Race Capsule: Johnson bests Harvick in home track California battle
Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, taking the lead from Denny Hamlin (finished 3rd) on the final restart. The victory was Johnson's 2nd of the season and 77th in his career, moving the California driver past Dale Earnhardt for 7th on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win list. The road to Victory Lane was not an easy won for the now-six-time winner at the track.
Flag-to-flag: Johnson started deep in the field (19th) with pole sitter Austin Dillon (24th) and Kevin Harvick (started and finished 2nd) on the front row. Harvick wasted no time taking the lead from young Dillon on the first lap and went on to lead nine times for 142 laps. Carl Edwards (7th) got up front for five laps after Harvick leading the first 28, when the first caution of the day came out on lap 31. Chris Buescher (34th) cut a tire and hit the wall, the first of many such teams to struggle with tire problems on the aged, rough, two-mile track.
Kyle Busch (25th) cut two tires (the first of which he drove back into contention from) and Harvick pitted under green with what he thought was a tire going down (there wasn't). Other drivers losing track position with actual or suspected tire problems include Matt Kenseth (19th), Kasey Kahne (28th), A.J. Allmendinger (8th), Hamlin, Brian Vickers (13th), Ryan Blaney (35th), Brad Keselowski (9th), Trevor Bayne (20th), Paul Menard (15th), and Kyle Larson (39th). Because of the big size of the ACS track surface and the many cautions, drivers generally had chances to stay on the lead lap after green flag stops and then get caught up.
Larson's problem caused a scary and incredible wreck on lap 46, as the No. 42 Chevy's left-rear tire went flat. Larson got out of shape and tagged the outside wall and then careened straight across the track and apron and hard, right-front first, into the outside wall. The contact picked all four tires off the air and slung the 1.5-ton machine hard back onto the pavement. Larson was okay and said the cut tire severed his brake lines, making the crash into the SAFER barrier on the back straightaway worse. Larson's miserable season continues (24th in points, only top 10 in Daytona 500, no laps lead).
Danica Patrick (38th) had a scary wreck on lap 120 of the scheduled-200 at the hands of Kahne. As Patrick swooped low to pass Kahne's lapped car, Kahne darted down to get a side draft and stifle the move. But he lost control and his left-front hooked Patrick's right rear and sent her head-on, hard, and slightly airborne into the outside wall. Patrick got out of her car and gave a disgusted shrug to Kahne after the wreck, saying
The racing was particularly good on restarts, as drivers fanned to different lines. The battle for the lead on the lap 161 was a spectacle, with Edwards, Johnson, Harvick and Joey Logano (4th) really going after it. As they settled
Harvick, 2nd-place Chase Elliott (6th), and the rest of the leaders pitted for four tires and fuel and Hamlin and Harvick won the race from the pits, with Johnson, Logano, and Edwards in tow. Harvick beat Hamlin to the green flag legally, but Johnson recoiled, got past Hamlin, and passed Harvick before the white flag to win. The entire lead gaggle of cars slipped, skated, and slid
The top 10 were: Johnson, Harvick, Hamlin, Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (shot through the pack to barely beat Elliott to the line at the end), Elliott (another impressive run - lost spots on final pit stop), Edwards (very fast yet again, had nothing for the lead on the final restart, overcame pit road penalty), Allmendinger (a fixture in the top 15 much of the day, despite an unscheduled green pit stop), Keselowski (last year's winner overcame pit road penalty, but was never super-fast), and Jamie McMurray (invisible the entire day, but shot into top 10 in NASCAR Overtime).
Even during long green flag runs, the tire
NSCS RaceTweet: Johnson bests dominator Harvick at @ACSUpdates to pass Earnhardt on all-time wins list. Lots of blown tires and lots of passing. Patrick, Truex Jr., and Pearn calling out haters.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kevin Harvick - Again, the No. 4 car leads the most laps and is in
North Korean Missile Dud: Kurt Busch - This really is not so much of Busch's doing, but he had one of the best records at ACS entering the weekend. But Busch hit the wall in practice and went to a backup and then seemingly the wheels came off. In the opening
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Brian Vickers - Vickers was one of several to lose tires early in the race. Subbing for Tony Stewart, Vickers lost two laps right before a yellow flag came out and spent a long while just trying to get back on the lead lap. Once he did, he slowly got the No. 14 into the top 15 - 13th at the finish. Vickers knows his chances in this good equipment are limited and he didn't let early trouble kill his day.
Ghost Driver: Ryan Newman - This is more of a good thing, considering he finished 14th. Newman didn't wreck or lose a tire, but he also never battled for the lead or really even ever in the top 10. He had a Childress-era Newman kind of day: finish, get a solid result. Newman needs to do more, but he may very well be carrying his No. 31 Chevy as far as it can go.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Brian Scott - There are lots of good candidates for
Wheel of Misfortune: Kyle Busch - Busch had a top 5 car all day, but cut a tire to bring out the final caution and finished 25th. Busch also had Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race in the books, but cut a tire coming to the white flag, got passed by teammate Daniel Suarez (who subsequently ran out of gas and gave the lead back to Busch), then got passed in the final turn by Austin Dillon. Busch called out NASCAR on the radio for not throwing a debris yellow to end the race while he was still leading. It would have been his fourth-straight NXS win. And then he
Jimmie Johnson Golden Horseshoe: Anyone that pitted before a yellow - Award namesake Johnson and award creator Harvick both had green flag stops (both scheduled, though Harvick's was off-sequence) that immediately preceded caution flags. This allowed them to stay out while the leaders pitted and inherit the
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: As Doug Rice tweeted early Monday - we have
Ky. Busch was mad at NASCAR for how they officiated Saturday's race and so much so that he went all "Kyle Busch pre-2012" and blew off interviews.
We are less than 15% of the way into the NASCAR season and already are seeing tempers flare. That probably is mainly a product of a tough, racy track and a trickier aero package. This happens. But it seems this Easter off week couldn't come at a better time before the highly confrontational Martinsville Speedway short track race in April. By the way, the Camping World Truck Series returns then also. The NXS returns April 8th at Texas Motor Speedway.
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott had a rookie win in sight, as he stood in 2nd place on the final caution. He restarted about 8th, got to 5th and finished 6th barely. Elliott has a top 10 in every race he hasn't wrecked. He's knocking on the door harder and earlier than expected and his demeanor has stayed calm and mature. Elliott and fellow rookie Ryan Blaney are actually tied at 16th in points, the last slot, so far, in Chase playoff contention.
David Ragan finished a decent 22nd Sunday, as contenders fell by the wayside. He ran as high as 17th, but handling and lack of horsepower sent him back. Ragan has had two-straight decent races, but sits 30th in points, with an average finish of 27.8.
Brandon Jones continues running
Garrett Smithley improved a few positions in the late going to run 23rd, two laps down for J.D. Motorsports' No. 0 Chevy. Ryan Sieg's Saturday
NXS RaceTweet: *yawn* Kyle Busch wins. Wait! Suarez to win