Youngsters lead way as NASCAR goes Hollywood
fontana, calif. — Ryan Blaney already had his Hollywood moment earlier in the week when he got a photo with actress Daisy Ridley at a Los Angeles Lakers game.
“She had no idea who I was,” Blaney said with a grin. “I wasn’t going to be like, ‘Hey, I drive racecars.’ You can’t do that. That’s not cool . . . . We didn’t really talk that much. I was just trying not to sweat profusely and make a fool out of myself.”
Hopefully the up-and-coming NASCAR driver is a bit smoother at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana — one hour east of Hollywood — when he attempts to make another West Coast memory Sunday.
He’s in the middle of a crowded field led by pole sitter Kyle Larson, while defending champion Jimmie Johnson will be charging up from 37 th in his backup car.
Between those two Californians, Blaney will try to continue his strong start. He is one of several youngsters making an impact early in the season for NASCAR, which can always use some new blood.
“It’s cool to see some younger drivers running very well,” said Blaney, who finished second at Daytona and seventh at Las Vegas in his Wood Brothers Racing Ford. “I think we’ve hit on a lot of those goals that we had, while we’re still getting better and better.”
While NASCAR’s aging fan base and regional appeal have been scrutinized this season, the sport’s transition toward a younger demographic is exemplified by the show going on outside Auto Club Speedway this weekend: Monster Energy drink, the NASCAR Cup Series’ new title sponsor, is putting on a showcase featuring motocross, stunt truck drivers and other action sports-related fun.
Cars going over 180 mph also should be appealing to that demographic, and NASCAR usually delivers a solid race when it closes out its West Coast swing on the well-aged asphalt of the two-mile track built by Roger Penske. The ex-California Speedway opened 20 years ago, and its anniversary race should feature the same fourwide racing that made it famous.
“It’s always a lot of fun to go to a worn-out surface,” said Larson, the overall points leader despite not winning a race or even a stage. “Fontana is one of my favorites because there are so many different lanes to choose from and the seams are tricky. It’s an intense racetrack.”
Larson is on the pole for just the second time in his career after three consecutive second-place finishes in NASCAR’s last three races. While the Northern California native might be the hottest driver on the circuit, nobody wins at Fontana like Johnson, the Southern Californian with a record six victories here — including last season, when he charged past Kevin Harvick in overtime.
XFINITY SERIES: Larson held off Joey Logano on the final lap to win Saturday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, placing first in the Xfinity event at Fontana for the second time in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
Kyle Busch was third, with Erik Jones in fourth and rookie William Byron in fifth.