With the Daytona 500 officially in the rearview mirror, the Cup Series heads back to California as part of a three-race west coast trip. This weekend marks the return to Auto Club Speedway for the first time since 2020. Alex Bowman remains the defending race winner, as the series did not race in Fontana last season due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Kyle Busch has won four races on the 2-mile track, which is the most among active drivers.

There will be many unknowns entering tomorrow's race, with just one short practice session and a wild qualifying today. The new Goodyear tires will be put to the test, as the track has not been resurfaced since it was built in 1997. Tire management will be key, and so will be taking care of equipment with teams away from the shop for the next few weeks.

Earlier in the week, it was announced that the track added some resin to parts of the track to help tire wear, and they also grinded down a section on the backstretch. All 36 chartered teams are entered in Sunday's Wise Power 400 with no open cars participating.

Knockout qualifying was filled with drivers that spun while making an attempt. The top five drivers in each group advanced to the final round, where the top ten starting positions would be determined. Only seven of those drivers actually recorded a time by completing a lap. In the end, it was Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric that took the top spot.

Cindric will try to keep the momentum rolling tomorrow, as he leads the field to the green flag in his No. 2 Ford Mustang. The Team Penske driver will share the front row with Erik Jones, who was just 0.116 seconds behind. Row 2 belongs to Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Daniel Hemric had a strong performance and will start 5th on Sunday.

Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano were the only other drivers to make it across the finish line but even they briefly lost control of their cars. Brad Keselowski, William Byron, and Chase Elliott all spun on their final attempt but will round out the top ten starting positions.

Tricky conditions and loose race cars were the two constant themes on Saturday.

In the short practice session before qualifying, several drivers lost control of their cars and some suffered heavy damage. Kevin Harvick spun less than two minutes in, putting the right-rear of his No. 4 Ford Mustang into the outside wall. Chris Buescher spun shortly after that but did not make any contact. Ross Chastain wasn’t so lucky, and made heavy contact as he went head first into the wall. Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell both lost control of their Toyota machines as well.

Harvick, who was unable to make a qualifying run, believes that taking care of tires will be a crucial aspect of the race. “It’s always tire management. It’s always moving around the racetrack, being able to run the top and the bottom. But this car is so different in the way that it uses the tires, and the way it uses the right-rear tire, especially. I think as you look at that, it could turn into a tire conservation type of situation to where you just have to pick a speed and run the speed so you can make it through a whole fuel run."

Teams will have 11 sets of tires for the weekend and will be allowed to transfer a set from qualifying. With the high-horsepower and low-downforce package, Goodyear has recommended that teams do not go below 20 psi in the left front and 22 psi in the left rear.

Bowman believes there is a fine line that drivers will have to walk on Sunday. “I think you’re still going to drive the car hard,” he said. “Everybody runs each other hard all the time now, and I think if you save tires, you have to run people so hard to get back by them that you just burn the tires up even worse. But it’s not like we can ride around and save our stuff and come back through the field at the end, because passing has gotten so difficult.”

Seven cars failed pre-qualifying inspection Friday night, but Kurt Busch's car failed three times. As a result, the No. 45 Toyota was not able to make a qualifying attempt today and will also have to serve a pass-through penalty at the start of the race. Car chief David Bryant has also been ejected for the remainder of the weekend.

Six other cars (Harvick, Keselowski, Blaney, Logano, Wallace, BJ McLeod) failed inspection twice. Each team lost pit stall selection and will lose a crew member for the weekend. Coverage of the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway begins at 3:30 PM ET on FOX.