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MOTOR RACING

NASCAR drivers don't like proposed changes to Fontana track

Auto Club Speedway's reported proposal to raise the corner banking draws a wary response from some drivers.

October 03, 2009|Jim Peltz

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Auto Club Speedway's reported proposal to raise the corner banking and make other changes to the two-mile Fontana track drew a wary response from some NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Friday.

"There is nothing wrong with the racetrack out there," said Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup champion and three-time winner at Fontana.

"I think it's a great track," he said. "If they're not packing the stands, that's not it, maybe it's something else. There's just so many options of things to do" in Southern California, he said.

The drivers' comments came before veteran Mark Martin -- who is leading NASCAR's Chase for the Cup title playoff -- won the pole position for Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway with a lap of 175.758 mph.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, qualified second at 175.279 mph and will start on the outside of the front row.

Kansas is the third stop in NASCAR's 10-race Chase playoff and Martin leads by only 10 points over another of his Hendrick teammates, Jimmie Johnson, who is trying to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. Johnson qualified 11th for Sunday's race.

The series moves to Auto Club Speedway the following Sunday for the Pepsi 500.

The Times reported earlier this week that the Fontana speedway, which has been looking to make the racing closer and sell out the 92,000-seat track, proposed raising the banking to 23 degrees from 14 and narrowing the track in certain sections.

But the track's owner, International Speedway Corp., has yet to take action on the plan -- which would cost between $23 million and $30 million -- because of the weak economy, sources familiar with the plan told The Times.

Driver Ryan Newman said he didn't expect the track to be altered but added that "a 23-degree banking, two-mile racetrack would be way too fast."

Cup drivers already reach about 200 mph on the front straightaway at Auto Club Speedway before they slow slightly entering the first turn.

Driver Kasey Kahne said that "if you were to bank it [further], more than likely you'd have to do some type of restrictors, I would think." He was referring to the carburetor restrictor plates that NASCAR mandates at its two superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega, to cap speeds in the interest of safety.

"At that point, it would create a Daytona-type track, probably," Kahne said. "It's tough to say what it would be like until we actually did it."

Kahne, also a past winner at Auto Club Speedway, said, "I kind of like how [the track] is now. It's a bit boring at times" because cars tend to get spread out but "for a driver, it's a pretty neat track."

Martin won the pole for Sunday's Price Chopper 400 here as drivers battled gusty winds on a cool, cloudy day at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval. It was Martin's seventh pole of the year, a career high.

"We're not leaving anything on the table," said Martin, 50, who is trying to win his first title after being runner-up four times in his career.

Earnhardt, who has struggled this season and missed the 12-driver Chase playoff, enjoyed his best qualifying run of the year.

"The guys made some changes right before qualifying and it worked perfectly," he said, adding that "I might have caught a window on my lap because I didn't have any [wind] gusts or anything bothering my car."

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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