A track worker uses a leaf blower to dry portions of the Auto Club Speedway after rain earlier in the day caused water to bubble up from the surface, creating what are known as weepers, and delaying the start of practice for the Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif., Friday.AP photo
FONTANA, Calif. — Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway was rained out Friday, with the 43-car field determined by the rulebook instead of laps on the 2-mile oval.
NASCAR uses car owner points from the past season for the first five races of each year, so two-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who finished second in 2007, will start from the front in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 at the track formerly known as California Speedway.
Rain came and went throughout the day, with the cars never getting onto the track. Officials finally gave up after several weepers — water bubbling up from the ground and running across the track — delayed the start of practice until it began to rain again midway through the afternoon.
“There’s more pressure on the crew chiefs than on the drivers at this point,” said Johnson, who started the season with a disappointing 27th-place finish in the Daytona 500. “A lot of guys came out here with different setups than in testing and that makes it a lot tougher for the guys who work on the cars.”
Clint Bowyer, who will start third, said, “That’s pretty good for me. I’ll go to third gladly. A good starting position goes a long way at these tracks.”
Matt Kenseth, winner of the last two February races here, will start fourth, followed by Casey Mears, Tony Stewart, Sam Hornish Jr. — using Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch’s 2007 points — Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.
Daytona winner Ryan Newman, another Penske driver, will start 13th, while Busch, who gets in along with Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott as former series champions, will start 36th, just ahead of Jarrett and Elliott.
“If we don’t get practice today, or qualifying in or anything, that won’t be too bad,” said Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother, before the time trials were canceled. “As long as we get some sort of race practice in tomorrow, or something like that, that’s all that we need.”
The Cup drivers are scheduled to get 1 hour, 55 minutes of practice today, with less than a 10 percent chance of rain. But the forecast for Sunday was calling for a 70 percent chance of precipitation.
The drivers who lost their chance to drive their way into the race on qualifying speed were A.J. Allmendinger, Ken Schrader, Patrick Carpentier, Mike Skinner and Burney Lamar.
Qualifying sessions for today’s Nationwide Series and Craftsman Truck Series also were rained out.
“There’s more pressure on the crew chiefs than on the drivers at this point. A lot of guys came out here with different setups than in testing and that makes it a lot tougher for the guys who work on the cars.”