The NASCAR Cup Series‘ WISE Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway presented an interesting list of challenges: a track that the series had not visited in two years, an aging track surface, and the still unproven Next Gen car on an intermediate track for the first time. As it turned out, many did not live up to it as multiple wrecks occurred, with a whopping twelve caution flags being flown for a track record. By the end, Kyle Larson was on top.
After a similarly accident-laden practice and qualifying on Saturday, Austin Cindric started on the pole alongside Erik Jones. At the back, Kurt Busch served a pass-through penalty for failing pre-qualifying inspection three times, which prevented him from setting a time in said session. Ross Chastain wrecked in practice and switched to a backup car, sending him to the rear; other drivers there included Larson for an electronic issue, Justin Haley for an oil cooler change, and unapproved adjustment penalties for Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Bubba Wallace.
Stages #1 and 2
Jones led the first ten laps before being passed by Tyler Reddick. Kyle Busch spun on lap 15 to warrant a caution, which also took the place of the competition yellow. Reddick led on the restart before Chase Elliott took the spot, though much like how his qualifying run ended with a spin, he lost the lead after brushing the wall twice. Besides relinquishing the lead back to Reddick, Elliott went around on lap 38.
Reddick’s stage took a literal painful (or would it be painless?) turn when he began reporting numbness in his left leg due to his posture in his seat; the same predicament occurred during his Camping World Truck Series career at Dover in 2015. Nevertheless, he pressed on as the race continued, and stayed in the lead through another caution for Josh Bilicki‘s spin. He claimed the stage win ahead of Jones, William Byron, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Logano, Ryan Blaney, Cindric, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
After taking the stage win, Reddick took ibuprofen to remedy his leg ailment, and he and Briscoe led the field to the start of Stage #2. Between stages, Todd Gilliland‘s right front wheel came off on track, which will result in a four-race suspension for crew chief Seth Barbour and a crewman. Wheels, which were changed as the Cup Series transitioned from the Gen-6 to the Next Gen car, were a major talking point during the Daytona 500 after Grala and Haley’s cars lost theirs during the race which resulted in the same penalties.
Larson and Briscoe took off to pass Reddick after a lap, though he fought back to remain in the top two. Busch’s woes persisted when he had to pit for a flat tyre, sinking him to four laps behind the leaders. As Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Denny Hamlin entered pit road on lap 91, fellow JGR driver Christopher Bell spun from a cut tyre and hit the outside wall on the frontstretch for a caution. Bell eventually exited the race.
The race resumed on lap 97 with Reddick leading. Byron claimed the lead as the race crossed the 100-lap mark. Ten laps later, Chris Buescher spun into the turn three outside wall after a downed left rear tyre, and Reddick was the first off pit road during the ensuing caution after Byron had a slow stop. The next green flag lasted only a lap before Keselowski got loose in front of Logano on the frontstretch and spun through the infield grass.
The final restart of the segment came with ten laps remaining. Reddick and Jones battled for the lead to the green-checkered flag, with the former on top. Logano, Blaney, Larson, Saturday’s Xfinity Series winner Cole Custer, Cindric, Aric Almirola, Byron, and Hamlin rounded out the top ten.
Reddick and Jones paced the field to open the third stage. Three corners into the segment, Almirola went sideways but avoided a spin and drove through pit road, but he did not pit in order to remain on the lead lap. The save was in a nearly identical manner to one he had during qualifying.
Despite his strong day, Reddick’s hopes of winning evapourated on lap 151 when his left-rear tyre went down and sent him into the wall in turn two; to add insult to injury, he was then impacted by Byron. Another wreck in the area came six laps later when Keselowski was turned while racing Bubba Wallace and Cindric, and Harrison Burton found himself trapped between Keselowski’s #6 and the outside wall.
Logano took the lead shortly before the lap 157 crash and continued to lead for the next green flag, though he was subsequently overtaken by Larson. Ross Chastain was the next victim when he spun through the tri-oval on lap 171.
Briscoe and Elliott, who crawled his way back from being two laps down, comprised the front row for the lap 178 green. The former did not stand a chance as he did not pit and was on older tyres, enabling the leaders to zip along. Bowman hit the wall but no caution came out, while Elliott tried to make a three-wide pass on Larson and Logano, only for Larson to pull up and sandwich him with the wall. Larson apologised over the radio as Elliott fell back. Larson pulled ahead of Logano shortly after.
Larson’s spotter Tyler Monn took responsibility for the contact by tweeting, “Today I made a mistake. I will take full responsibility for what happen on track today. I was worried more about the 22 and not the 9. It was a late call on me it had nothing to do with Kyle.”
“I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win, but it was just an honest mistake on probably both of our faults,” Larson commented in his post-race press conference. “I should have had more awareness in my mirror. My spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I would have probably not been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting on Chase than worrying about Joey.
“It happened, and I hate that it did. I know they’re upset, but we’ll talk and hopefully, we’ll get on the same page. I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively and that late on purpose.”
With eight laps remaining, Elliott spun to create what would be the final caution of the day. A solid stop by Daniel Suárez propelled him to second out of the pits behind Larson.
The last green flag came with four laps to go, and Logano launched himself into the conversation with a three-wide attempt on Larson and Suárez that failed. Suárez and Larson traded the lead while Dillon injected himself into the picture on the penultimate circuit. Haley spun into the inside wall as he took the white flag, but no other cars were around him and no caution was ordered.
At the front, Dillon and Jones could not catch Larson as he pulled away to win.
“Honestly, I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to,” added Larson. I thought dirty air was going to be really bad behind people, and it didn’t seem way worse or different than normal. So that was encouraging. I thought the runs were equally as big if not bigger down the frontstretch. Restarts were still crazy.”
|1||13||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|2||16||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|3||2||43||Erik Jones||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|4||15||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|5||7||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||200||Running|
|6||31||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||200||Running|
|7||32||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||200||Running|
|8||36||45||Kurt Busch||23XI Racing||Toyota||200||Running|
|9||5||16||Daniel Hemric*||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|10||17||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|11||21||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||200||Running|
|12||1||2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||200||Running|
|13||12||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||200||Running|
|14||3||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||200||Running|
|15||4||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||200||Running|
|16||24||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||200||Running|
|17||18||42||Ty Dillon||Petty GMS Motorsports||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|18||6||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||200||Running|
|19||34||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||200||Running|
|20||26||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||200||Running|
|21||29||15||Garrett Smithley||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||200||Running|
|22||30||78||B.J. McLeod||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||200||Running|
|23||35||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||200||Running|
|24||11||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||199||Running|
|25||14||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||199||Running|
|26||8||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||198||Running|
|27||9||6||Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||Ford||198||Running|
|28||25||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||198||Running|
|29||33||1||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||198||Running|
|30||28||77||Josh Bilicki*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||198||Running|
|31||23||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||193||Electrical|
|32||27||51||Cody Ware||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||187||Running|
|33||22||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||157||Accident|
|34||10||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||151||Accident|
|35||20||17||Chris Buescher||RFK Racing||Ford||111||Accident|
|36||19||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||94||Engine|
* – Ineligible for Cup points