The third and final race in the NASCAR Goes West Series hit the track in Fontana, California on Sunday, thankfully with temperatures far more agreeable than last week’s 93 degrees at Phoenix Raceway. Instead, Fontana provided a comfortable 62 degrees to start the race, under mainly overcast skies.
With Kyle Larson in the pole position, he chose the outside lane to start the race while the second fastest car – the #11 of Denny Hamlin – lined up beside him. As always, the pace car entered Pit Road, the green flag flew, and 39 cars entered the start zone. However, Stage 1 instantly got off to a bad start when Hamlin faltered getting through the gears and caused all cars behind him to quickly stack up. With a domino-like effect, Kevin Harvick tagged Ryan Newman who pushed into the back of Brad Keselowski. At the time, Keselowski had been trying to push Hamlin, but instead got under him and lifted his back tires. Despite the lack of speed so early in the restart, the damage was surprisingly hefty with Harvick’s car requiring a full nose job of tape and Keselowski incurring left fender damage that caused him to immediately fall to the back of the field. Only four laps later, the caution flag flew as Keselowski was turned by Jimmie Johnson.
Lap 7 saw the first restart of the race and, thankfully, it was much smoother. As a matter of fact, everything went so smoothly afterwards that Stage 1 ended up being relatively unremarkable, with the exception of the impressive speed seen from Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., who finished the stage respectively.
Stage 2 saw the reverse situation as Martin Truex Jr. put down a blistering pace for the stage win with Kyle Larson finishing second. Chase Elliott passed Clint Bowyer and placed third. Truex led all but five laps in the stage.
In the final run, again the race fell into a noticeable lull with most of the Top Ten cars spread out and in their own bubble. It wasn’t until 10 laps to go that excitement returned to the track and spawned 2 cautions as drivers raced for position. In the end, polesitter Kyle Larson finally celebrated with a trip to Victory Lane. Larson had led 110 laps, retaining composure throughout the final restarts, and was rewarded with a bear hug from team owner Chip Ganassi.
In an impressive comeback, Brad Keselowski, who had battled early in the race due to the damage to his No. 2 Team Penske Ford, rolled over the finish line in second place.
Clint Bowyer finished third, and Martin Truex Jr., who had run strong all day was fourth. Penske driver Joey Logano managed to recover a lost lap with a wave-around late in the race and finished fifth. Daniel Suarez once again proved that the rookie stripe on his car is only a status and not a testament to his driving ability as he yet again finished among the Top Ten, in 7th position.
–Before the race, the track announced a three-year extension of its race entitlement sponsorship, keeping the name Auto Club 400 through 2020.
— With Keselowski having early troubles, Larson is now the only driver who has scored points in both the first and second stages in each of the five races this year.
— Twenty-first Jimmie Johnson maintained his perfect record at Fontana—but just barely. After a litany of issues throughout the race, Johnson got back on the lead lap as the “lucky dog” under the final caution. He has now finished on the lead lap in all 23 of his starts at Auto Club, completing all 5,306 laps raced at the speedway during his career.
Of Interest Information and Photos courtesy of NASCAR