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.
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.
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.
About the author
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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