Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rating the Auto Club 500: 3 Stars ***

An odd day in Southern California for the second race of the season included lots of green flag racing, a touch of rain, and the default winner. Add it up and this race gets a 3 Star Rating.

He just keeps on keeping on. Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team put a scare into the rest of the field and the entire NASCAR fan base as he came back strong in California after having mechanical issues in Daytona. The fantasies of Speedweeks are gone. Jimmie Johnson is still good and Dale Earnhardt Jr. still has a lot of work ahead of him.

Besides Johnson, there was actually a decent mix of cars up front throughout the race. The Richard Childress Racing cars picked up where they left off at Daytona and had the best overall day of any organization. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer look to have things turned around after last year’s debacle. I don’t like to make rushed statements after only two races, but something out of their control is going to have to happen to keep any of the RCR cars out of the Chase.

Also, the battles between Johnson and Harvick throughout the race were fun to watch. Had Harvick not pushed the envelope too far there at the end, he may have been celebrating in Victory Lane. I don’t understand why he felt that move had to be made coming out of Turn 4. Johnson was intentionally running the high line because he saw Harvick coming up there, yet instead of cooling his jets and waiting another lap or two, Harvick decided the move had to be made right there. Yes, he had an awesome run there, but he had gained on Johnson so much in the last few laps, he probably was going to be able to make the pass anyway if he had just been a bit more patient. Instead, Johnson goes on to easily capture win #48.

As for the crazy weather, could it be that the target on NASCAR’s back has moved? After dealing with major rain issues the past two seasons, a potential race-ending storm moved just north of the speedway, with only a momentary pause for a brief shower. Darrell Waltrip summed up NASCAR fans’ frustrations with rain as he saw the storm barely miss the racetrack and Mike Joy said someone’s garden was getting soaked.

“I don’t care about the man’s garden,” he said. "I just don’t want my racetrack wet.”

This marked the third year in a row that one of the first two races of the season has been affected by rain, but it also caused the least amount of delays out of the three years. There was also only one debris caution. While there should not be any debris cautions in racing, this is still better than the last few years. At one point NASCAR was looking for debris but actually kept their finger off the button and allowed the race to continue. Remember, 55 mph is not what fans come to watch. The 190-200 mph speeds are what get them excited.

Next week the series rolls into Las Vegas, always one of the more interesting races of the year. Bruton Smith has put loads of money into the facility and it has paid off. The cars are always on edge at this track, especially coming out of Turn 4, similar to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Have a good week everybody. Just remember, a NASCAR race awaits when it is over.


  1. Always enjoy reading your stuff. Harvick more than likely chose to make the move when he did because Johnson actually left the door open for a moment on the high side.

    Out in southern California, that man probably was pretty excited for his garden to get soaked... lol.

  2. I thought this was one of the best races from Fontana. I may have it a little higher than 3 stars. Lots of lead changes under green, and different players at different points in the race... that's nice.

    Too bad the rain didn't wash DW away... for good!

  3. Excellent MMCC. NASCAR actually did a good job when it came to debris cautions. The one they did throw was the right thing to do--it was for a piece of metal on one of the grooves. Yeah it sucks, but better to have that caution than to cut a tire on the metal and finish many laps down as a result of a crash into the wall. As for Harvick, he saw an opening on the high groove and he felt he could pass Johnson there. Johnson blocked him, and Harvick ran out of room and hit the wall. It's going to be between Harvick and Johnson all year for the title, if the first two races are any indication.

  4. Gonger - Harvick did have a heck of a run on Johnson. I just thought at the rate he was catching the #48, he could have been more patient and made his move when there was more room. Jeff Burton may have pulled back and waited for a more opportune time if he was in that situation.

    Gene - It was a pretty good race. It felt a bit more like the late 90s races when they only went there once a year. Maybe one race per season would put Fontana in a better light. I don't remember hearing how bad the place was until they went to two races per season.

    jon_464 - Here's my thought on the debris caution. Had somebody run over the piece of metal and crashed, they would have had the same result as Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman when they blew engines. To me, they are both just incidents of bad racing luck.

    Also, by the time a caution is thrown, usually several cars have gone around that piece anyway and could still have cut a tire. I don't see why those cautions need to be thrown now when they weren't thrown in races ten years ago.

    I do hope a few different teams fight the #48 this year, and it would be fun to see any of the RCR cars make a run at the title.