Frustrated Toyotas and a discouraged Jimmie Johnson all chased Alex Bowman at California

FONTANA, Calif. – Alex Bowman took the best car in the Auto Club 400 and won with it.

No wonder pretty much everyone else left frustrated or discouraged Sunday from Auto Club (California) Speedway.

Nothing against Bowman – dude is in a contract year at Hendrick and making a solid argument on the race track that he deserves an extension – but Bowman ruined what could have been a Jimmie Johnson celebration in his last race at his home track and Bowman exposed the Toyotas for not being the dominant organization that won 19 races a year ago.

Defending Cup champion Kyle Busch finished second to Bowman and knew he wasn’t in the same league with his Toyota compared to Bowman’s new 2020 Chevrolet body. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. had a little bit better speed and Ryan Blaney had a tire issue late in the race, as Busch estimated he had a top-10 but not a top-5 car.

“We weren’t even close to battling for a win,” Busch said. “The 88 [of Bowman] was checked out. We certainly know we’ve got work to do – not sure we know what areas yet.”

He might need to look at what Truex was doing. A tire changer suffered a cramp on a pit stop that ruined Truex’s day, but he was the lone Toyota that at times could battle toward the front. As he tried to come through the field, Truex also battled with his teammates, including what he felt was Hamlin running him into the fence.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said, adding he didn’t have any beef with Busch. “Just will have to talk about it.”

Hamlin understood. But when a driver knows others have better cars, they tend to fight harder to retain spots. Hamlin said their cars need more downforce, more horsepower and less drag.

“We’re just fighting like cats and dogs and I think I was on the bottom there and he was right there on my right rear and it just dumps air so much on my right rear spoiler that it caused me to plow tight and shove up into him,” Hamlin said about the contact with Truex. “It’s a bad combination.”

Busch indicated that he was mad at about eight other drivers, so no surprise that teammates end up frustrated with each other.

“The racing is such s— right now,” Busch said about the way drivers are digging for spots with little regard for others. “There is no wherewithal. There’s no care. It’s just a dogfight. I guess it is what it is.”

The dogfighting appears to also happen in the tech bay. Last week at Vegas, all the Toyota teams lost practice time because NASCAR felt they had too much bondo in an area that messed with the required shape of the right rear wheel fender.

A few of the JGR teams also were penalized 10 points at Vegas for a piece of plastic behind the Toyota decal on the nose of the car.

Then in the last couple of days at California, Truex had his tech issues. And the Chevrolets of JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece had a body panel that disrupted the air flow around the car during qualifying. They were docked 10 points and had their crew chiefs ejected.

NASCAR has shied from ejecting crew chiefs the last couple of years. Doing it to the JTG teams was a message to the garage that NASCAR seems to be tiring of teams pushing the limits.

“I know they’re always tired of the games and all the bull,” Busch said about the apparent NASCAR crackdown. “I’m not exactly sure what was found on those other guys’ cars. They gave a gift to the Chevy teams in the offseason. It’s all about how you play the politics, I guess.”

Before that sounds like sour grapes, there’s truth to it in a way. Bowman crew chief Greg Ives said the new Chevrolet body, with curves that create a more efficient downforce-drag ratio, has helped the Hendrick teams not push the issue as much (although Chase Elliott did have a car chief ejected at Vegas for tech violations).

“[A crew chief’s] job is to try to see where the line is, and sometimes you’ve got to cross it before you understand where it is,” Ives said. “Fortunately for us, … the Chevrolet has been able to maybe [have] made us not have to go as far and work in the areas that we typically had to, and just downright have speed in the car.

“That’s been very good from my standpoint to be able to unload and know we have a solid baseline and not have to chase and try to find speed, and when you do that, sometimes you get desperate and sometimes you get over the line.”

It didn’t seem like Bowman chased anything all weekend. The team made very few adjustments since unloading fast off the truck.

“Greg Ives is a smart dude,” Johnson said. “And Alex, it’s great to see him have this moment to shine.”

As far as Johnson, his family waved the green flag to start the race and it would have been a storybook day for the California native to win at the track in his final full-time season. He ran top-5 much of the day, but Johnson said he was discouraged his last run was his worst and he finished seventh.

His winless streak has reached 98, and the seven-time Cup champion refused to let the need to win in his final season engulf his psyche.

“I’m over all that s—,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to race. I don’t care. I’m going to lay it on the line, leave it on the track and the race wins will come if and when they’re supposed to happen.”

Apparently they were supposed to happen for Bowman.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Bowman said. “There’s a lot of pressure that goes on. But however the car is you’re going to get what you can get, and we knew we had a good one this week, and we knew we had a shot at it.”

 

Xfinity: Burton Silences Doubters

An athlete shouldn’t need bulletin board material as incentive – would an athlete try any less if no one criticized? But for a 19-year-old whose family has enjoyed success in racing, Harrison Burton couldn’t help but notice as he had a roller-coaster 2019 at Kyle Busch Motorsports, as well as a handful of races in a Joe Gibbs Racing car in the Xfinity Series. He silenced the doubters with his win Saturday.

Read more here.

 

Stat Of Note

The margin of victory for Bowman was 8.904 seconds, the third largest in track history.

 

Social Spotlight

– David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, on Kyle Busch comments that the Toyotas have a lot of work to do.

 

What They Said

“It’s frustrating, you know. It’s two weeks in a row and we have a top-3 car and we lay an egg. … The team is doing a good job and I’m happy with that. Everybody counted us out and we had a solid top-3 car.” – Martin Truex Jr.