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Fontana speedway will stay with shorter NASCAR race in March

January 11, 2011 | 12:28 pm

After a shortened race helped produce closer racing and ended with a thrilling finish, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana said Tuesday it would stick with a 400-mile event when it holds its next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in late March.

The sprawling track, which seats 92,000, formerly held two 500-mile Cup races a year but had suffered attendance declines, and NASCAR last August announced that one of its races would be moved to Kansas Speedway, starting this season.

Among the many factors cited for the lower attendance were complaints that races were too long on the wide, two-mile Auto Club Speedway oval, where the cars -- which reach speeds of nearly 200 mph on the straightaways -- often would get strung out and passing was sparse.

But when Auto Club Speedway held its most recent Cup race last October, it shortened the race to 400 miles and the result was one of the most exciting competitions in years, with cars sometimes racing three- and four-wide and Tony Stewart winning by a mere half a second over Clint Bowyer.

A shorter race, among other things, forces Cup drivers and their crews to shift strategy because there is at least one less pit stop than in a 500-mile race. It also forces them to get their cars into contention sooner before the final laps.

"It's impossible to ignore the on-track excitement we experienced" in October, Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker said in a statement. "We're confident the newly remileaged Auto Club 400 will continue the momentum."

The race is scheduled to start at noon Pacific time. The Fontana track also will host a race in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series on March 26.

NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series season opens with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers head into the first turn at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana during the Pepsi Max 400 race Oct. 10. Credit: Jayne Oncea / US Presswire