Kevin Harvick capped off last season's California homecoming with his first victory in the Auto Club 400.
"It's fun to come home, and obviously we have a lot of family and friends that come to the race track," Harvick said. "We've been on the West Coast a few times now. All-in-all, it's always fun to see people you haven't seen in a while.
"Obviously, winning the race here last year was pretty cool, to be able to check that one off the list and put that one away. Hopefully we can do the same thing this year."
The 36-year-old Bakersfield native grew up three hours from Auto Club Speedway. And while it wasn't love at first sight with the two-mile track, Harvick has scored six top 10 finishes in his last seven starts as Auto Club Speedway has aged over time. Not surprisingly, Happy's attitude has shifted towards his home state track which debuted in 1997.
"Yeah, just being patient with this race track over the years has been the best thing," Harvick said. "The more the tracks wear out, the racier they get. This race track has become really racy over the past few years just for the fact that the groove moves from the bottom to the top. The race track has become a little bit rougher. The asphalt has worn out, and the races have been good.
"Any of these worn-out race tracks are fun to race at. When you've got bumps and the cars slide around in the seams. But all in all, our Jimmy John's Chevrolet has been good. The guys did a great job tuning it up there and we made the right guesses for the balance."
Harvick will roll off seventh for Sunday's race — the same position he landed on the speed chart in Happy Hour on Saturday. And although he's currently second in the point standings, Harvick isn't satisfied with his finishes which ranged from second to 11th in the first four races.
The driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet doesn't believe the he and his Richard Childress Racing team are up to speed — yet.
"I think all the guys on the team would say we aren't really crisp as far as the first four weeks," Harvick said. "I haven't done everything right from the driver's seat. We've made some mistakes in all areas, I would say. Once we feel like we're in a rhythm and have all the bugs and kinks worked out of everything, I think it will be even better.
"The good thing about it is the speed has been in the car at every race track we've been to, and that's really what we were looking for — speed in the race cars. We can fix and tweak the small things outside of that. It's been pretty comfortable so far, and hopefully we can keep it rolling and make it better every week."
A FINE LINE
With the track promising five-wide action on Sunday, drivers have spent the weekend's practices searching for the best — and fastest — line around the race track.
Ryan Newman, who starts seventh Sunday, is also still searching for his first Fontana win. He's posted top-five finishes in his last two starts, and his best finish at the track was third in 2004 while driving for track founder Roger Penske.
"My car usually likes the bottom and, especially with new tires, the shortest distance is usually the best because you have that extra grip," Newman said. "But I did play around in practice yesterday, and today with the middle and higher lines. And yesterday, in fact, in qualifying I ran the middle; or lower to middle, not the actual bottom, in (Turns) 1 and 2 and then the bottom in (Turns) 3 and 4.
"I was the closest to (pole-winner) Denny (Hamlin) than anybody, I think, that was in the top six there. So, it's interesting. It adds a different perimeter that we don't usually have to worry about. You go to a place like Martinsville next week and you run the bottom no matter what. And here, there are many, many options; not just from one end, but per lap."
1: DNF (did not finish) for Danica Patrick in 2012
5.1: Best average career finish at Fontana (held by Jimmie Johnson)
8: Consecutive Nationwide Series wins for Joe Gibbs Racing
10: Best consecutive lap average of 178.960 mph by Denny Hamlin in Happy Hour
18: Nationwide cars that finished on the lead lap Saturday
When a reporter asked the top finishers in the Nationwide Series race why there wasn't bump drafting throughout the entire event, third-place finisher Brad Keselowski replied: "Hell, what do you want? Every lap? Every corner?"