Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, CA — February 27, 2022
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Auto Club Speedway for the first time in two years for today’s WISE Power 400. After taking last season off from visiting the track due to pandemic restrictions, drivers and fans are looking forward to racing again on the 2-mile track located just outside of Los Angeles in Fontana, California.
Alex Bowman won the event when it last ran in 2020. Auto Club Speedway’s 31 previous NASCAR Cup Series races have produced 20 different poles winners and 18 different race winners. 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch leads the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Auto Club Speedway with four (2015, 2007, and his 2006 sweep).
Busch will not have a chance to add to that record as his car failed pre-race inspection four times. Kurt will have to serve a pass-through penalty once the race goes green. In addition, his car chief David Bryant was ejected from the event.
NASCAR reported multiple inspection failures with the following cars rejected twice. They will have a crew member ejected from the event and lose their respective pit stall selection for the race: the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team of driver Kevin Harvick (car chief Robert Smith ejected); the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team of Brad Keselowski (car chief Nick Case ejected); the No. 12 Team Penske team of Ryan Blaney (car chief Raymond Fox ejected); the No. 22 Team Penske team of Joey Logano (car chief Jerry Kelly ejected); the No. 23 23XI Racing team of Bubba Wallace (engineer Etienne Cliche ejected); and the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports team of B.J. McLeod (car chief Tyler Graf ejected).
Daytona 500 race winner Austin Cindric(2) sits on the pole for today’s race with Michigan native Erik Jones(43) joining him on the front row. The 200 laps are divided into Stages of 65/65/70 laps. Active drivers with wins at Auto Club Speedway include Kyle Busch with 4 victories. Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman all have one win at Fontana.
Erik Jones put the iconic #43 out front on the first lap as the field quickly settled into a single file line on the straightaways while drivers took multiple lines into the corner to make passes.
Kyle Busch(18) spun in Turn Two on Lap 14 bringing out the caution flag early. NASCAR had scheduled a competition caution for after 20 laps to give crews a chance to check tire wear. The yellow flag for Busch’s spin served that purpose.
Tyler Reddick(8) took over the top spot coming out of the pits. Chase Elliott(9) was the fastest in round one of qualifying, but he pushed a bit too hard trying to capture the pole in round two and spun out. Elliott displayed that speed as he easily moved to the front on Lap 23 and began pulling away from the field.
On Lap 34, Elliott brushed the wall, but he was able to keep the car from going around. However, his pace slowed and the cars of Reddick, William Byron(24), Jones, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) were able to get around.
While that action was happening on the track, Kyle Busch’s car was overheating and he had to come to the pits for attention from his crew. The new Next-Gen car has a sealed air intake system and if dirt or debris gets in the grille it is difficult to remove. Busch lost five laps as his crew attended to the issue.
Just three laps later Elliott spun off Turn Two bringing out the caution for the second time. Reddick maintained his lead while pitting for fresh tires and enough fuel to finish the Stage. But, he complained that he had lost feeling in his left leg and it was affecting his concentration. Apparently, Reddick added a significant amount of muscle mass during the offseason and it has changed the fit of his seat.
Martin Truex Jr.(19) brushed the wall right in front of Cindric causing the Daytona 500 champion to take evasive action. Cindric made slight contact with Kyle Larson(5), fortunately, everyone kept control and avoided a big wreck. Josh Bilicki(77) spun out of Turn Two bringing out the caution for the third time.
Kurt Busch exited the pits in third recovering from his first lap penalty. Unfortunately, he was too fast exiting the pit road and was sent to the rear of the field for the restart.
Race to the Green and White Checkered Flag
Reddick and Jones brought the field back to green with just eight laps left to go in the Stage. Byron joined the pair and the three cars built over a one-second lead on Chase Briscoe(14) back in fourth. Larson ran fifth.
The Stage ended in that order. The cars that experience trouble finished off the lead lap, Elliott was two laps down, and Kyle Busch four laps off the pace.
Stage One Results
|10||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Chase Elliott was the “Lucky Dog” and got one of his laps back with the free pass.
Larson, Reddick, and Briscoe fought for the lead when racing resumed in Stage Two. Briscoe prevailed and led for 17 laps. Christopher Bell(20) spun, hit the wall, and flattened his right side tires off Turn Four on Lap 90. The caution allowed teams to service their race cars and provided Chase Elliott another “Lucky Dog” free pass returning the #9 car to the lead lap.
Bell’s flat tires brought out another issue with the Next-Gen car. Tolerances are so close the car bottoms out when the tires deflate and they have to tow it back to the pits. Bell lost seven laps in the process. A total of 31 cars remain on the lead lap at the halfway point of the race.
Reddick reclaimed the lead exiting pit road, with Briscoe, Byron, Ryan Blaney(12), and Cindric making up the top five. There have been 19 lead changes among eight drivers thus far as multi-lane scrambles occur on each restart. Byron took a turn at the lead and held it until Chris Buescher(17) blew a tire and spun around hitting the Turn Two wall on Lap 110.
The caution provided another opportunity for cars to get service before a short run to the end of the Stage.
Byron had problems with the left front tire change and lost the lead in the pits, he will restart in 17th position. Reddick, Larson, Jones, Custer, and Brad Keselowski(6) will lead the field back to the green flag.
The green flag waved with 15 laps to go in the Stage, but before they could complete a lap Keselowski spun down the front stretch when he bobbled and got tapped by Joey Logano(22).
Back to green with 10 laps to and Jones jumped to the lead for a lap and then Reddick moved back to the point. Reddick held the position to the green and white checkered flag sweeping the first two Stages.
Stage Two Results
|7||2||Austin Cindric *||4|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Reddick and Jones appear to have the fastest cars on the track. They are able to quickly separate themselves from the rest of the field. Reddick was leading with 49 laps to go when he cut down a left rear tire. Trying to maintain control he made contact with Byron causing severe damage to both cars.
Back to green for a couple of laps and Bubba Wallace(23) tapped the left rear of Keselowski’s car and sent it spinning. The incident collected Cindric and Harrison Burton(21) in the biggest crash of the afternoon.
After cleaning up the mess caused by the Wallace and Keselowski wreck the race restarted with 35 laps to go. Logano, Larson, Jones, Elliott, and Alex Bowman(48) were the leaders. Logano communicated with his crew that his car was having a clutch issue, whether that becomes a bigger problem remains to be seen.
Larson moved to the lead and Blaney passed his teammate Logano into second. Ross Chastain(1) brought out the 11th caution of the day with a spin on Lap 171. This will allow the field to come in for service setting up a final sprint to the finish.
Briscoe did not pit and inherited the lead, the Hendricks cars of Elliott, Bowman, and Larson were the fastest off pit road with Logano in fifth.
The green flag waved with 22 laps to go and it was a wild scramble at the front of the field. As Larson and Logano battled for the lead, Larson ran Elliott into the wall taking the #9 car out of contention. Bowman tapped the wall and he was forced into the pits for repairs. As things settled out it was Larson in the lead, Logano in second, Austin Dillon(3) third, Daniel Suarez(99) in fourth, and Erik Jones in fifth.
Suarez scrapped the wall with 13 laps to go and dropped back, his chance at the win likely gone. Larson stretched his lead over Logano to a second and a half. With nine laps to go Elliott lost a tire and spun bringing out another caution.
With eight laps to go all the leaders pitted for fresh tires. Larson was first off followed by Suarez, Logano, Dillon, and Jones. The green restarted the race with four laps to go.
Larson led, then Suarez, then Larson was back to the front for the white flag. Dillon finished second and Michigan’s Erik Jones took third.
Results of the WISE Power 400 from Auto Club Speedway
|10||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2.417||200|
|13||19||Martin Truex Jr.||3.664||200|
|1||Austin Cindric||79||In Win|
|2||Kyle Larson||53||In Win|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||73||+28|
|14||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||52||+7|
|NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line|