The old guard has the edge in Fontana

Each time a driver circles Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, his car will struggle to corner as well as the previous lap.

It's a reflection of the rapid tire wear caused by the two mile oval's abrasive racing surface.

Anyone who has used sandpaper understands 100 grit sandpaper removes more material in a given amount of time than 220 grit sandpaper.

Consider California to be more like 36 grit -- and the four Goodyear tires are being shaved away every time a driver enters, or exits, a turn.

You now have the principal idea of what will shape, form and ultimately determine Sunday's winner.

Three keys for drivers to reduce tire wear

  • Be extremely careful not to spin the rear tires on the start, and all restarts during the race.

    It's easier said than done, because the torque put to the rear tires is enormous in second gear, less when you shift to third gear, and even less as you shift into high entering Turn 1.

    With both hands back on the steering wheel, most of the risk to spinning the rear tires has abated ... with the exception of exiting Turns 2 and 4.

  • The key to protecting and preserving tires during race runs is to transition as quickly as possible to a higher line around each sets of turns.

    With the car entering Turn 1 north of 200 mph and the driver turning to the bottom of the track (toward the apron), tremendous loads, lateral forces, are created. This claws away at the tires, particularly right-side tires as they carry more of the load.

    By entering the turn higher, a driver effectively turns the front tires less, which protects them. Travel a less aggressive arc through the turn that allows for less drop in speed and RPM. That technique contributes to rear tire preservation on corner exit.

    With less rpm drop, the rear tires are not taxed as much to recover the car's speed, and the straighter exit off the turns means the front tires are creating less resistance allowing the car to roll easier, or more freely.

    From a driver's perspective, when one executes the high line perfectly, it provides the sensation of the car having 50 more horsepower down the front and backstretch, all because the driver began the process of accelerating sooner.

  • Choose battles wisely, meaning when a driver prepares to make a pass, make it at the correct place on the track, and make it swiftly.

    Racing side by side with another competitor at a track like Auto Club exaggerates tire wear enormously.

    For instance, in ill-attempted pass underneath another car on corner entry does not allow a driver to clear and slide back up the track, and requires a very defensive posture ... more steering, more braking, more aggression with the accelerator to complete the pass on the exit. In the end a car might gain a position, but the driver has destroyed three laps worth of rubber, all in one set of turns.

    This is why the technique of knowing how and when to pass at an abrasive track favors those who have experienced success at it.

The bottom line

Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick will be two obvious choices because they are the best at this discipline of driving.

Add Denny Hamlin into the equation because he is so good with his feet (evidenced each year in Martinsville). While it will be tempting to grab a dark horse the likes of Kyle Larson -- who has demonstrates a fondness for this type of driving -- be careful not to reach too deep for a first-time winner, even Sunday's pole-sitter Austin Dillon.

This race isn't won with brute speed and white-knuckle driving. It's won by managing tires, calculating passes, and biding time.

In other words, favor the old guys.