Retiring seven-time champion and California native Jimmie Johnson was honored prior to Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, but one of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Alex Bowman, was the driver celebrated after the race as a result of claiming his second-career NASCAR Cup Series win. Bowman dominated the race, leading 110 of the 200-lap that made up the race.
“The first one was a real enjoyable experience, and then, we sucked for six months,” Bowman said. “We started this year so strong. I feel like I’ve got a lot on my side that I’m doing better. My life has gotten a lot more organized than it was then. Greg [Ives, crew chief] and the guys are just on point. We’ve unloaded the last two weeks, and I don’t think we have had to make a change to the race car from the way it came off the truck. That makes my job a lot easier. I’m just so proud of this team — everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, Hendrick horsepower under the hood, the whole shop back home. They work their butts off. We’ve put a lot of effort in this new car and it is, obviously, working out really well.”
皇冠体育投注Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch finished second, taking the position with three laps remaining when Ryan Blaney had to pit with worn tires. It was Busch’s first top-five of the season.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Busch said. “Guys did a great job here, though, just trying to work on it and trying to make everything we could out of it all day long, all weekend long. Interstate Batteries Camry wasn’t a second-place car, but thankfully, we got a good finish out of here and try to get some points. Guys are doing all they can, I know, along with everybody at TRD [Toyota Racing Development]. I appreciate all the hard work; we just have to get a little bit better. We finished the end of last year so strong. I don’t know what we’re missing here. Obviously, it’s a little bit of something here and maybe a little bit of something in a few different areas, but overall, good car today. Thank M&Ms, Snickers, Skittles, Rowdy Energy and go on to next week.”
皇冠体育投注Blaney, who led 54 laps, finished 19th, one lap down, as a result of his late-race pit stop.
“We led a little bit and ran pretty good; we just corded a right-rear at the end,” Blaney said. “We lost the lead, there, at the beginning of the third stage and kind of got swallowed up and the 88 [Bowman] got away and got gone. We needed to be in front of him. It is just the way it goes sometimes.”
Kurt Bush finished third behind his younger brother. Another of Bowman’s teammates, Chase Elliott, finished fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.
皇冠体育投注“We had a good run today with the Discount Tire Ford,” Keselowski said. “We ran fifth, which isn’t bad. There were some highlights. We were able to drive through the field, there, a couple times. The car had a lot of long-run speed. We never had the speed the 88 had through the whole weekend, but we fought really hard and scored a lot of points today to dig us out of a hole we had from early on in the season. There were a lot of positives.”
Bowman, Blaney and Johnson ran in the top-three for most of the first 120 laps, with Bowman dominating the first 60-lap stage after taking the lead for pole sitter Clint Bowyer on lap 11. Bowman lost additional positions after losing the lead, and his flat tire on lap 93 resulted in the only caution for an on-track incident in the race.
During a green-flag cycle of pit stops in the middle of the first stage, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., reminiscent of the Pennzoil 400 a week earlier at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, stayed out longer to lead laps before finally pitting around lap 36. As a result of the strategy, Stenhouse went a lap down but got back on the lead lap by taking the wave-around after the first stage.
Johnson was first out of the pits after the first stage, but on lap 69, Blaney took the lead and dominated the second 60-lap stage. Blaney had debris on his grille just past lap 100, but he managed to lose it without giving up the lead by ducking behind the lapped car of Reed Sorenson.
The Joe Gibbs Racing trio of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin joined Bowman, Blaney and Johnson near the first after the second stage. Hamlin and Truex started the race in the back — Hamlin because of a shock absorber change and Truex because his car failed pre-qualifying inspection three times Saturday, prohibiting him from making a qualifying attempt.
Truex took the lead from Bowman with 71 laps to go, and he and Hamlin were battling for the top spot with 69 to go. Bowman retook the lead, though, on the next lap.
皇冠体育投注Hamlin scraped the wall with about 60 laps remaining, and when the race field cycled through green-flag pit stops for the final time with just under 30 to go, Truex’s stop was slow, because his rear-tire changer experienced a cramp in his arm.
皇冠体育投注Hamlin still managed a top-10, finishing sixth. Truex wound up 14th.
“We’re still slow,” Hamlin said. “Our cars handled okay. If we don’t have a draft, we’re just run over. It’s tough, because I feel like we’re getting beat on throttle time, but we’re also just getting murdered down the straightaways. Just need more horsepower, more downforce and less drag. If we can have all those, we’ll be better.”
皇冠体育投注Johnson finished seventh, Aric Almirola was eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth, and Erik Jones was 10th.
“We just didn’t have a very good weekend,” Harvick said. “This place wasn’t very good for us last year, either. I am just having a hard time getting the car to be balanced all the way through the corner. I think as you look at it, we didn’t have a ninth-place car, either; we just had a great day on pit road. Those guys did a phenomenal job on pit road, and that kept us in the game.”