NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Running Their Mouth: Auto Club 400

Best Quote:
“Well, we had them all beat last year here and I gave it away. First off I just have to thank everybody at Jimmy Johns, I know they are pumped, Budweiser, Rheem, Chevrolet and Sprint and all these fans for coming out today. What a great day! All these guys did a great job on pit road and Gil (Martin, crew chief) made the right call. I was like, when I saw those guys pit at the end, ‘I said man, we might be in deep trouble’. But, we held those guys off and our car just kept going.” – Kevin Harvick, winner, on if there was any additional pressure after last year.

Vindication was most certainly on the mind of Kevin Harvick after coming oh-so-tantalizingly close to winning last year at the Auto Club Speedway. Using the chrome horn, as the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. would put it, to “rattle his cage a bit”, Harvick managed to shake up Jimmie Johnson just enough to slide past him and take the win to officially announce to the rest of the Sprint Cup Series that Kevin Harvick is primed and ready to be a contender once again for the Sprint Cup Series Championship.

Funniest Quote:
“I can follow up on that, too. If we would have pitted, Richard would have killed me.”- Gil Martin, winning crew chief, on not pitting on the final caution.

Gil Martin most certainly hit the nail on the head. Despite running in third in the late stages, the decision to stay out, highly influenced by the aftermath of the previous day’s Nationwide race, was a very shrewd one and with credit to Harvick and Gil Martin, the decision not to pit most certainly saved Richard Childress from facing a murder rap due to a botched pit strategy. At least upon winning the race, Martin can joke about something like that.

Hard-Luck Quote:

“It’s just we give it up, you know. We gave the race away today, unfortunately. We seem to be losing the handle a little bit two runs from the end and especially that last set of tires. We just didn’t quite have what it took in order to keep the front end under the car and then the back end under the car on the exits of the corner. I just couldn’t get the right speed that I needed. The guys did a great job this weekend. The Interstate Batteries Camry was good from when we unloaded the second one Friday. I can’t say enough about the guys on pit road and the guys back at the shop. They did a great job for us and got us in position and just unfortunately I couldn’t get the job done today. I didn’t have what it took there at the end.” – Kyle Busch, 3rd, on what happened at the end of the race.

One has to feel at least some sympathy for Kyle Busch to lead over ¾ of the race and only have a third place finish to show for it. That has to be the racing equivalent of kissing one’s sister. Busch clearly had the car to beat all day, but when the chips were down at the end of the race, Busch basically crapped out when his car went away on him in the final stages of the race. But, on the bright side, Kyle does sit fourth in points now, just one point behind his brother Kurt.

Crew Chief Quote:

“It was looking a whole lot like what happened yesterday. I think one of the major things that made me feel reasonably confident about it was how Tony performed when everybody stayed out. He posted some of the best laps of the race out there, clean air. I think the tires being pumped up deserved a lot of speed there.” – Gil Martin, crew chief for Kevin Harvick on the winning strategy.

Gil Martin has to be flashing a smile as big as California right now due to the fact that his driver, Kevin Harvick, out-muscled and out-maneuvered the field en route to the hard-fought win at his home track. The win officially proves that Harvick has shaken off his early season jitters and that Richard Childress Racing is going to be a legitimate threat for the championship come Chase-time. Strategy also played a bit of a role as had Harvick come in on the final caution of the afternoon, he likely would not have been in this position.

Controversial Quote:
“At this point, yeah, now it’s starting to affect me. I’m worried a little bit more. It’s frustrating because you want to do the best you can each week and Mike (Ford, crew chief) and the team did a great job setting up the car and we had a fast car. It doesn’t matter in the end if you can’t finish the way you’re supposed to.” – Denny Hamlin, 39th, on whether the engine problems are starting to affect him.

Denny Hamlin’s frustration says it all in regards to the engine woes of Joe Gibbs Racing. These problems have cropped up now at every race this year with no preference as to which driver gets bitten by the sour engine bug. Joey Logano has certainly had his engine woes knocking him back in points along with Hamlin. Even Kyle Busch had an engine go, in his immortal words, “ka-blooey”, at Las Vegas. Perhaps the dyno shop explosion in January has affected the Joe Gibbs Racing operation or perhaps it’s a bad batch of parts. But at the end of the day, it certainly appears the engine issues for Joe Gibbs Racing could very well be an Achilles’ Heel of sorts.

Best Of The Rest:
“It reminded me of last year in the Spring race, you know. Just didn’t hold him off that time. Those tires made the difference. I knew he was coming, they said he was coming. If I could have got by the No. 18 maybe a lap sooner that might have been enough to give him the margin I needed. Just way loose. I was driving my butt off just trying to keep this Lowe’s Chevrolet up front but it didn’t pan out. I hate losing it coming off of (turn) four like that but we did everything we could today. We had a great race. Made our car a lot better all day long so I’m really proud about that.” – Jimmie Johnson, 2nd, on his run with Harvick and Kyle Busch at the end.

“We had some bad pit stops and they we under green fortunately at least one time I should say for sure I shouldn’t say two. Tony Gibson made a great call staying out. Just really proud of the U.S. Army Chevrolet and everybody at Stewart-Hass Racing giving us the opportunity. Unfortunately Tony (Stewart) didn’t get to finish the way he ran all day but as long as you finish you still get the points.” – Ryan Newman, 5th, on his day

“The luck we’ve had so far, we didn’t know what to expect no matter how good our car was. We had a great car last week at Bristol and that jam up on the front stretch right there at the beginning of the race got our radiator. After these five races, we weren’t out of the top-35, but we were close, we were like 20-something in the high twenties. So, to move up a little bit it definitely gives us a little more comfort going into Martinsville.” – Brian Vickers, 8th, on how important it was for his team to get a top-8 finish.

“A tough weekend for the Auto Club Dodge Charger. We unloaded slow and never found speed. The short practice on Friday (because of rain) really hurt and we couldn’t find the balance that we needed to be fast. We threw everything we could today at the track – bars, air pressures, spring rubbers, you name it. The car never reacted to the track. With a big two-mile oval like Auto Club, carrying speed through these big sweeping corners is critical to be fast. We struggled getting over the bumps and getting our car to rotate through the corners like we needed. It’s disappointing because we wanted to come here and extend our point lead and gain some momentum heading into Martinsville next weekend. We went in the wrong direction. It’s a long season…a marathon, not a sprint. We’ll put this behind us and head short-track racing next week.” – Kurt Busch, 17th, on his day

“Today was a long day. From the first lap to the last lap we were tight the whole time, sliding the nose through the center of the corner and all the way off. I couldn’t get the gas down and that cost us a lot of speed and a lot of position. Those tires seemed to bite us the last two weeks in a row with being tight.” – Trevor Bayne, 30th, on his day

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