I’m not good at predicting the future. But last week, I wrote that I anticipated our underdogs faced a tough task if they wanted to steal the spotlight in southern California. Unfortunately, this time my outlook couldn’t have been more accurate.
Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway was a disappointment for the underfunded group in nearly every way. Michael McDowell wound up as the top such performer, finishing a less than impressive 22nd. Making it even more frustrating was the fact that McDowell qualified in eighth, so clearly the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford was fast. McDowell did seem to be somewhat pleased considering how bad the previous race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway had gone.
“California was a decent race, probably not the result we had all hoped for,” McDowell said. “We had a really good qualifying, really good practice, overall a solid weekend. There’s a few things we could probably clean up a little bit in the race, executing a bit better. 22nd isn’t what we were shooting for, but it’s pretty close to as good as we could achieve. Maybe there were a few spots more to get but all in all a good weekend that helped us get that momentum back going after Vegas.”
No one. When there are only 38 cars in a race, there’s nothing about finishing 25th or lower that warrants mentioning. McDowell was the only one who made any waves during either qualifying or the race itself. None of them led the race at any point or made a significant run near the front.
However, there was one unique aspect to the underdog class: They all finished the race. In fact, the only one who was double-digit laps down was Timmy Hill. For teams that often use refurbished equipment and operate with limited resources, there’s something to be said for completing nearly every lap on a high-speed track like Auto Club Speedway.
Ryan Sieg was once again the man of the hour at ACS this weekend. Sieg finished fourth, but he wasn’t alone near the top of the leaderboard. Jeremy Clements snapped up a ninth-place finish, his first career top 10 at the 2-mile oval. Then there was Josh Williams, who scored a 10th for the Mario Gosselin-owned team. To put that in perspective, Gosselin has fielded cars 249 times in the Xfinity Series, with just seven top-10 finishes. Saturday was the first of those seven that came on a non-superspeedway oval.
Myatt Snider finished 12th in a team car to Sieg, while Alex Labbe brought another of Gosselin’s greatly-improved cars across the line in 13th. Vinnie Miller wound up 15th in the BJ McLeod Motorsports No. 78 Chevrolet.
What to Expect
The 2020 edition of NASCAR Goes West concludes in Phoenix this weekend, and there ought to be a little more to get excited about for our able-bodied underdog teams. Phoenix is short, flat and places a premium on handling rather than power.
Ty Dillon finished in the top 20 in both Phoenix races last year. Also, John Hunter Nemechek runs well at the track and could pull off a reasonably surprising finish. On the Xfinity side, keep an eye on Brandon Brown, Sieg and Tommy Joe Martins. All three have run well there before and have shown promise thus far in 2020.
The inaugural race at Phoenix in 1988 holds the unique distinction of being the first to feature the Polish victory lap from eventual Cup champion and Hall of Fame driver Alan Kulwicki. Kulwicki landed the first of his five career victories on the 1-mile desert oval. He then turned around and drove the entire length of the track in the opposite direction.
Now we know this celebration all too well, and it draws a fair amount of appreciation whenever a driver rolls it out as a tribute. The funny thing about this, however, is that at that time, not only did the television commentators not understand the move, but they actually thought Kulwicki was lost.
Now, I wouldn’t expect anyone to figure out what Alan was doing at the moment, but it does seem rather humorous that a driver could run 312 laps in the right direction, only to suddenly get lost on track at low speed. Thankfully, Kulwicki cleared up any further confusion during his victory lane interview.
Look Who’s Talking
— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) February 29, 2020
We just finished 18th with a car that was on fire twice pic.twitter.com/BMaotMAR2W
— bread perez (@bradxperez) March 1, 2020
— Brock Beard (@LASTCARonBROCK) March 1, 2020
Morgan’s Toolbox is well decorated pic.twitter.com/9qNCBJ3kdF
— landon cassill (@landoncassill) February 29, 2020