Kyle Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing with another strong performance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. Busch dominated much of the day and came away with a third-place finish, while a late penalty left Joey Logano with a 25th-place finish and an engine issue ended Denny Hamlin’s day early in the 39th position.
Busch started the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota in the eighth position and didn’t wait long to show the confidence that he had in his Camry as he shot up into third on the very first lap. Not long thereafter Busch would pass his teammate Hamlin for the top spot and the day would largely belong to the green and white Interstate Batteries car from that point forward. Busch and the 18 team put together an amazing weekend after contact with the wall in a Friday practice session forced the crew to pull out the backup car for qualifying and the race. The setback didn’t deter the team however as they proved strong throughout the day in an effort to give JGR its first ever Sprint Cup victory at the 2-mile track. A late caution forced a major decision by the team on whether or not to relinquish the lead and come down pit road for a final time with 11 laps remaining. Crew chief Dave Rogers and Busch made the call to remain on the track as did the six cars behind him. Busch managed to hold off Jimmie Johnson on the restart, but Johnson was able to come back and get around him with three laps to go. As the two battled, Kevin Harvick took advantage and managed to slide around both for the race win, while Busch and the Interstate Batteries team had to settle for a third-place finish. Busch would lead a race-high five times for 151 laps.
After a strong qualifying effort on Friday, Joey Logano woke up Sunday morning looking forward to starting his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota from the third position, but an engine change prior to the start of the race sent him to the back of the field under NASCAR rules. Logano was able to make up several positions early in the race and then continued his assent up through field as the laps remaining dwindled. He would have his Home Depot Camry up to the 15th position when a late caution flag sent those outside the top seven down pit road for a fresh set of tires. With just 10 laps remaining Logano was hoping to gain several positions on the day’s final restart to vault his No. 20 Toyota into the top ten. Unfortunately his day would end once again in frustration when he was assessed a pass-through penalty for passing prior to the start/finish line on the day’s final restart. The result left him at the back of the lead lap cars and a disappointing 25th-place finish.
Unfortunately the frustration also extended to his teammate Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota team. Hamlin started in the second position following a superb qualifying effort on Friday and managed to lead early for 15 laps. Trouble began however shortly after the midpoint of the race when Hamlin began to quickly drop back in the field and radioed in to crew chief Mike Ford that he felt there was a problem with the engine or electrical system. Although Hamlin managed to stay on the track until a caution flag came out, he would ultimately have to take the car behind the wall and into the garage where it was determined his day would be over. Hamlin would finish 39th.
Kevin Harvick would win the race, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Ryan Newman to round out the top-five. There were four cautions for a total of 16 laps and 18 lead changes among 10 different drivers over the course of the 200-lap race.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the East Coast next week with the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 from Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, April 3. The race will begin at 1 PM ET with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 PM ET. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.