Kyle Busch Earns 200th NASCAR Win at Auto Club Speedway

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Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, CA, March 17, 2019

NASCAR’s weekend at Auto Club Speedway started about as bad as it could. Friday’s qualifying progressed through the first two rounds with 26 entries eliminated. Leaving 12 cars and drivers set to run for the pole in the final round. The first superspeedway to host the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with new competition rules in 2019 created havoc.

On the 2-mile track, drafting proved significant in clocking fast laps. Everyone hesitated to be the first on the track for fear the rest of the drivers would follow use the draft to post a faster time. As the 5-minute clock wound down, everyone exited pit road at the same time.

Unfortunately, every team miscalculated the amount of time it would take to reach the flag stand before the qualifying session ended. No one was able to clock a qualifying time. Drivers returned to pit road, climbed out of their cars to the boos of fans in the stands. A major black eye for the sport.

NASCAR’s Response

Quick to respond to the controversy, NASCAR announced the field would be set by the recorded Round 2 results. NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller spoke to the media that afternoon.

“I saw what our fans don’t want,” Miller said. “Having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn’t get a time posted on the board and kind of making a mockery out of the qualifying is not what we expect for our fans. It’s a little bit on us in that we hoped things would go better than that.”

Miller emphasized the organization does not want to back to single car qualifying. But, acknowledged changes will be made to avoid a similar occurrence at other tracks.

Race Day

Despite the controversy fans eagerly anticipated the expected race day action. The Auto Club 400 runs 200 laps around the 2-mile speedway with stages set at 60/60/80 laps. Austin Dillon(3), the pole sitter, and Kevin Harvick(4) start on the front row.

On the pace laps, the race cars lined up 5 wide to showcase the potential for side-by-side racing. Returning to the conventional 2×2 format for the start. Pole-sitter Austin Dillon had to take IV fluids before the race as he battle flu symptoms. Cole Custer stood by in case Austin had to exit the cockpit.

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Green Flag

As expected the field quickly fanned out 5-wide. Denny Hamlin(11) led the first lap from the 6th starting position. Position battles continued through the pack. Lead changes occurred multiple time per lap. Official lead changes are only recorded at the start/finish line. Aric Almirola(10) led for a while, trailed by Hamlin and Kyle Busch(18). It did not take long for the fastest car on the track, Kyle Busch, to move to the front.

Busch dominated the first Stage taking the green and white checkered flag on what could be a momentous day for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

Stage 1 Results

Car Driver Stage Points
18 Kyle Busch 10
22 Joey Logano* 9
11 Denny Hamlin 8
4 Kevin Harvick* 7
41 Daniel Suarez* 6
10 Aric Almirola* 5
20 Erik Jones 4
48 Jimmie Johnson 3
12 Ryan Blaney* 2
8 Daniel Hemric 1

* Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

At the start of Stage 2, the three Team Penske cars got together in an attempt to run down Kyle Busch. The hottest team on the circuit could not catch the leader. Green flag pitstops started at lap 31 for the race leaders. Just as in Stage 1, Kyle Busch was the last of the lead cars to pit. He lost no time on pit road, exited with the lead, even picked a second on 2nd place Brad Keselowski(2). Michigan’s Erik Jones(20) jumped up into the mix with the Penske drivers sitting in 3rd after his pit stop. Ryan Blaney(12) ran 4th and Joey Logano(22) 5th when everyone returned to the track.

Jones seems to fade at the end of a 25-30 lap run. If he is near the front with a late caution, he may have a shot at the win. Kyle Busch continued to dominate as he swept both stages for the 3rd time in his career.

Stage 2 Results

Car Driver Stage Points
18 Kyle Busch 10
14 Brad Keselowski* 9
4 Ryan Blaney* 8
19 Joey Logano* 7
11 Aric Almirola* 6
6 Kevin Harvick* 5
48 Erik Jones 4
22 Kurt Busch 3
9 Denny Hamlin 2
1 Chase Elliott 1

* Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Kyle Busch again was the first out of the pits. However, he was too fast exiting pit road. Will driver error ruin Kyle’s day? After returning to the pits to serve his penalty, Busch will start deep in the field. Keselowski inherited the lead, with Harvick, Blaney, Chase Elliott(9), and Almirola set to lead the pack into the restart. Busch took the green flag in 17th with 73 laps to go.

With 63 laps to go, Kyle Busch worked his way back to the top 10. At 41 laps to go, Kyle passed his brother Kurt Busch(1) and moved to 5th. Pit stops began with 40 laps to go, giving the lead back to Kyle Busch. Bubba Wallace(43) blew a left front tire and exploded the fender. The debris from Bubba’s car brought out the caution with 38 to go.

Pit Stops Under Caution

With the caution coming out during green flag pit stops, 14 lead lap cars had already pitted and were a lap down. Seven cars remained on the lead lap. Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse(17), Keselowski, Blaney, Logano, Harvick, and Kurt Busch. As the leaders pitted, the cars one lap down took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. Blaney opted to stay out and was the leader when the race went green with 31 to go. Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Harvick, and Logano rounded out the top 5.

The Finish

The Ford Mustangs of Keselowski, Logano, and Harvick teamed up and moved to the front. While the Busch brothers fought it out for 4th. But as soon as Kyle established the position he made short work of returning to the lead.

Kyle Busch drives away for his 53rd Cup Series win and 200th career victory combined in NASCAR’s top 3 series. An accomplishment that is sure to bring comparisons to Richard Petty’s 200 Cup Series victories.

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Photo Credit: Robert Laberge | Getty Images

Ford Performance

While coming away without a win the Blue Oval Ponies acquitted themselves very well. Mustangs took the 2nd through 5th positions and 5 of the top 10 spots on the day.

While still early in the season Ford Performance is off to a fast start. Holding 7 of the 16 available playoff spots. With Daniel Suarez(41), just 5 points out of 16th position.

Short Track Racing

Next week the series returns to its roots with the first short track race of the season. Martinsville Speedway hosts the STP 500, Sunday afternoon, 2:00 pm.

 

 

Results of the Auto Club 400

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 18 Kyle Busch 200
2 22 Joey Logano 2.354 200
3 2 Brad Keselowski 4.037 200
4 4 Kevin Harvick 9.146 200
5 12 Ryan Blaney 9.241 200
6 1 Kurt Busch 9.820 200
7 11 Denny Hamlin 13.178 200
8 19 Martin Truex Jr 13.313 200
9 10 Aric Almirola 17.949 200
10 3 Austin Dillon 20.084 200
11 9 Chase Elliott 20.715 200
12 42 Kyle Larson 24.401 200
13 41 Daniel Suarez 24.421 200
14 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr 28.059 200
15 24 William Byron 28.377 200
16 37 Chris Buescher 28.424 200
17 48 Jimmie Johnson 31.131 200
18 95 Matt DiBenedetto 33.800 200
19 20 Erik Jones 35.571 200
20 21 Paul Menard 36.692 200
21 88 Alex Bowman 37.562 200
22 6 Ryan Newman -1 199
23 47 Ryan Preece -1 199
24 34 Michael McDowell -2 198
25 38 David Ragan -2 198
26 36 Matt Tifft -3 197
27 13 Ty Dillon -3 197
28 15 Ross Chastain -5 195
29 0 Landon Cassill -5 195
30 43 Bubba Wallace -6 194
31 32 Corey LaJoie -7 193
32 51 Cody Ware -8 192
33 8 Daniel Hemric -8 192
34 27 Reed Sorenson -8 192
35 66 Joey Gase -12 188
36 77 Garrett Smithley -12 188
37 52 BJ McLeod -28 172
38 14 Clint Bowyer -69 130

Points/Playoff Standings

Rank Driver Points Wins
1 Kyle Busch 237 2
2 Joey Logano* 222 1
3 Denny Hamlin 205 1
4 Brad Keselowski* 176 1
5 Kevin Harvick* 213 0
6 Aric Almirola* 174 0
7 Martin Truex Jr. 169 0
8 Kyle Larson 163 0
9 Kurt Busch 160 0
10 Ryan Blaney* 155 0
11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* 146 0
12 Chase Elliott 135 0
13 Erik Jones 133 0
14 Jimmie Johnson 121 0
15 Clint Bowyer* 119 0
16 Alex Bowman 110 0
Playoff Cut Line
17 Ryan Newman 107 0
18 Daniel Suarez* 105 0
19 William Byron 104 0
20 Austin Dillon 103 0