year’s pandemic-related cancellation.

The glitches started with the morning Cup Series practice sessions and continued throughout the midday qualifying session.

Austin Cindric, last weekend’s surprise winner of the Daytona 500, survived to take pole for Sunday’s WISE Power 400. He secured first qualifying spot on Saturday by completing the two-mile course in 41.266 seconds at an average speed of 174.647 mph.

Sunday’s race, scheduled for 12:30 p.m., is only the 10th Cup Series race for the 23-year-old from Mooresville, NC, so he’s considered a rookie. A win at Fontana would go a long way in showing that he is more than a one-race wonder.

It’s been a pretty turbulent week for Cindric. The highlight was a congratulatory post-Daytona voice message from the legendary AJ Foyt. Fifty years ago, Foyt, who raced at multiple circuits, won the NASCAR Winston Cup Miller High Life 500 at nearby Ontario Motor Speedway.

“I will copy and save this message to a hard drive,” Cindric said.

Cindric was brought back Monday morning when he checked his mail and found a jury summons.

“I’ll try to get out of there,” he laughed. “I hope being a NASCAR driver works.”

For NASCAR die-hards who like stats, Cindric is only the third driver to win the season-opening Daytona 500 and pole for the following weekend’s race. The others are Logano (2015, Atlanta) and Jamie McMurray (2010, Auto Club). And Cindric is just a rookie.

When asked what it’s like to be called a Daytona 500 champion, Cindric said, “I smile every time someone says that.”

However, the topic of the day was the next generation cars and all the glitches.

“I’ve never talked to myself that much before doing a qualifying run,” said Cindric. “After seeing all the problems and mistakes, you have to go through everything in your head.

“I had two good runs (around the track) so I was pretty conservative on my third run.”

Eric Jones, the No. 2 qualifier, said: “I was nervous before I even went to practice seeing the guys out there making mistakes.”

Speaking of the new cars, Jones, 25, of Byron, Michigan said, “They’re just so challenging. It’s really an unknown. The driving style is 100 percent different.”

Bakersfield veteran Kevin Harvick didn’t even complete a practice lap before spinning and hitting the wall at Turn 4. Soon after, on his second lap, Ross Chastain hit the wall at Turn 4 while Chris Buescher was spinning at the same time. Turn 4 was suddenly a disaster corner.

Subsequent spinouts, including one by Daytona 500 runner-up Bubba Wallace, delayed qualifying by half an hour.

Brad Keselowski spun at Turn 2 in the second qualifying session and then emphatically refused to have his car towed. He wanted it transported on a rollback truck. Keselowski, also a team owner, tried to avoid further damage to his car due to a lack of parts inventory.


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