NASCAR’s Bowyer remains loyal to beloved Jayhawks

The Madness has begun, and not even NASCAR is immune.

At least one stock-car driver of repute admits he will have one eye on the road at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, this weekend, and the other eye on Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.

That’s where top-seeded Kansas is playing basketball in the NCAA Tournament.

Clint Bowyer grew up in Emporia, Kansas, about an hour’s drive from Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, where Bowyer’s beloved Jayhawks hoop it up. He says he remains a big fan.

“I obviously don’t get to go to games because of our schedule,” said the driver of the No. 15 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet. “But I tell you what, there’s nothing better than watching those boys play at home.”

Bowyer is predicting a victorious KU burnout.

“I know they are going to do us proud in the tournament. Coach (Bill Self) will have them ready to go,” he said as the NASCAR circus headed for California. “It’s fun because a bunch of people in the garage are North Carolina fans. But I tell you what, I think us old Jayhawk fans will be smiling at the end of this tournament.”

There actually is an NCAA-style NASCAR bracket that is put up every year by a website called Behind the Wall after the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A 32-team bracket and seedings are established based on the point standings.

Clint Bowyer was a No. 8 seed in the Six-Time Division region. He went up against No. 1 seed Jimmie Johnson in the Round of 32 at Phoenix last weekend. Johnson won; Jimmie finished 11th, while Bowyer wound up 31st.

The other top seeds in the Behind the Wall bracket were Kyle Busch in the 2015 Champ region; Brad Keselowski in the Beer, Energy and Bars region; and Denny Hamlin in the Rookies Are Us region. There already has been a major upset — bracket buster Michael McDowell finished 26th at Phoenix, while Keselowski ran 29th, thereby eliminating one of the top seeds as well as the 2015 BTW champion.

It wasn’t exactly like Lehigh over Duke in 2012, though. It was more like Derrike Cope over Dale Earnhardt in the 1990 Daytona 500.

Bullring opens

Like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano, California, short track racing returns to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring this weekend. Only these will be loud swallows. And they won’t have wings like real swallows, or like World of Outlaws (WoO!) sprint cars.

Some of the top U.S. Legends Cars drivers will be here to contest The Showdown at the Bullring, a three-day event for the little but potent Legends racers that concludes Saturday night. Features start at 2:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and admission is free.

Weekly racing (or close to it) in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at the Bullring returns March 26. Admission won’t be free, but it’ll be nominal, and chances are your team will be knocked out of March Madness by then — unless your team is Kansas or somebody like that. So the local short track races will give you something to do.

Green-white-checkered

■  Justin Lofton beat Andy McMillin to the checkered flag by nearly 42 seconds — not nearly as close as the slam-bang NASCAR finish in Phoenix, but still pretty tight for an off-road race on a course strewn with boulders and other obstacles — to win his second consecutive Mint 400 overall title in the desert south of Las Vegas. Both men drove Ford trucks. Jason Voss made it a 1-2-3 Ford sweep by coming in third.

■  Kyle Busch will be inducted into Auto Club Speedway’s Walk of Fame on Friday during the final stop of NASCAR Goes West, which is something that usually doesn’t happen until a guy is finished racing — which only goes to show how awesome Kyle Busch is. Brad Keselowski also will be honored. But because Keselowski isn’t from Las Vegas, we don’t care nearly as much about him being inducted into the Walk of Fame — even if he did win the Kobalt 400 for the second time two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

■  Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson will drive Batman- and Superman-themed cars in Sunday’s NASCAR stop at Auto Club Speedway. This is expected to call even more attention to the upcoming movie “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” In case you are wondering, Danica Patrick will not be driving a Wonder Woman-themed car, because the TV cameras generally do not focus on the cars that run 21st.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. His motor sports notebook runs on Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

Race schedule

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

What: Auto Club 400

Where: Fontana, California

When/TV: Today, practice (Fox Sports 1, 10:30-11:55 a.m.), qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 4:45 p.m.); Saturday, practice (Fox Sports 2, 8-8:55 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m.); Sunday, race, 12:30 p.m. (Fox, noon-4 p.m.).

Track: Auto Club Speedway (oval, 2.0 miles)

Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps

Last year: Brad Keselowski won at Fontana, taking advantage of debris cautions.

Last week: Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix for the eighth time by nipping Carl Edwards at the finish line.

NASCAR XFINITY

What: TreatMyClot.com 300 by Jannsen

Where: Fontana, California

When/TV: Today, practice (Fox Sports 1, noon-1:25 p.m.; 2:30-3:25 p.m.), Saturday, qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 9:15 a.m.), race, 1 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, 1 p.m.)

Track: Auto Club Speedway (oval, 2.0 miles)

Race distance: 300 miles, 150 laps

Last year: Kevin Harvick led 100 laps to win the race.

Last week: Kyle Busch led a 1-2-3 Joe Gibbs Racing sweep at Phoenix for Busch’s third win in three weeks.

NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING

What: NHRA GatorNationals

Where: Gainesville, Florida

When/TV: Today, qualifying (FS1, 6-7 p.m. taped); Saturday, qualifying (FS1, 3:30-4:30 p.m. taped); Sunday, final eliminations (FS1, 10-1 p.m.)

Track: Auto-Plus Raceway

Last year: Spencer Massey won the Top Fuel division in the Gatornationals, and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps topped the Funny Car field. Greg Anderson won in Pro Stock, and Karen Stoffer in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

F1

What: Australian Grand Prix

Where: Melbourne, Australia

When/TV: Today, practice, qualifying (NBC Sports Channel, 9:30 p.m.-midnight); Saturday, race, (NBC Sports Channel, 9:30 p.m.)

Track: Albert Park (road course, 3.3 miles)

Race distance: 191.12 miles, 58 laps

Last year: Lewis Hamilton won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was second.

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