California dreaming: 10 thoughts on a wild weekend of racing
Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway was an intense and fascinating race, with lots of passing, lots of lead changes and, ultimately, an exciting finish that saw Jimmie Johnson edge Kevin Harvick.
Here are 10 takeaways from the race:
10. OVERTIME -- Remember all the angst people had about NASCAR's new overtime policy and how it was going to ruin the racing? It hasn't. There have been three OT finishes in five races and some of the tightest racing and best competition in years. Over time, people will begin to appreciate overtinme.
9. FROM HERE TO XFINITY -- Yes, the finish to the NASCAR XFINITY Series race was remarkable, but the rest of the race was dull, dull, dull, with Kyle Busch once again drubbing the competition until he blew a tire at the end, ending his attempt to win four straight races in this division and handing the win to Austin Dillon.
In the last four XFINITY races, Busch had led 626 of 713 laps, or 87.8 percent of the laps run. Folks, that's not the great competition NASCAR is so fond of touting. The buzz this weekend was that all three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were 0.30 seconds a lap faster than the best of the non-JGR cars. Kudos to JGR for building fast race cars, but something needs to happen to make this series more interesting than it is right now.
8. RAY OF HOPE -- Up until yesterday, Roush Fenway Racing had not produced a single top-10 finish among its three drivers in the first four races of the season. Ricky Stenhouse changed all that with a strong top five at Auto Club Speedway. Could things be looking up for RFR?
7. BUSCH'S BLUES -- Rotten luck for Kyle Busch this weekend. Who would have ever imagined he'd blow front tires at the end of both races? Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug.
6. CHASING HISTORY -- When Chase Elliott posted an average finish of 26.2 in five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts last year, it looked like make maybe Hendrick Motorsports was moving him up a year too soon. Nah. With three top 10s in the last four races, Elliott is racing like an old pro. I think he'll make the Chase and Ryan Blaney could, too.
5. KAHNE'S KERFUFFLE -- The Auto Club 400 was a nightmare race for Kasey Kahne, who made an unforced error and put Danica Patrick into the fence. Kahne is having another disappointing season and is ranked 18th in points, the same as he finished last year. He's also riding a 52-race winless streak. Hendrick Motorsports can't be pleased with his performance.
4. RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD -- There were a lot of tire failures at ACS. The blame, though, falls mostly with the teams and not Goodyear, the tire maker. Goodyear recommends minimum air pressures, but NASCAR does not require teams to follow them. Teams run lower-than-recommended pressure to get more grip. But when they do that, it raises the risk of tire failure. Many teams gambled Sunday and it bit some of those gamblers hard.
3. BIPOLAR BODY OF WORK -- The biggest surprise of the week for me was Austin Dillon. After winning the Cup pole on Friday, the XFINITY race on Saturday and being fast in all three Cup practices, I thought the No. 3 might be back in Sprint Cup Victory Lane for the first time since Dale Earnhardt's miracle run to the checkered flag at Talladega in October 2000. Alas, it was not to be, as Dillon finished 24th and never led a lap all day.
2. SOCIAL MEDIA -- Between the uproarious Ryan Blaney/Bubba Wallace Snapchat session on the way to Southern California and all the pissed-off racers and fans on Twitter last night, it was an epic weekend for NASCAR Social Media. And, yes, "squinty douchy eyes" -- Cole Pearn's Twitter description of Joey Logano -- should be the new Official Insult of NASCAR.
1. WINNING TIME -- The top four finishers in Sunday's race -- winner Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano -- all drive for the four teams that are the four most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions. Coincidence? I think not. Cream always rises to the top and NASCAR's top teams have quickly adapted to the new low-downforce package.
And, yeah, with the way he drove at the end, Johnson deserved to wear the Superman cape in his post-race interviews.