California dreaming turns into snore fest at Fontana Cup race

Dave Ongie • Feb 26, 2007 at 11:39 AM

In case you nodded off before the checkered flag fell at California, Matt Kenseth easily held off the field to win the Auto Club 500.

I don't normally put the race result in my column because I don't want to insult the intelligence of you, my faithful readers.

But I know there's a good chance that many of you were sound asleep when the checkered flag fell, "California dreaming" of the exciting race that might have been at Rockingham while the field lazily circled the large asphalt oval out in Fontana.

You can't blame NASCAR for trying to break into larger markets like Los Angeles - it's just a smart business move. But if you're going to rip a race out of Rockingham, at least make sure you're moving to a track that offers an equal amount of excitement.

Why try to pitch stock car racing to folks out in the Golden State on a track where an open wheel race breaks out every time the green flag drops?

Seriously, this race was so long, drawn out and anticlimactic you would have thought grand marshal Kevin Costner had directed the thing.

He should have at least amended the most famous words in motorsports by saying "Gentlemen, start your engines and fans, you might want to put on a pot of coffee."

The problem with the California race is it's a huge rally killer. The Daytona 500 is exciting even when the racing is lackluster because it is such a spectacle.

With Las Vegas receiving a facelift that includes steeper banking with the promise of faster speeds and closer racing, California Speedway is clearly the weak link in the middle of an otherwise exciting early season schedule that includes stops in Atlanta, Bristol and Martinsville.

It's clear that NASCAR is looking to build tracks in the Pacific Northwest and near New York City in the coming years.

A Nextel Cup race being run in Mexico or Canada at some point is also becoming more of a possibility.

When that happens, tracks like Martinsville may lose a date on the schedule, and that will be a shame.

I guess the best we can hope for as NASCAR spreads its wings and expands into new territories is that the new tracks they add to the schedule are better than the track in California.

If NASCAR keeps trading tracks like the ones in Rockingham and North Wilksboro and picking up circuits like those in California and Texas, the sport will be unrecognizable in the future.

There's a reason that NASCAR kicks the IRL and F1 square in the seat of the pants when it comes to television ratings among race fans in the United States, but the action you witnessed in California wasn't it.

It's great to see NASCAR spread stock car racing to national and international audiences, but the organization needs to be sure it doesn't lose its identity in the process.

• There are a lot of people out there who want to see Mark Martin ride off into the sunset whether he's ready or not.

I know the guy has tried to retire more times than Michael Jordan, but the bottom line is he can still drive a race car.

Not only did he make the Chase last season while driving for Roush Racing, but the 48-year-old narrowly missed winning the Daytona 500 and notched another top-five finish on Sunday.

Martin is now on top of the points heap after two races, and he's doing it in Ginn Racing's No. 01 Chevy, a far cry from the heavily funded No. 6 Ford he was driving for Roush.

• DEI continued its slow start thanks to engine problems on Sunday as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. both blew motors in the early going.

Kasey Kahne also continued his slow start with a blown engine, putting a couple of last year's Chasers in a deep hole early in the season.

• Bristol Motor Speedway will find itself at the epicenter of the NASCAR universe this week as everyone rolls into town for a massive two-day Car of Tomorrow test.

With the temperatures expected to be in the low 60s both days, it might be a good idea to get down to the track and watch your favorite driver put the Car of Tomorrow through a final dress rehearsal before the new vehicle sees action for real in the Food City 500 late next month.

Admission is free, concession stands will be open and there's a very good chance that testing at Bristol will be more exciting than racing at California.

Dave Ongie covers motorsports for the Times-News. E-mail him at [email protected]

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