Sprint Cup at Auto Club Speedway

March 27, 2011
by Lee

NASCAR shifts gears this week by going from one of the shortest tracks on the circuit at Bristol, to one of the widest tracks in Auto Club Speedway (California). The racing will be exciting on the restarts with cars fanning out to three and four wide. Another consideration for today’s race from last year is the distance. Last year this race was 500 miles, this year the boys of the Sprint Cup series will only have 400 miles to get it done.

Juan Pablo Montoya will lead the field to the green flag from the pole position today. Baby Joey Logano has to give up the 3rd position and drop to the back of the field for an engine change for the start. What to watch for in today’s race is whether Kyle Busch can continue his dominance by sweeping his second straight weekend. Denny Hamlin starts outside pole to get the action underway. One other item of note before the green flag waves, it rained over night and in the morning at the track. We will have to watch early on to see who has the right setup for a green racetrack.

Green flag is out and the Auto Club 400 is underway. Drivers go three and four wide racing through turn one and two. Montoya leads the first lap, but Kyle Busch looks speedy already as he rocketed towards the front on the start. Lap four and Trevor Bayne scrapes the wall in turn four. In five laps Kasey Kahne has gone from 22nd to 12th.

Lap six and Tony Raines day comes to end with a hand grenaded engine. No caution as Raines made it back to pit road.

Lap eight and Hamlin moves past Montoya into first.

Lap 25 and Kyle Busch has gone to the point. I said yesterday he is just amazing at wheeling the car; once again he is at the front showing why he just might be the best driver in the circuit this year.

Lap 30 and Jeff Gordon has improved to 17th from a starting position of 27th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is up to the 15th position at this point in the race. Good racing on the track so far with no cautions to slow the field. Cars are using all of the grooves to get around the 2 mile oval, but this expected and makes for good racing.

Fox picks a great time to go to commercial, coming out of the break at lap 35 the leaders have already made green flag pit stops. Currently Jimmie Johnson is leading the field, but is now dropping onto pit road. JJ Yeley stays out and is now leading the race, but has run out of gas on the back stretch. Yeley will make it back to pit road. Green flag pit stops have cycled through Kyle Busch is back in the lead. Speeding on pit road always seems to be an issue at Auto Club Speedway, but there were no reports of any drivers receiving penalties for speeding on pit road during this cycle of stops.

Today’s race is Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 400th consecutive start. Fox is also reporting that Jr. has a pit crew member injured after the first stop. Report was a hamstring injury, so nothing serious per say, but will have to watch how that affects the team on the next stop.

Lap 50 and Kyle Busch continues to lead with a good battle going on for 2nd through 4th. Hamlin, Brian Vickers, and Martin Truex Jr. are nose to tail battling for the positions.

Lap 65 and A.J. Allmendinger starts the second round of green flag pit stops. Kyle Busch continues to lead the field. One car hits pit road and now many others are heading to pit road. The start of the racing being caution free sets a new record for consecutive laps from the start without a caution. Lap 67 and the leader is heading down pit road. Truex Jr. inherits the lead with Busch on pit road. Pit stops have cycled and Kyle Busch is back in the lead. Jeff Burton is the first driver to be ticketed for too fast on pit road. Drive through penalty for Burton.

Lap 75 and caution is waved for the first time. This caution is a huge break for Burton. He was about to be lapped after serving the speeding penalty, but makes up the distance by being in front of Busch when the caution came out. Caution was for debris in turn three. Regan Smith is the lucky dog recipient on this caution.

Lead lap cars are on pit road. Ryan Newman leads the field off of pit road. Tony Stewart chose not to pit under caution and will be the leader when the green flag comes back out.

Lap 80 and the field roars back to life with Newman jumping into the lead into turn one. The field is once again all over the track with three and four wide racing going through turn three and four.

Lap 83 and Hamlin is in trouble with an engine problem. Hamlin is not smoking or showing any visible signs that the engine has failed, but the car is way off the pace. Hamlin has dropped to the last car on the lead lap.

Lap 92 and Kyle Busch goes back to the lead. The question with Stewart staying out on the caution is that he is now off cycle with the other cars. If this race would go all the way without another caution, Stewart is behind by six laps on fuel. Update on Hamlin, the report is now that it is an electrical problem causing the engine to cut out.

Lap 100, half way point of the race, and Busch continues to lead the pack. Busch looks strong again and this could be another one of those days where no one has anything for him.

Lap 103 and the caution is flying for David Gilliland. Gilliland lost a tire and was making his way to pit road, but debris must have been put down by his car. Debris has now been shown on the back stretch from his tire. Stewart catches a huge break by getting the chance to stop under this caution. He would have had to stop in three or four laps if the caution had not come out. Hamlin is the lucky dog on this caution.

All lead lap cars come down pit road for four tires and fuel. Kyle Busch leads them off of pit road and will maintain the lead. Hamlin’s car has been pushed behind the wall to address the electrical problem in the car.

Lap 108 and we get back to green flag racing. Kyle Busch gets a great restart and leads the field into turn one. Cars fan out again to three and four wide racing from the front of the field to the back. Jeff Gordon even drove on the apron of turn three and four on this restart. Busch has now settled back in at the front of the pack as the laps click by.

Replay has just shown Kurt Busch scrubbing the wall. Should be mostly cosmetic damage, but he has had a tough day so far and that does not help.

Hamlin is now out of the race with a broken engine. Crew pulled the spark plugs and they determined the engine had a problem with the valve train. With Logano having to change engines before the race and Hamlin losing an engine, will there be any problems Kyle Busch’s engine before the end of the race since they are all from the same team?

Lap 137 and green flag pit stops have started with Regan Smith being the first to come down pit road. Kyle Busch now comes down pit road for his stop. With Kyle coming in, the field takes notice and many cars hit pit road. Green flag stops have cycled and Rowdy is back at the point. If this stays green, only one more stop will be needed to get to the end.

One hundred miles to go in the race and the question has to be if anyone has anything for Kyle Busch. My guess is that the field is hoping he blows an engine, because no one is even in the same zip code with Rowdy.

Lap 167 and green flag stops are on again. Matt Kenseth and Regan Smith are the first two in. As in previous stops, one car hits pit road and many in the field come in for stops. Kyle Busch has a hand out of the window and he is on pit road for what could be his last stop of the day.

Lap 170 and the caution is out for only the third time today. Andy Lally loses control of his car coming out of turn four and spins. Green flag stops had been completed and Kyle Busch continues to lead.

Lap 174 and the green flag is back out. Kyle Busch grabs the lead over Stewart coming out of turn two.

Lap 180, 20 to go, Jimmie Johnson is now up to second as he passed Stewart. Kyle Busch is leading by about 15 car lengths.

Lap 185 and the caution is out for Bobby Labonte. Labonte loses a right front tire in the middle of turn one and two and knocks the fence down. The right side of the car is pancaked and the tire is not rolling, Labonte’s day is over. Will any of the leaders hit pit road?

Pit road is open and the first car to pit is Kenseth from the eigth position. Pretty much all the cars behind Kenseth come down pit road as well. Looks like there will be about nine laps left with the green flag comes back out.

Nine laps to go and the green flag is back out. Busch beats Johnson out of turn two and gets a three or four car length lead.

Five laps to go and Busch is leading Johnson by about two car lengths. Johnson is now on the back bumper of Busch. It is going to be a close finish.

Three laps to go and Johnson takes the lead. Harvick is now in the he mix as well. Three cars are stacked nose to tail. Harvick is now in second and Busch is in third. Harvick is still on the back bumper of Johnson with one to go.

Last lap pass off of turn four and Kevin Harvick wins the Auto Club 400. Harvick leads only one lap today, but it is the most important lap of them all, the last one. Johnson finishes second, Kyle Busch third, Matt Kenseth fourth, and Ryan Newman fifth.

Final Race Stats:

Average Speed: 150.949 MPH

Leaders: 10 for 18 Lead Changes

Cautions: 4 for 16 Laps

Cars on Track: 39 Running with 25 on the Lead Lap

Entertaining race today, and we will now shift focus to Martinsville for next weekend. Please be sure to leave a comment and click the Facebook logo at the top of the page and like our page. Have a great week.

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