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The dangers of crossing the seams at Auto Club Speedway


during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.

Doug Pensinger

After winning Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, Kevin Harvick had no idea what car he would have a week later at Auto Club Speedway.

But he already knew where you’d be able to find his No. 4 Chevrolet.

“I know that I’m going to be on the top seam throwing dust when practice starts,” Harvick said.

“Seams” are not to be confused with grooves, which there are an abundance of at Auto Club Speedway due to the 2-mile oval in Fontana, California, not being repaved since it opened in 1997.

With no repave, “seam” is the name given to cracks in the asphalt that have been filled with tar as a repair measure.

“The surface is old and worn out with plenty of bumps,” said Martin Truex Jr. in a release. “The seams in the corners between the lanes are really tricky. There are a lot of things you have to get right there, but through all the difficulty the track is a ton of fun.”

Truex believes what his team learned at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weeks ago will “definitely apply” to what they try to do in Fontana. A.J. Allmendinger disagrees.

“I wouldn’t say Atlanta is bumpy,” Allmendinger said in a release. “It has a lot of waves in it and you are not bouncing the car off the track. California is more just harsh bumps that you’ve got to get your car to where it doesn’t crash the splitter, but you are always trying to get your car as low as possible ... I think it lends itself to the same type of racing, but what we’ve learned at Atlanta doesn’t help us at all at California.”

Auto Club Speedway is a half mile longer than both Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the track’s 14 degree banking is closer to the 11 degrees in Turns 1 and 2 at Phoenix International Raceway than the 24 and 20 degrees found at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

How a car navigates those corners and the seams can be dependent on how the tar reacts to the Southern California heat.

“The seams at California are incredibly tricky,” said Aric Almirola in a release. “It’s one of the toughest places that we go to in terms of how you position your car on the race track to cross over the seams. The tar that holds the race track together gets so hot and slimy that the tire just doesn’t stick very well when you go across it. You can bust your butt really quick if you’re not careful crossing the seams.”

But the seams are not only an obstacle in the corners. They’re a constant presence for drivers around the track that can “make or break” a run into the turns if they get caught on one.

“You have to really focus on your entry and how you straddle them because you’re looking at that seam all the way around the track,” Austin Dillon said in a release. “You can kind of get lost in it so you don’t want to put your right-front (tire) against it or right under it. It’s one of those places that you want to center it up and try to skip it.”

But Harvick, who has one win in 22 starts at Auto Club Speedway, “loves” the seams despite their run-killing potential. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver says the benefits of the seams comes from staying as close to them as possible without going over them. Or as he put it Sunday, “dusting.”

“If you hit them wrong, it definitely messes up the direction that the car is going,” Harvick said in a release. “But it also can be a huge help to you as well. But I think everybody knows that when you come here, you’re going to have to deal with them.”

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