Fontana, Cali. — On what is typically a rest-filled day for teams to each fine tune nuances of their primary car, drivers and teams were working overtime as accidents and many unknowns left them nervous ahead of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Two of the biggest accidents of the day occurred in practice.
Ross Chastain sustained a heavy impact to the outside wall after the car snapped exiting turn four.
Kevin Harvick got loose exiting turn four, spun and hit the outside wall with the rear of the car.
Chastain was forced to go to a backup car after the wreck. The backup car was Trackhouse’s only one they had at the track this weekend for their two cars.
Chastain and his team worked throughout the NASCAR Xfinity Series race to get the backup car prepared, with members from Kaulig Racing even looking on at the backup car to see how it held up during the wreck.
Harvick’s team, on the other hand, repaired his No. 4 car after the wreck — thanks to the Next Gen car’s changeable front and rear clips.
Crew chief Rodney Childers worked with the team to put the finishing touches on the wrap Saturday afternoon during the NXS race before the car went through inspection.
Chastain and Harvick were among 10 drivers who were involved in incidents during Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions – including Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, William Byron and Chase Elliott.
Austin Cindric qualified on the pole for the Wise Power 400, but was even hesitant about running the lap in the first place.
“The last time I had to talk myself into a run was USF2000 in 2013 in IRP the night before the 500,” Cindric said. “As a driver, you can’t be distracted by all the crashes and mistakes, and I had all the data to do what I needed to do.”
Cindric and others reported the cars were getting unpredictably loose, which contributed to the barrage of incidents Saturday. Cindric cited the Next Gen’s new independent rear suspension setup, 18-inch wheels and a different side profile design – and a lack of notes with the new car – as contributing factors to the loose conditions.
“In the past, it’s been hard to drive but controllable,” Cindric explained. “Now, you don’t have as much sidewall, you don’t have side force, you gotta be aggressive in some areas and conservative in others. You key off of a lot of different things and it’s different right now.”
Even outside front row starter Erik Jones was audibly nervous during his post-qualifying press conference when asked about how the car handled. He stated he felt ‘sick to his stomach’ until he made it to the frontstretch on his qualifying lap.
“This car is it right or wrong? There are some things that concerned me today with tire wear stuff,” Jones said. “The speed’s there and we’ll take advantage of that tomorrow.”
No Rookie of the Year contender has ever won their first points-paying race and then followed it up with a pole in the next points race – dating back to 1957 – until Cindric did it this year.
Jones’s 2nd-place start is also his best starting position since Nov. 2019 at Texas, a race he started 2nd in.
Chastain, Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace and Justin Haley will be going to the rear of the field for Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway (3 p.m. ET; TV: FOX, Radio: SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, MRN).