The Setup: Get ready for the wild, wild West

March 19, 2014, Brad Parrott, Special to,

Crew chief details how qualifying might unfold on 2-mile track

Editor's note: Brad Parrott, a 19-time winner in NASCAR national series competition, has joined as a guest writer for the 2014 season. Here is his first-person analysis ahead of Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX) for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Auto Club Speedway:

After plenty of fender rubbing at rainy Bristol last weekend, it's time for another gold rush for NASCAR teams in (hopefully) sunny California.

The Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are going to be outstanding at Auto Club Speedway, showing the consistency they have all year. Also in the Ford camp, I'm looking for Greg Biffle to turn his season around. He won Michigan last year and was able to run very well at both races on that similar 2-mile track. With a win from his teammate Carl Edwards at Bristol, we may see them both turn the corner for Roush Fenway Racing.

The Joe Gibbs Racing cars ran very strong in California last year. They had a little trouble out in Las Vegas, but should be able to show some speed. Kyle Busch has showed some signs of being a little better than his teammates early on, but I think all three teams will be able to turn the corner after Bristol and have some really good equipment out there.

The Hendrick cars -- all four, with of course Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- will be factors. The main players, the ones that really showed some signs of strength should be able to cash in on their third trip out West this season. Their engineers have been working really hard to get everything set to tackle this 2-mile race track.

Fontana's track has grown to be nice and worn out as its gotten older. In the new style of group qualifying, you'll see the guys that make the first top-24 cut will be cars making just one run, then the next cut to the top 12 will just be drivers on just their second time out. This will be the first track that we go to where the tires and the size of the track being so big, the driver who sits on the pole, it'll only be after three times on the race track -- one run in each segment. It will be very unlikely that the 12 fastest drivers will have more than two qualifying runs on their car before the final shootout.

The effect of the cool-down unit in qualifying will be sort of a wash this weekend because the abrasive nature of the track will make tire wear the bigger issue. Tires will fall off 1.8 seconds on a 40-lap run, making tire management one of the biggest stories of the race.

Overall, the driver that brings a car with the best setup to Fontana for qualifying trim is the one that's going to be sitting on the pole. I'll look again for the Penske cars to have that advantage, just like they have in qualifying all year.

Without a doubt, last year's race at Fontana was one of its best. This year's edition has the makings of another Old West showdown.


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