On Sunday in the city of Metropolis, better known as Auto Club Speedway, Clark Kent, better known as Jimmie Johnson, climbed out of the phone booth and into his No. 48 Chevrolet and turned into Superman. He proved once again that as our six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion, he was definitely faster than speeding bullet and the Man of Steel.
Then if you took time to read the Daily Planet on Monday, you would read that Clark, I mean Jimmie, now has his second win in only five races this season. He’s sitting second in the points with three top fives and three top 10s. Poor Kevin Harvick, who led an amazing 142 of 205 laps, simply didn’t have enough kryptonite to stop Superman.
Kevin had a huge lead and looked to have defeated Superman, but then poor Kyle Busch had what must have seemed like the movie "Groundhog Day" happen to him. Kyle had a tire go down and hit the wall with just a couple laps to go. This was the same thing that happened to him in the NASCAR XFINITY race on Saturday after taking the white flag. Daniel Suarez swept by Kyle and it looked like he was going to get his first win, but then he ran out of gas.
Believe it not, Kyle was still going basically on only three tires, but Austin Dillon got by him on the outside and beat Kyle to the line by only .714 seconds, snapping Kyle’s win streak in the XFINITY Series. Austin summed it up the best, I think, when he said after the race, "I’d rather be lucky than good." Kyle had led 133 of 150 laps and was going for his record fourth XFINITY win in a row. Kyle wasn’t happy after the race and stormed off, which got everyone buzzing about the "old" Kyle being back.
Saturday’s winner, Austin Dillon, started on the pole Sunday and is on quite a roll. As I have said all year long, he and crew chief Slugger Labbe have just been doing a fantastic job with that No. 3 car. They now have a pole, one top-five finish, three top-10 finishes and are sitting 10th in the points after only five races in 2016. They actually were going to have a better finish Sunday than the 24th they got, but Slugger told me they had an air gun go bad during that last pit stop and that put them way behind.
This West Coast Swing has been amazing. I think it’s one of the best things NASCAR has ever done to the schedule. Again, I still would prefer they stop at Texas Motor Speedway on the way back, because even though the teams have a week off, they go to Martinsville and then have to go back across the country to Texas.
Here’s some pretty cool statistics I came across. Two of the three races on this year’s West Coast Swing were won by drivers who won during the West Coast Swing last year. Brad Keselowski won this year at Las Vegas and at Auto Club Speedway in 2015. Kevin Harvick won yet again at Phoenix this year while winning at both Las Vegas and Phoenix in 2015.
Brad got his second win at Las Vegas. Kevin got his eighth win at Phoenix, which believe it or not is his sixth in the last eight races, and Sunday was Jimmie’s sixth win at Auto Club Speedway.
Kevin Harvick had the best average finish in the three West Coast races, with an average finish of 3.3. He was the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all three races, and he has led 282 of the 785 laps run. That’s an amazing 36 percent of all the laps raced.
Now, this to me is equally amazing: The top six drivers of the 2016 West Coast Swing put up some staggering numbers. Kevin leads the way with an average finish of 3.33. Jimmie is next at 5.0. Then comes Joey Logano with an average finish of 8.0, which also ties him with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Denny Hamlin comes in at 8.33, and Carl Edwards’ average finish was 9.0.
We also saw new track records set in two of the three West Coast races. For the seventh consecutive year it happened at Las Vegas, and for the first time since 2005 it happened at Auto Club Speedway. To give you a point of reference of how long ago that 2005 record was, it was set by Kyle Busch in the No. 5 car driving for Hendrick Motorsports.
Our 2016 Rookie of the Year class continues to impress us all. Back at Phoenix, Chase Elliott finished eighth and Ryan Blaney finished 10th. Now this was the first time since the fall Kansas race in 2014 that two rookies finished in the top 10. Back in 2014, rookie Kyle Larson finished second while rookie Austin Dillon finished eighth.
We continue to see more strength out of Roush Fenway Racing, which to me is great. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fifth at Auto Club Speedway. Sunday also saw Chase Elliott finishing sixth at Auto Club Speedway, getting his career best finish, while Brian Scott finished 12th at Auto Club Speedway which matched his career-best finish.
We saw some bizarre things happen on the West Coast Swing. We saw all kinds of tire problems. We had the heavy winds and crazy sandstorm at Las Vegas. We saw Kasey Kahne’s engine catch on fire during qualifying, and probably the most bizarre thing was Jimmie Johnson’s steering wheel coming off in his hands during qualifying at Phoenix. So it was a pretty eventful 2016 West Coast Swing.
On the upside, we saw a number of drivers overcome adversity these last three races to post great finishes. Brad Keselowski won at Las Vegas after speeding, and finished ninth at Auto Club after a tire violation. Denny Hamlin finished third at Phoenix after a tire violation and third Auto Club Speedway after speeding. Austin Dillon got his third career top-five despite a speeding penalty at Las Vegas, while Carl Edwards finished seventh at Auto Club after suffering a speeding penalty. Then there was Kurt Busch finishing ninth at Las Vegas after his pit road speeding penalty.
I am still at a loss to explain what happened between Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick on Sunday. She drove low to pass Kasey as they crossed the start-finish line on Lap 122. We looked at it every which way and it just seems like he clipped her. I just can’t imagine that he would do that intentionally. It sent her into the outside wall in a nasty crash. Thankfully she was fine, but she went out onto the track to show her displeasure to Kasey as he came by under caution. That’s a big no-no, so I suspect we’ll see NASCAR penalize her. Not sure if they will penalize Kasey, but I imagine they are taking a hard look at what happened between the two of them.
I also have to chuckle because while taking the Red Eye home from Fontana Sunday night, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Twitter lit up by NASCAR folks as much as I did that night. Kyle Busch was on a NASCAR rant. The No. 78 crew chief, Cole Pearn, was very upset with Joey Logano. So a lot of people were upset with Joey. The same could be said about the number of people upset with Kasey for what he did to Danica. So Sunday night social media was definitely lit up with Twitter wars.
All in all, we’ve now been to four differently configured tracks, and this low downforce package seems to be the hot ticket. I’m not hearing the drivers complain. The fans are loving it. The racing has been great. The grandstands have been full. I mean, what else could you ask for?
Sunday marked Superman’s â sorry, I meant Jimmie Johnson’s — 512th win, and it was his 77th win, which pushed him past Dale Earnhardt on NASCAR’s all-time win list. That’s just simply amazing. To those of us in the garage, Jimmie doesn’t have anything to prove to us, but he proved it again Sunday at Fontana that he can wear that cape at any track we go to because he truly is Superman.