Surprising and Not Surprising: Auto Club 400 At Fontana

A super finish for “Superman” was had on Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 20th annual Auto Club 400.

Surprising: Jimmie Johnson, after matching Dale Earnhardt’s number of wins just a few weeks ago, won on Sunday in a NASCAR Overtime finish.

Johnson’s 77th win has him ranked seventh solely on the all-time wins list. This is also his sixth victory at Fontana, the most of any driver in the history of this racetrack. It was only fitting that Johnson would break his tie with Earnhardt at his home track and the track of his very first Sprint Cup win, in a Superman branded car.


American Muscle

Crew chief Chad Knaus, however, doesn’t seem too concerned about moving up in the rankings.

“If you start shooting for goals like that, you can’t do it,”  Knaus said after being asked if they could match Jeff Gordon’s mark of 93 Sprint Cup wins. “The thing you have to do, from my standpoint, is we have to worry about going to Martinsville and trying to win that race first. We have to worry about practicing well, qualifying well, winning that race. Then we have to do the same thing going to Texas, then so on and so forth throughout the rest of the season.

I don’t put the cart before the horse, you guys know that, so we focus forward, and that’s what we’re worried about.”

Johnson, for his part, was still gracious in victory.

“There’s no guarantees about when you’re going to win and have success,” Johnson said.  “I’ve been very, very fortunate to win 77 of these things, which blows my mind on its own. It’s easy to look at trends and say we win X a year, but at some point that stops, that stops for everybody. I don’t know when that point is for me. I certainly hope it’s not soon. I would love to get to Jeff. But you never know.”

Not Surprising: After dominating most of the day, Kevin Harvick once again ended up playing the bridesmaid.

Harvick led for 142 laps and led Kyle Busch by seconds during much of the last 30 scheduled laps. But a late race caution and a somewhat slow pit stop relegated him to second on the final restart.

Harvick was able to momentarily take the lead from Denny Hamlin on the final restart, but was passed by Johnson in Turn two and couldn’t catch “Superman” in the last lap and a half.

Harvick has led the most laps in twenty-four races since joining Stewart-Haas two seasons ago and has only won eight of them. Harvick’s long run car was to blame for this one.

“That was the worst it has taken off on restarts, but we weren’t very good on restarts for four or five laps unless we were all by ourselves,” Harvick told FOX Sports following the race. “The No. 48 was able to hang with us and we just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to, just didn’t’ have the front tires turning and the back wouldn’t grip.”

Surprising: Kyle Busch was running second in the final section of the race before blowing a tire with just a couple of laps to go. It was eerily similar to Saturday’s XFINITY Series race at the same track, where Busch was leading on the final lap before blowing a tire and losing the race to Austin Dillon.

Unlike Saturday, however, NASCAR race control called for the caution due to the debris and Busch struggled to 25th on the ensuing restart. Busch did not speak to the media following the race.

Busch is possibly in trouble with NASCAR as it is. Busch sarcastically thanked NASCAR over his team radio on Saturday for “fixing the race” and not calling for the caution on the final lap of the race. Busch would have won his fourth straight XFINITY Series race if the caution had been called.

“Rowdy,” wrote on Twitter following Sunday’s race that he expects to be fined for the comment.

Not Surprising: Tires were a huge part of the story of Sunday’s race. Teams had trouble setting up the cars on Sunday to not wear too much on their Goodyear Eagles.

The worn surface of Auto Club Speedway, the oldest in NASCAR, was a major contributing factor since the tire compound was softer than what has been run in years past.

Among those who had tire blowouts included the aforementioned Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher, and Trevor Bayne.

Surprising: There were a couple of possible feuds started on Sunday.

The first came on lap 122 when Danica Patrick was turned by Kasey Kahne heading into Turn one. Patrick did not finish the race as a result and broke a NASCAR rule by walking away from her car and the safety crew to the apron to motion to Kahne as he drove by.

“He was behind me in the right rear,” Patrick said. “I don’t know what kind of day he was having. I just heard he was a lap down actually. I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down.”

Kahne later apologized on Twitter and told the media at the track that he “felt really bad because it was far from anything than just trying to hold my position. I’ve never had an issue with Danica at all.”

Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., may also be in hot water with NASCAR. Late in the race, Truex was racing with Joey Logano for position in the top 10 before accidentally being knocked into the wall by Logano. Truex, who had run in the top 10 for the vast majority of the race, finished a lap down in 32nd while Logano finished fourth.

Pearn, on Twitter, made a comment about Logano’s “squinty eyes” in a now deleted tweet. NASCAR has said they will be reviewing the comment over the next couple of days.

Logano said following the race that the incident “was completely my fault.”

Not Surprising:  Chase Elliott, after being fast for the first four races but finding trouble in two of those races, ended the day just outside of the top five in sixth place after a side by side finish with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Elliott now finds himself in the Chase five races into the season by points. He’s currently tied with fellow rookie Ryan Blaney but is in on a tiebreaker.

Next week will be a rare off weekend for the Sprint Cup Series. Have a happy Easter and get ready for some short track action at Martinsville in a couple of weeks!

 


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