By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
It was a wild afternoon at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which saw Jimmie Johnson surge past Kevin Harvick on a late restart to win the Auto Club 400. Here are the five takeaways from Sunday’s race at the 2-mile oval.
1) Kevin continues Auto Club collapse
Heading into Sunday’s Sprint Cup race the driver that led the most laps failed to win five of the last six races, Harvick made it six of seven after failing to find Victory Lane in Fontana. It is also the 12th time since 2014 that Harvick has failed to win after leading the most laps. All things considered, the 2015 Sprint Cup champion was poised for the win until caution came out with two laps to go following a blown right front tire of Kyle Busch. For whatever reason though, Harvick has failed to close out races after being the dominant car, something that he and crew chief Rodney Childers have to fix if they hope to be a serious player come Chase time.
2) SAFER is where it’s at
Early in the race Kyle Larson encountered a blown left rear tire, causing him to wreck on the backstretch. The scary aspect of this was when the tire blew, apparently severing the brake line, leaving the brakes useless as Larson attempted to stop. The end result was a hard head-on impact with the inside wall, which lifted the car off all four tires as it bounced off the SAFER Barrier. Shades of Denny Hamlin’s impact a few years back when he fractured a vertebra in his back immediately came to mind. Once again, this is something to applaud NASCAR for as it continues its quest for safety.
3) Raising Roush
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was having a solid day, the entire Roush Fenway Racing camp was actually until Trevor Bayne and Greg Biffle found problems, but back on point, the late restart helped push Stenhouse up to fifth, his best finish of the season. Stenhouse continues to impress as he picked up yet another solid finish. As Roush Fenway is trying to rebuild itself, it appears that it has found someone to lead them in the two-time XFINITY Series champion.
4) Low downforce package brings another set of tire problems
The low downforce package has been refreshing and reinvigorated the Sprint Cup Series, but with it has come a mass of tire plagued issues in recent weeks. Last week we saw several tire woes and it was the same story at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. The reason is due to the lack of grip that the low downforce package provides, leaving the teams to find mechanical grip in camber adjustments. This is forcing higher tire temperatures as the shoulder of the tire is contacting with the racing surface. Perhaps it is time that NASCAR limit the camber allowed by teams, it is the reason for not only blown tires, but also vicious wrecks like the one Larson endured.
5) Reverse of fortune hits two Chevy notables
Austin Dillon started the day on pole for Sunday’s race, and after winning Saturday’s XFINITY Series race he looked poised for a solid race as a contender at Auto Club Speedway. Things quickly changed however as the Richard Childress Racing driver managed to lead only the opening lap before falling into irrelevancy, ultimately finishing 24th. For Brian Vickers, the day could not have been more opposite. The substitute driver for Tony Stewart, Vickers fell two laps down quickly at the start of the race. Persistency paid off though as Vickers battled back to nearly crack the top 10 at the finish, settling in 13th when all was said and done.
Overall, the Auto Club 400 was exciting from start to finish with plenty of side-by-side racing for the lead (and throughout the field). The only issue to take from Sunday’s race is the tire management being handled by the teams. In a world where hundredths of a second will separate you from the competition, it is important to not lose sight over the drivers being put at risk for this issue.
Image: Robert Laberge/Getty Images