(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Jimmie Johnson Takes Superman to Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway

The Key Moment –  On the final restart, Joey Logano (in fourth) buzzed his rear tires and thus couldn’t give a shove to Denny Hamlin who re-started in the lead. Third place Jimmie Johnson — on the inside row — pushed Kevin Harvick into the lead and then dove low to take the top spot. Come on now, you didn’t really think Logano was going to help Hamlin win a race at Fontana of all places, did you?

In a Nutshell – Harvick seemed to have the race in hand but there was enough racing up front and through the pack that the normally somnolent California race had its moments and many a good nap was spoiled.

Dramatic Moment – With the dramatic fall off in speed as tires wore, every restart looked a bit like the Oklahoma Land Rush. Once the field stretched out, it became a matter of waiting to see which driver suffered a tire failure next to bring out the next caution.

What your friends are talking about – OK, we’re five races into the season and headed into the first off weekend. Is the “low down-force” package playing out as intended, are the teams getting their arms around the new package and will better racing result or do more drastic measures still need to be taken? From where I sit, things are much like I expected. Some teams have risen to the new challenge better than others, but the rest of the pack is sorting things out as well. Steady course ahead, mates, I think better things lay just beyond the horizon.

Catanzareti: Jimmie Johnson Soars to 6th Fontana Victory

You know what I noticed on that final restart? Only Logano really needed to go all in for the win. Johnson, Harvick, and Hamlin have already all but sealed a spot in the Chase with wins already this season.

I found it interesting that Kasey Kahne’s crew chief and spotter were called to the trailer after the race to discuss the incident with Danica Patrick but Kahne was not. I wonder if maybe they wanted to discuss if Kahne is suffering the ill-effects of CTE after some hard crashes over the last couple years, particularly the one at Pocono that left Kahne seemingly bewildered not only by what had happened but where the Hell he was at.

After the break, three of the next four Sprint Cup races are on short tracks, which usually produces some of the best action of the season. After that, the next short track event is at Bristol on Aug. 20. Sigh.

I wrote recently about the possibility NASCAR needs to shorten the races they run. Maybe it would be easier to shorten the lengths of the tracks that they run. The old line of thinking was that NASCAR couldn’t run more short tracks because there weren’t enough seats to meet the huge demand for NASCAR tickets. As our old friend S.E. Hinton once wrote, “That Was Then, This Is Now.” Daytona now seats 146,000 fans, while the half mile track at Bristol accommodates 118,000.

Will Kyle Busch get fined or maybe even set out a race for his blistering comments concerning NASCAR’s officiating of Saturday afternoon’s NXS race? Sure Busch had to be frustrated after losing a race he dominated on the final lap but NASCAR is mighty sensitive to being accused concerning fixing races. Perhaps a cash fine isn’t called for but could NASCAR treat Busch to the ultimate punishment, 24 hours of having to listen to Bobby Ferrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” real loud in his motor coach? Here’s a little song I wrote, make you want to slit my throat.

The teams aren’t the only ones with a steep learning curve with this new rules package. The official tire company of NASCAR is sorting through some issues as well, again as expected. Just remember, there are no bad Goodyear tires. There are just bad teams and drivers than do bad things to good Goodyear tires.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway saw 26 lead changes between eight different drivers. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick both took hard hits at Fontana, but the scariest wreck of the weekend was the one involving Fernando Alonso in the Australian Grand Prix. Alonso hit a slower car, went hard into a concrete barrier, rolled several times then slammed into another wall reducing his car to a smoking pile of junk.

Amazingly, Alonso was able to walk away from the wreck under his own power and said after the incident his primary concern after the wreck was to get out of the car to show his mom that he was OK. Alonso hit the car of Esteban Guttierez, one of the two new Haas entries owned by Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. The other Haas entry piloted by Romain Grosjean finished a remarkable sixth in the team’s first outing to score eight points. Some existing F1 teams failed to score eight points in all of the 2015 F1 season.

Given the vitriolic political discourse on the issue this election year I wonder if anyone behind the Batman Versus Superman promotion ever stopped to consider the Man of Steel was an undocumented illegal immigrant.

While Jeff Gordon is holding his own in his first year as a broadcaster, he and Darrell Waltrip are building a chemistry together rather like bleach and ammonia. The resultant mix is noxious.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune – Larson had a tough weekend at California. A blown tire in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race deprived Larson of a chance at a win. Another failed tire Sunday sent Larson hard into the inside wall with enough velocity to launch the car airborne as it rebounded off the SAFER barrier. One fears to imagine what the result might have been had that SAFER barrier not been in place.

Danica Patrick was doing what she does, running mid-pack, promoting healthy snack foods, and waving at Ricky when she saw him when Kahne for inexplicable reasons hooked her into the outside wall. Of course she might also find herself being fined for strolling up onto the track after the incident to gesture at Kahne.

On a brighter note for distaff drivers, Britney Force won the first top fuel event of her career this weekend at the Gatornationals.

Yeah, Kyle Busch was angry after missing the win Saturday at Fontana but his teammate had to be despondent. After a few close calls it looked like Daniel Suarez was finally going to grab his first series win until he ran out of gas on the back straight on the final lap. Amigo, eso es una mierda.  It’s hard to consider a sixth place run bad luck for a rookie but Chase Elliott was up to second when the final caution flag flew and seemed to be closing on Harvick. I might have gambled on staying out and hoped I was still leading at the back stretch line when someone wrecked behind me. Elliott likely would have finished in the top 10 even if he did stay out.

The Seven Come Fore Eleven Award for Fine Fortune – Denny Hamlin had an eventful day with tire issues, penalties and an issue with hius radio severe enough there was discussion of taking the car to the garage to make repairs. After all that, a third place finish isn’t too bad.

A perceived tire issue sent Kevin Harvick to the pits early but the yellow flags flew regularly enough to allow him to get back on the same strategy of the rest of the pack.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. once again struggled most of the weekend. The No. 88 team got limited practice Friday due to a bad bearing in the steering column and qualified 27th. Earnhardt quietly made his way up to eleventh at the end of the race…,,so quietly in fact that the only time he appeared on screen was when his sponsors were paying to have him mentioned. Yep, and this week we added the spotters stand to the list of FOX official sponsors. Sometimes it seems NASCAR on FOX is a three hour commercial occasionally interrupted by commercials.

When the checkered flag flew: 

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s fifth place finish was his first top 5 since Bristol last spring and just the fourth of his Cup career to date.

Brian Vickers’ 13th-place finish was the best result this year for the No, 14 car as Vickers and Ty Dillon split the ride subbing for Tony Stewart.

Kyle Busch leads all drivers with four top 5 finishes in this year’s five Cup races. Harvick, Johnson, Edwards and Hamlin each have 3. Kevin Harvick is the only driver with five top 10s in those five races. Edwards and the Brothers Busch each have four.

Brian Scott’s 12th place finish equals the best of his Cup career. Scott also finished 12th at Kansas last year.

Prior to Sunday’s 25th place finish caused by an equalized tire Kyle Busch had finished third or fourth in the first four Cup races. On the Xfinity side he’d won three races and finishes second on Saturday.

What are the Points? – The points no longer mean much of anything at this point of the season thanks to the Chase. With wins Hamlin, Johnson, Harvick and Keselowski are all but assured a spot in the playoffs.

Carl Edwards is listed third in the standings but he’s really fifth if you place the four race winners ahead of him. He’s ranked highest amongst the drivers yet to win a race this year.

Given the hot start he’s had this season it’s not surprising that Kyle Busch is sixth  in the standings one point behind Edwards.. Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Austin Dillon round out the top 10.

At the cutoff point, a very nebulous state of affairs, Chase Elliott has worked his way into sixteenth in the points despite a 37th and 38th place finish already this season. Elliott is technically tied with fellow rookie Ryan Blaney and both have best results of 6th to date this year but Elliott has two eighth place finishes to earn him the nod.

Next Up – The Cup Series takes the weekend off in deference to Easter, the holiest date on the Christian calendar. Cup racing resumes April 3 at Martinsville.

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About Matt McLaughlin

Matt McLaughlin
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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39 comments

  1. Avatar

    Didn’t watch the whole thing but it looked like the opposite of last week. Fairly entertaining event with a clone track finish versus last week’s Sominex 310 with a classic finish.

  2. Avatar

    On the Kasey Kahne subject, I don’t think he has been near the same since the crash at New Hampshire and subsequent bizarre interview with Dr. Punch in 2013. Even in his interviews, something has seemed a little off.

    • Avatar

      But didn’t the Princess cause some of her mess? She didn’t come up the track towards Kahne at all? I mean, he may have come down on her some but she didn’t move up at all?

  3. Avatar

    It was a good race until the late caution reduced it to a GWC crapshoot.

    • Avatar

      you mean an “overtime” crapshoot. sucked to watch him lose that way, at least the saturday race was able to play out – this one, i’m sure they could have – considering 4 other cars had tire problems in the last 10 laps. UGH!

      however, there was better TV coverage, i wish DW and MW would just GO AWAY….

      • Avatar

        Saturday it was at the end of a long green flag run (Brian wasn’t involved) and like always there was a tire failure from a driver who pushes too hard.

        The name GWC was changed to try to protect the innocent. Brian is beyond protection. He’s crossed the overtime line too many times.

        • Avatar

          haha – true – you prob won’t see this. but yes, it was changed – from something stupid, to something stupid – which is like “oh, we went back to one GWC, but lets call it overtime…the fans will NEVER suspect it”

          I’m listening to the MRN broadcast of this past weeks race – and it’s unreal how that yellow flag came out on sunday, i mean – he was coming to the freaking white flag…UGH. (still annoyed by this is no one could tell 😉 )

  4. Avatar

    Hey Matt, great to see you back on Thinkin!

    • Matt

      Just filling in due to a curveballl life threw Mike Neff. He’ll be back next week and I’ll be back to the Tuesday commentary slot.

  5. Avatar

    What’s up with the Confederate flag skull?? Pretty offensive.

    • Matt

      If that silly little icon is the greatest offense you have to deal with today count yourself as supremely blessed. Five minutes of watching campaign coverage on FOX News ought to really cause your head to explode.

    • Avatar

      If that flag offends you, you need a history lesson. Start with “The Real Lincoln” by Dr. Thomas DiLorezon (Loyola) & get back with us…

    • Avatar

      Tough. What I find offensive are people that profess tolerance but draw the line when it’s something they find offensive.

      It seems in 2016 that we are all supposed to have tolerance for and embrace things we may not necessarily agree with but if the PC police deem something unacceptable then there is no tolerance.

      If you’d like a list of things that I find offensive but have to pretend to embrace let me know and I will give you a list.

    • Avatar

      It’s called the 1st amendment; aka free speech.

      If you don’t like it you are free to get your NASCAR updates from yahoo.

  6. Avatar

    of course KyBu could have come to pit road and then theoretically there wouldn’t have been a caution – unless NASCAR threw a debris caution just because. the 18 stayed on the track when he had time to exit.

    • Avatar

      I’m surprised Kyle badmouthed NA$CAR. No caution gave him the chance to still win and try to take out Dillon. Where would he have finished if the caution flew and he had to pit? He handles losing really well doesn’t he?

      • Avatar

        Don,
        He was counting on the field being frozen with him in the lead and being able to nurse it back to the start/finish line at caution speed.

        If the race could have ended that way it points out a real gray area that NASCAR should address. If the person who brings out the caution can’t get the lucky dog (a policy I agree with) the same should be the case with winning the race. So if that caution flew as a result of Busch’s problems and he won the race then that will open up a real s*&t storm of controversy.

        And yes, I agree. I will never be able to accept any competitor that can’t lose with grace, at least most of the time.

    • Avatar

      Are you referring to Saturday or Sunday?

      • Avatar

        Saturday. His post-race antics were typical. Sunday, it seems to me, he wore out his tires and one finally had had enough of the treatment.

        • Avatar

          Not you Don, I meant Jerseygirl. On Sunday KyBu was coming to pit road but the yellow came on so he had to stay out on track to avoid the penalty.

        • Avatar

          Kevin, I was thinking of Sunday — thanks for the clarification on why he didn’t pit.

  7. Avatar

    In case anyone was wondering, out of a possible 6, I’d say the ‘beer rating’ for this was 5 cold ones. The typical “Johnson spoils the party” finish left a bit to be desired, but otherwise, the racing throughout the pack and tires that required cautious aggression/tire managment created a consistently entertaining race.

  8. Avatar

    Bill B….. like you in the past… can not get comments. posting this in hopes they will appear when I reload

    • Avatar

      Are you using Internet Explorer? I don’t have the same problem with Firefox so I stopped using IE.

      • Avatar

        Using Chrome… Once I posted the comment, all comments came up. Thanks

        • Avatar

          I am using IE. This morning when I first went into Frontstretch I could see all the comments. Then I “deleted temporary files, history, cookies, saved passwords and web form information” and could no longer see the comments (this is a setting on the Internet Options- General Tab). My guess is that something is not re-initializing the necessary temporary files, cookies, etc. each time a person enters the website. There have been times where I have been stuck only being able to see 4 comments when there were actually 13 comments.

          BTW, I tried Firefox a couple of weeks ago and had the same issue. Likewise with Chrome. It happens at both my work and home computer which have no relationship whatsoever.

        • Avatar

          Same isues, and same try at solutions. The staff can at least acknowledge their readers problems with this site. This in my world is the only site with this problem, so I am leaning to “it’s them, not us”.

  9. Avatar

    Hey Mat!!

    Am I crazy … or, has NASCAR finally done something in the right direction (the “Low Downforce” thing)?!? What do you think would happen if they were to gradually reduce in size and finally do away with altogether the cow-catcher and side-skirts? Also … is it “grip, grip, grip” or “gripe, gripe, gripe?!?” I know bias-ply tires are a thing of the past … and blame the radials as much as anything for reducing the “quality of racing” … … allow my digression while I say something for the kids — “Hey Kids!” The mid-sixed tracks … those that range from Dover to Michigan (in size) … once upon a time … you won’t believe this, I know … but, two, three, four cars of basically equal speed running together … if one driver decided he wanted to pass the driver in front of him … he basically pulled out and passed him and like he was standing still(!) … then, the next lap, the driver who just got passed would RE-pass the guy like HE was standing still(!) … hard to believe, I know it! Why? Because they had basically zero downforce … the tires had no grip … the cars would GO much faster than the drivers could drive them on those tracks … which meant how well they drove had a whole lot to do with the body parts they were sitting on … and then throw in their brain! Some drivers had much better-functioning brains and they were the guys at the top of the alltime win lists! That is right, Kids!!” … … okay … enough digression … … … where was I?!? Oh yeah … Matt … what if Goodyear could develop a tire that “acts” like a bias-ply and combine that with “Low Downforce” along with no cow-catcher and no skirts?!? … … Could it be … 1976 all over again?!? … … … As I have said before … I think a “simple fix” would be to take the knowledge and technology we have now … but, apply it to the 1981 rule book … … heck, the 19-SEVENTY-one rule book!! Anyone for 1967?!?

    • Avatar

      Yes, I know … Matt has two “TTs” … sorry ’bout that!! Also … “mid-SIXED?!?” I meant “mid-sized!”

  10. Avatar

    Great to see you filling in again Matt; miss your articles!

    The racing was pretty good for a typical cookie-cutter track.

    I’m glad I DVR all the races now; cuts them down to 1/2 hour of actual racing while avoiding the 2 1/2 hours of commercials. I’d argue the DVR is one of the greatest inventions. 🙂

    Bring on the short-tracks!

    • Avatar

      Cutting down the races to a half-hour should give you more time to practice your swimming.
      Good luck at the Olympics. 🙂

  11. Avatar

    I really don’t like Jeff Gordon, but he has surprised me in the booth. He’s not as whiny as I expected. I find it hilarious that he challenges DW’s views on air in an irreverent way. No bowing down to Jaws out of date opinions. I love it! Turns out Gordon is a much better race commentator than Jeff Burton.

  12. Avatar

    Matt said: “Harvick seemed to have the race in hand but there was enough racing up front and through the pack that the normally somnolent California race had its moments and many a good nap was spoiled.”

    Fontana has gotten much better in the last few years thanks to the worn out track, but leave it to Matt to continue thinking its the same old, same old.

    • Matt

      Is it just the worn track surface or do the lower down force cars also contribute to a new racing dynamic too? More importantly, did you ever get your drag strip back?

      • Avatar

        Lower downforce only came into play this year, so its the worn track surface that has contributed to better racing over the last couple years.

        Yes, they built the sound-wall and the 1/4 mile dragstrip at Fontana is back in action.

  13. Avatar

    Hey Matt, looks like Old-Timer up there has some “generational clarity”!

    He is right about the splitters and side skirts though.

  14. Avatar

    I don’t see a Goodyear problem when they recommend a minimum tire pressure and maximum camber, and teams chose not to follow it for a competitive advantage and suffer a tire failure. It’s not like tires were popping left and right 10 laps into a run. The vast majority of the field made it through a run without an issue. I thought this is what we wanted? Tires that wear out and punish teams that abuse them. That’s what I’ve seen at Fontana the last few years. I’d rather have tires like this, than hockey pucks you could run a 24 hour race on.

  15. Avatar

    This was a classic….
    three hour commercial occasionally interrupted by commercials.