Once upon a time, Auto Club Speedway was on the “snoozer” list of NASCAR races.
It used to be all about track position and clean air. Not anymore.
Low downforce, low grip and big momentum told the story today. Teams lobbied for a package that would make the drivers drive the cars. Today was another showcase that it’s working.
Risk vs. Reward
Beginning with the 2015 season, NASCAR no longer mandated minimum front left and right tire pressures. While Goodyear still offers their recommendations, the teams are free to make their own determinations — and it’s usually track-specific
Low pressures allow more of the tire to adhere to the track and enhance the grip, but lessens the durability — that’s the price. The Busch brothers, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne were amongst those paid it today.
Kenseth’s Kalamities Kontine
It’s been rough start to the 2016 season for the 2003 Champion.
The “Silent Assassin” came up two corners short of winning the Daytona 500 and the stars haven’t aligned since. Historically, Auto Club Speedway has been good to Kenseth, who started 20th and showed up third at the halfway mark.
But an unscheduled pit stop and two pit road penalties squashed any chance of making today a rebound race with a 19th place finish. He’s probably looking forward to a week off before he heads to Martinsville where…. never mind.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Denny Hamlin kicked off 2016 as the Daytona 500 Champion, followed by two mediocre races and a third-place finish last week in Phoenix. Radio issues, a pit road penalty and a lot of beating and banging could have easily derailed his efforts, but they persevered to grab another top-three. And he didn’t tear an ACL.
Chasing the Leaders
Rookie of the Year contender, Chase Elliott, scored his third top-10 of the season. Surprising? Not really. At 20 years-old Elliott continues to prove that he belongs where he is. Today, making some bold moves, he hung around the top-10 and finished 6th.
There aren’t many rookies who graduate to NASCAR’s premier series, face the challenge of keeping up with good race craft and are expected to win. But Elliott is. And he will.
You Think Superman was Fast?
In the end, Jimmie Johnson wound up wearing the cape. But those who were faster than a speeding bullet were the over-the-wall gang for Martin Truex and the Furniture Row team. Sub-eleven-second stops turned heads on pit road and continually gained the team spots.
The secret sauce? Joe Gibbs Racing. The No. 78 team is taking advantage of their alliance and dipped into the pit crew pool to strengthen their performances. If not for the skirmish with Logano, Truex was off to a very solid day. His finishing positions continue to decline, but Cole Pearn and company likely have something up their sleeves.
The Best of the Rest
Ricky Stenhouse Jr nipped Elliott at the line for his fourth career top-five and his program continues to improve. A.J. Allmendinger finished 8th for a much-needed top-10. Brian Scott turned a 21st place starting position to a 12th place finish and Landon Cassill drove from Rancho Cucamonga (34th) to come home 16th.