FONTANA, Calif. – The gloriously weathered asphalt on Auto Club Speedway's 2-mile track has a long history of producing four-wide racing and fantastic finishes.
NASCAR's new low-downforce package has already created excitement and thrills in the first four races of the new season.
Drivers think the combination will be dynamite at Fontana on Sunday.
"I get a sense that everybody is really amped up about it, and I think the reason is that you can really drive here," Carl Edwards said. "Just watch the in-car cameras. Watch what's going on: Guys have got their heads laid against the left-side headrest. You get to work here. You get to really use the skills you have as a race car driver. That's why we all started driving race cars, because cars are fun to drive like that."
The closest NASCAR race to Hollywood is also the seamiest — as in the seams in the circuit's oldest asphalt, which is brutal on tires and taxing on the drivers' skills.
The big bumps in the corners and backstretch of this hot, slick racing surface can lead to mistakes or brilliance, depending on the drivers' abilities and misfortunes. Kyle Busch surged to win here in 2013 when leaders Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano wrecked on the final lap, and Brad Keselowski got around Kevin Harvick on the last lap to win last year.
"I think it's some of the best racing, if not the best racing, of the year," Keselowski said.
So take four tires on every stop, put your foot on the floor, don't be afraid to run near the wall — and get ready to have some fun.
"You could write a book about a lap at this place," Edwards said. "There's so much happening out there. Where you place your tires, how you enter the corner, what the guy in front of you is doing — all of those things add up. ... You never really know what you're going to get, and I think that's good. It's a little bit unpredictable. It's definitely tough, and to me, that's part of the fun."
That low-downforce package is still being studied and tamed by NASCAR's teams, but the changes get partial credit for the excitement of this season's first four races, which included two winning last-lap passes for two of the closest finishes in recent NASCAR history. Harvick surged past Edwards in overtime last week in Phoenix to win by a bumper.
The track speed record fell repeatedly during qualifying on Friday. Hamlin eventually went the fastest in the second round, but Austin Dillon won the pole.
"It takes a lot of effort," Dillon said of driving at Fontana. "You've got to put yourself into the mindset of doing stuff that you don't normally want to do. It makes you a little uncomfortable, so I enjoy it. It definitely makes you go up there and try some different things that you don't get to do every weekend at every race track."
Some more things to watch in the finale of NASCAR's three-race Southwest swing:
KYLE'S COURSE: Busch won at Fontana in 2013 and 2014 but couldn't go for the three-peat last March while he was sidelined by a broken leg. The Las Vegas native and defending Sprint Cup Series champion is outstanding on this track, finishing third in 2011 and second in 2012.
LONG AND SHORT: Some cars are good on short runs, and others are better on long runs. Fontana's 2-mile superspeedway is long, but this race often comes down to short runs in its crazy finishes. Just ask Keselowski, who got past Harvick with fresher tires on a green-white-checkered finish to win last year. "The guys that are good on the short run here will have a huge advantage if there's a yellow at the end," Keselowski said. "There's a pretty big discrepancy between what it takes to run good here on the short run and the long run."
CALIFORNIA LOVE: Jimmie Johnson has been historically brilliant at the closest thing to a hometown race for this San Diego-area native, winning it five times. Bakersfield's Harvick was last year's runner-up, and Sacramento-area native Kyle Larson has learned to enjoy Fontana in his short NASCAR tenure, barely failing to chase down Busch on the last lap in 2014.
GRANDSON RISING: Dillon's promising start to the season continued Friday when he claimed his second career pole, his first since the 2014 Daytona 500. Richard Childress' grandson is in prime position to claim his first Sprint Cup victory.