A dominating performance at Auto Club Speedway by a Hendrick Motorsports driver isn’t a surprise — however, it wasn’t the driver most would expect.
Alex Bowman dominated the Auto Club 400 on Sunday afternoon (March 1) en route to his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory. Bowman led 110 of the race’s 200 laps. He had to overcome some adversity but was able to pull through.
“Man, how about that California?” an exuberant Bowman stated to FOX in his frontstretch interview. “We’ve started this year off so strong. [Crew Chief] Greg [Ives] and the guys have been on point. I don’t think we had a change in the race car since it came off the truck. We’ve put a lot of efforts in this new car, and it’s obviously paying off really well.”
The race began with Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson on the front row. Johnson, running his final race at his home racetrack, led the field during the pace laps, and his wife and two daughters waived the green flag to get the race started.
Bowyer led early but quickly gave way to Bowman, who took over and didn’t look back. He won the stage 1, the first ever stage win of Bowman’s career.
On lap 63, the field pitted, and Bowman found himself in a bit of trouble on his pit stop. When the team dropped the car off the jack on the right side, the air hose to his rear tire changer got caught underneath the car, delaying the stop.
The mishap meant Bowman would exit pit lane in the third position behind Johnson and Ryan Blaney. Johnson led the field on the lap 67 restart with Blaney on the outside. Johnson quickly gave way to Blaney, who then took a commanding lead on the field.
Blaney would have that lead until the second caution flag of the day flew when Bowyer lost a tire and spewed debris on the track. Bowyer had cosmetic damage and his splitter was roughed up, but the No. 14 continued. Bowyer finished 23rd, one lap off the pace.
On the lap 93 restart, Blaney pulled away from the field. Bowman would grab second from Johnson during the run but was never able to close the gap on Blaney. The No. 12 took green-and-white-checkered flag to end stage two, the 13th stage win of his career. Blaney then had a slow stop that would cost him the lead, and he exited the pits in the third spot with Johnson and Bowman first and second.
On the lap 128 restart, Johnson took the lead. Shortly after, it was Bowman’s turn to take over the race again. He passed Johnson, then swapped the lead with Martin Truex Jr, before going to the lead for good on lap 133.
Bowman cruised to victory, winning the race by just under 10 seconds. Kyle Busch finished in the second spot, with Kurt Busch coming home third. Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
Several drivers would experience tire issues toward the end of the race, including Blaney, who was running in the second position when he pitted with just three laps to go with a tire going down. He would finish in 19th, one lap behind the leader.
The Cup Series will next race at Phoenix Raceway for the running of the Fan Shield 500 on Sunday, March 8. The race’s green flag will drop at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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