Auto Club Speedway (formerly California Speedway) is a 2 miles (3.2 km), low-banked, D-shaped oval superspeedway in Fontana, California which has hosted NASCAR racing annually since 1997. It is also used for open wheel racing events. The racetrack is located near the former locations of Ontario Motor Speedway and Riverside International Raceway. The track is owned and operated by International Speedway Corporation and is the only track owned by ISC to have naming rights sold. The speedway is served by the nearby Interstate 10 and Interstate 15 freeways as well as a Metrolink station located behind the backstretch.
Kevin Harvick entered Auto Club with a 22-point lead over Joey Logano following his win the week before at Phoenix. Martin Truex, Jr. entered 27 points back in third. Kasey Kahne entered 50 points back in fourth, with A. J. Allmendinger a further 5 points behind, in fifth.
Starting at Auto Club Speedway – and taking effect in all three national touring series – drivers will no longer back out of their pit stalls when qualifying begins. Instead, they will now be parked with the nose of the car facing toward the track.
The entry list for the Auto Club 400 was released on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 10:33 a.m. Eastern time. Forty-six cars were entered for the race. All 46, except for Brian Scott and Reed Sorenson were entered the week before. Mike Wallace was on the initial entry list, but was let go from his No. 66 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet the week prior. However, he was rehired by the team and was to drive the No. 66 at Auto Club Speedway, but the team ultimately withdrew from the race, due to sponsorship issues. The team's No. 62 Chevrolet, driven by Brendan Gaughan, was unaffected. On March 20, Michael Waltrip Racing announced that Brett Moffitt would again replace Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Toyota due to further blood clots. This was also the first race that Moffitt officially became a candidate for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year. Chris Buescher drove the No. 34 Ford in his first Sprint Cup Series start.
Kurt Busch was the fastest in the first practice session with a time of 38.556 seconds and a speed of 186.741 mph (300.531 km/h). Greg Biffle scraped the wall exiting turn 4 in the opening minutes of the session, causing cosmetic damage to his car. Carl Edwards, however, went to a backup car for the race after crashing his car on the exit of turn 4. Edwards joked that his car "went from a 12-inch to a six-inch sub real quick", referring to the sponsors of his car for the race, fast food franchise Subway. He also stated that he "tried to save it...that was not the right decision". Since the change took place prior to qualifying, Edwards is not mandated to start from the rear on Sunday, provided he does not change engines.
Kurt Busch won the pole with a time of 38.889 seconds and a speed of 185.142 mph (297.957 km/h), taking his first pole position since the 2013 Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. His teammate Kevin Harvick started next to him on the front row. Harvick stated that "hopefully, [they] can keep it up this week", referring to his ongoing seven-race streak of Top 2 finishes, while also stating that he "didn't get to run where [he] wanted to run there were three cars on the apron down there where [he] wanted to be that had finished their lap". Reed Sorenson and Travis Kvapil both failed to qualify for the race. Brett Moffitt went to a backup car following damage sustained in qualifying and as a result, he started from the rear.
Kurt Busch was the fastest in the second practice session with a time of 38.479 and a speed of 187.115 mph (301.132 km/h).
Kurt Busch was the fastest in the final practice session with a time of 38.925 and a speed of 184.971 mph (297.682 km/h), completing a sweep of the weekend's practice sessions and qualifying.
As the cars were rolling off pit road, Jeff Gordon's crew swapped out something in his car, but rejoined the starting lineup with no issues. The race was scheduled to start at 3:46 p.m., but started six minutes later when Kurt Busch led the field to the green flag. The field spread out to use up about five lanes in the opening laps. Eventually, Kevin Harvick reeled in his teammate to take the lead on lap seven. Early in the race, A. J. Allmendinger began reporting that he was losing the engine of his car, while Martin Truex, Jr. did likewise. Harvick was unable to pull away from Busch who began reeling him in until Busch was slowed down by the lapped car of Jeb Burton. The first caution of the race flew on lap 23 when David Ragan got turned by an aerodynamic push from Gordon's car in turn 4. Gordon had been saying on the radio that he would turn Ragan if he had to, stating over his in-car radio to "let him know it's the bumper". Alex Bowman stayed out to lead a lap before pitting and handed the lead to Matt Kenseth.
The race restarted on lap 28. Kenseth held the lead for five laps before yielding to teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 33. A cycle of green flag stops began on lap 60. Hamlin pitted on lap 62 and handed the lead to Jeff Gordon. He pitted on lap 63 and the lead cycled back to Hamlin. Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto served drive-through penalties for uncontrolled tires on pit road, while Alex Bowman also served a drive-through for speeding.
By lap 83, more than half the field were at least one lap down, before the second caution of the race flew on lap 86 for debris in turn 3. After the culmination of the next round of stops, Kenseth exited pit road with the lead.
The race restarted on lap 93. Going beneath Kenseth in turn 4, Busch took back the lead on lap 96. Two laps later, the third caution of the race flew when Sam Hornish, Jr. moved up the track exiting turn 2 and got turned into the wall by Trevor Bayne. Martin Truex, Jr. exited pit road with the lead by taking two tires.
The race restarted on lap 105. Truex did not hold the lead for long as Kurt Busch took the lead back in turn 1. Busch, Harvick and a mess of cars hit pit road on lap 138. Paul Menard briefly took the lead, but did not lead a lap through it while Carl Edwards did and the lead cycled back to Kurt Busch following a brief drag race down the back stretch with teammate Kevin Harvick. Michael Annett served a drive-through penalty for an uncontrolled tire.
Harvick took the lead back with 56 laps to go, putting Busch in 2nd. The fourth caution of the race flew with 47 laps to go for debris on the front stretch. Matt Kenseth exited pit road with the lead. Joey Logano was forced to drop to the tail end of the line for an uncontrolled tire.
The race restarted with 42 laps to go, with Matt Kenseth still out in front. Debris in turn 1 brought out the fifth caution of the race with 16 laps to go. Kurt Busch took the lead on pit road from Matt Kenseth who was pitted behind the start/finish line and exited with the lead. Kenseth broke an axle exiting his pit stall, while Denny Hamlin was forced to drop to the tail end of the line for an uncontrolled tire.
The race restarted with eleven laps to go and Harvick lost the lead to Kurt Busch. The two of them fought it out for the last few laps. The sixth caution of the race flew with two laps to go for debris in turn 4. Jeff Gordon stayed out to take the lead.
On the first attempt at a green–white–checker finish, Kyle Larson slid into the wall exiting turn 2 and lost his rear bumper, causing another caution flag, the seventh of the race. On the second attempt, Kurt Busch led the field to the green. As the white flag was waving, Greg Biffle wrecked on the front stretch. Brad Keselowski took the lead in turn 2 and powered to the checkered flag. Keselowski praised the work of his team to beat Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who Keselowski stated "had great cars the whole weekend and probably had the field covered on speed". Harvick, who recorded his eighth consecutive top-two finish, explained that he had "fought through a day of track position" but "that's what this team is made of". Busch, who completed the top three, bemoaned the latter cautions, expressing that his car "just got hung out" and that he "just didn't get the job done". All 43 cars were running at the race's conclusion, for the first time since the 2013 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.19 lead changes among 9 different drivers
7 cautions for 31 laps
Time of race: 2 hours, 58 minutes, 18 seconds
Average speed: 140.662 mph (226.374 km/h)
Brad Keselowski took home $357,871 in winnings
Coors Light Pole Award: Kurt Busch (38.889, 186.741 mph (300.531 km/h))
3M Lap Leader: Kurt Busch (65 laps)
American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award: Kurt Busch (40.426, 178.902 mph (287.915 km/h))
Duralast Brakes "Bake In The Race" Award: Kevin Harvick
Freescale "Wide Open": Kurt Busch
Ingersoll Rand Power Move: Justin Allgaier, 5 positions
MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder of the Race: Hendrick Engines, #41
Mobil 1 Driver of the Race: Kurt Busch (135.4 driver rating)
Moog Steering and Suspension Problem Solver of The Race: Paul Menard (crew chief Justin Alexander 0.092 seconds)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Leader Bonus: No winner: rolls over to $20,000 at next event
Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap: David Ragan (Lap 2: 39.231, 183.528 mph (295.360 km/h))
Sunoco Rookie of The Race: Brett Moffitt
Following the race, Tony Stewart confronted Martin Truex Jr. on pit road. The issue stemmed from Truex trying to get down after Aric Almirola on the bottom of the track and almost collected Stewart in the process. Stewart told reporters that after the issue between Truex and Almirola, Truex "drove across the race track into us" and that the move was "just stupid".
Following the race, NASCAR took tires from the teams of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman – all of whom finished in the top five – and were sent to an unnamed third party for further evaluation, instead of NASCAR's R&D Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Following the race, Richard Buck, director of competition for the Sprint Cup Series, met with the media to address a few of the late race calls. The calls included a debris call with two laps to go, multiple reports of debris before the scheduled finish, and not calling a caution for Greg Biffle's spin on the final lap.
NASCAR executive vice-president Steve O'Donnell joined Mike Bagley and Pete Pistone on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio programme The Morning Drive the next day to further address the calls made late in the race. O'Donnell discussed how the previous day's situation was different from a similar situation with the previous month's Daytona 500, and concluded the interview with a reiteration of what Richard Buck had told the media after the race.
On the Wednesday following the race, NASCAR penalized the No. 33 team of Brian Scott for a rules infraction discovered during opening day inspection on Friday. The infraction was a P4 level penalty and violated the following sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book:12.1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing;
20.14.2: Rear Suspension: Truck Trailing Arm
E. The left and right side truck trailing arms must be mounted to the truck trailing arm mounting brackets using a one-piece, minimum ¾ inch diameter magnetic steel bolt.
F. The horizontal centerline of the highest truck trailing arm mounting bolt must not be higher than the top surface of the truck trailing arm crossmember, at the respective truck trailing arm mounting bracket, when the vehicle is at inspection orientation.
INFRACTION: The ¾ inch diameter magnetic steel truck trailing arm mounting bolt was not installed horizontally.
J. Truck trailing arm must conform to the following drawing as specified in the NASCAR rule book: Rear Suspension-Truck Trailing Arm: A-008-00183-14 Rev.C
INFRACTION: Truck trailing arm monoball sleeve does not meet the drawing specifications. Sleeve is required to be minimum .125 inch minimum thick x two inches wide sleeve machined for press fit of .750 I.D. or .875 I.D. monoball assembly.126.96.36.199.1: Truck Trailing Arm Crossmember Assembly:Truck Trailing Arm Mounting Brackets
B. Truck trailing arm mounting brackets must be constructed of magnetic steel flat plate with a minimum thickness of 0.169 inch.
INFRACTION: Truck trailing arm mounting bracket adapter was machined from Aluminum solid.20.20: Assembled Vehicle Overall Rules
A. Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR rules, installation of additional components and/or modifications of existing components to affect the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle will not be permitted, including but not limited to, safety systems, chassis and roll cage, suspension, steering systems, brake systems, heat shields, body fillers, body sealers, filler panels, drivetrain components and exhaust components.
The options for a P4 penalty are outlined the following sections of the NASCAR rule book:188.8.131.52: P4 Penalty Options:
A. Violations leading to P4 penalties, in general, are very serious. They include, but are not limited to, a broad range of infractions such as:
B. Parts which do not meet specifications
F. Measurement failures of significance
G. These often involve primary component or system infractions not otherwise to the magnitude of P5 infractions, but could also include secondary component or system infractions, particularly if of a nature suggesting some of the characteristics described in P5 ... and/or involving safety implications.
184.108.40.206.2: Minimum P4 Penalty Options (includes all three points below):
A. Loss of 25 championship driver and owner points, regardless of whether the violation occurred during a Championship race or not.
B. $40,000–$75,000 fine
C. Suspension for the next three series Championship Races, plus any non-championship races or special events which might occur during that time period, for the crew chief, plus probation through the end of the calendar year, or probation for a six month period following the issuance of the penalty notice if that period spans across two consecutive seasons.
As a result of this violation, crew chief Slugger Labbe was fined $50,000 and suspended for the next three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship races, plus any non-championship races or special events which might occur during that time period. Labbe has also been placed on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31. In addition, car owner Joe Falk was docked 25 championship car owner points.
On Tuesday, April 14, the penalties were reduced to a P2 level. The suspension of Slugger Labbe was upheld, but the fine was reduced to $20,000. The 25 point penalty handed to the team was reduced to a ten-point penalty. "The process was very fair," Falk said in a statement. "We agree the part should have been presented (beforehand) to the R&D Center. We're satisfied with the outcome and we won't appeal further."
Later on, Ryan Newman's team was penalized for rules infractions discovered as a result of NASCAR's post-event tire audit conducted following the race. The infractions amounted to a P5 level penalty and violated numerous sections in the 2015 NASCAR rule book:12.1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing
20.16: Wheels and tires
A. Any device, modification, or procedure to the tire or wheel, including the valve stem hardware, that is used to release pressure, beyond normal pressure adjustments, from the tire and/or inner shield, will not be permitted.
F. Modifications to the tires, by treatment or any other means, will not be permitted.
Section 220.127.116.11.1 lists P5 Penalty Violation examples that could include but are not limited to:
A. Effecting, modifying and/or altering the standard tires in any way, other than through authorized means such as tire pressure adjustments within the recommended range, permitted tire cooling when mounted on the race vehicle; or heat-cycling on the race vehicle on the race track earlier in the event.
18.104.22.168.2: Minimum P5 Penalty Options (includes all four points below):
A. Loss of 50 championship driver and owner points, regardless of whether the violation occurred during a Championship race or not
B. US$75,000–$125,000 fine
C. Suspension for the next six series Championship Races, plus any non-championship races or special events which might occur during that time period, for the crew chief and any other team members as determined by NASCAR
D. Probation through the end of the calendar year for all suspended members, or for a six-month period following the issuance of the penalty notice if that period spans across two consecutive seasons
22.214.171.124.3: P5 Level infractions detected during post-race inspection:
If the infraction is detected during post-race inspection, then the following penalty elements will be added to those listed previously in this section:
A. Loss of an additional 25 Championship driver and owner points; regardless of whether it was a Championship Race or not
B. Loss of an additional $50,000
As a result of the violations, crew chief Luke Lambert was fined $125,000, suspended from the next six Sprint Cup events, including any non-championship races or special events, and placed on NASCAR probation through December 31. James Bender, team tire technician, and Philip Surgen, team engineer, were also suspended for the same amount of time. Newman was penalized 75 driver and owner points.
On Thursday, April 16, the P5 penalty was upheld, but the fines and points loss were reduced. Instead of the 75 point maximum, Newman only lost the 50 point minimum and Luke Lambert's fine was reduced. Lambert's six race suspension was upheld. The three member National Motorsports Appeal Panel ruled that while the team had manipulated the tires (thus keeping it a P5 penalty), they amended the points and fines because "there is no written explanation of what constitutes post race inspection". This stemmed from the team's argument that the tires were not inspected post-race because they were confiscated during the race.
Fox Sports covered their fifteenth race at Auto Club Speedway. Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Darrell Waltrip had the call in the booth for the race. Jamie Little, Chris Neville, and Matt Yocum handled the pit road duties for the television side.
MRN had the radio call for the race which was also simulcast on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. Joe Moore, Jeff Striegle and 2001 race winner Rusty Wallace called the race in the booth when the field was racing down the front stretch. Dan Hubbard called the race from atop a billboard outside turn 2 when the field was racing through turns 1 and 2. Kyle Rickey called the race from billboard outside turn 4 when the field was racing through turns 3 and 4. Alex Hayden, Glenn Jarrett and Winston Kelley worked pit road for MRN.