FONTANA, Calif. - Two South Coast companies will be represented with sponsorships at the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday for the annual Auto Club 400 NASCAR race.
Haas sponsors the No. 41 Ford driven by 22-year-old Cole Custer. He qualifies 18th and is the fast qualifying rookie in the field. Last year at the Xfinity race, Custer took the checkered flag. He is also a Southern California racer, growing up in Ladera Ranch (southern Orange County) about 60 miles away.
Procore sponsors 25-year-old Christopher Bell from Norman, Oklahoma, who drives the No. 95 Toyota for the Levine Family Racing Team.
He has had championship success twice at the Ventura Raceway (located at the Ventura County Fairgrounds) winning the Turkey Night Grand Prix in midget cars in 2017 and 2018. Bell is a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion (2017) and on the Xfinity level, he won 16 races before moving up to the NASCAR Cup level.
The prestigious pole position was won by the Haas No. 14 Ford driven by Clint Bowyer. He took the starting spot with a lap time of 40.086 seconds at 179.614 miles per hour. In a post-qualifying interview, Bowyer said he felt the track changing from earlier in the day under cloudy skies when he made his run under sunny conditions.
It was less than a second ahead of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson who will start the race second in his last run at the Auto Club Speedway as a full-time NASCAR driver.
Johnson is from El Cajon, also in Southern California. There will be numerous honors for Johnson prior to the race. Johnson is a six-time winner at this track.
For Bell, collaborating with Procore and Levine Family Racing continues a relationship with Toyota Racing Development and Joe Gibbs Racing. That began in 2017. Procore will be the lead sponsor six times this year. It led off the season as the sponsor of the No. 95 car for the Daytona 500.
"It was a huge opportunity for me to represent the Procore brand," said Bell. "Also driving for Levine Family Racing which has had a long term relationship, it was very gratifying when I got the phone call. Getting an opportunity to drive for LFR and Procore has been special."
Bell says he looks forward to the Procore brand and another primary sponsor Rheem, being fan favorites with his car, the number, and his fresh driving career.
The Auto Club 400 is his third start at the NASCAR cup level.
He said there's a synergy between the sport and the construction software company. "The way NASCAR is right now, technology is at the forefront for me as a driver technology is how I learn to get better. It is really a technology driven sport. It has definitely changed over the last couple of years."
Bell says he can study data and look at it in a way to help him from throttle control to car handling. "As a rookie driver coming in it is really good." He says that may give him a unique view of specific details in the sport that some of the veteran drivers did not have at the same age.
Coming to the Auto Club Speedway he says, "it is a ton of fun. It is one of the most enjoyable surfaces that we run on." The track has been open since 1997 and has several lanes that drivers say they can lock in on, move around, pass and plan their strategies depending on the factors such as tire wear and weather.
"You really have to work to get the cars around the racetrack and it is fun," said Bell outside of his No. 95 hauler in the pits.
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY NOTES:
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson will race for the final time at the Auto Club Speedway as a full-time NASCAR driver. He is a six-time winner.
Pole sitter Clint Boyer says he felt Johnson was faster through turn four, but he was able to get a fraction of a second by taking his car lower on the track.
Xfinity race winner Harrison Burton said, "I knew we had a fast car going into today and didn't need to screw it up!" He said he had a rough year last year and says he has had motivation from his family and his team at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Several teams and the Auto Club Speedway have tributes to basketball legend Kobe Bryant who died recently with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. The No. 24 car driven by William Byron is painted in purple and gold. The track plans to remember Bryant in the invocation and the Ryan Blaney No. 12 Body Armor car has MambaOnThree.org painted on the back bumper to support a special fund established after the tragedy.