Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rating the Auto Club 400: 4 Stars ****

Kevin Harvick came up and crashed Kyle Busch’s and Jimmie Johnson’s party in the closing laps in California in what turned out to be the most-exciting finish in the history of the track. The one and only race this season at Auto Club Speedway gets a 4 Star Rating.

It took 195 laps, but when the drivers decided to turn on the afterburners, they certainly did. Johnson laid back for most of the race, and Harvick pulled his typical restrictor-plate move and burst to the front in the final five laps.

The end of the race was shaping up to be incredibly similar to last year’s event. No, Johnson didn’t dominate the afternoon, but he was still up front at the end with Harvick closing fast. Last year Harvick pushed the envelope too far and got up against the wall on the final run, but this time he kept himself under control and executed his moves perfectly.

On the third side of the battle, Busch finished third in what turned out to be quite and up-and-down weekend. Well, not too much down, but Busch sometimes treats third place the way other drivers treat 30th place.

Busch had the third-best car in the Nationwide race Sunday, and was going to finish behind Harvick and Carl Edwards, but he took two tires on the final stop and held on for the win. Then Sunday he ran in first all day but couldn’t hold on and was overtaken by both Johnson and Harvick. While Johnson led three laps and Harvick led one lap and the race, Busch led 151 of the 200 laps and lost the race.

As for the other 95 percent of the race, it was typical of California. Lots and lots of green-flag racing, which is good, but there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of action.

Still, it was nice to see the leader not be able to automatically check out from the field. Busch led 75 percent of the race, but he usually didn’t have a huge lead on the second-place car, which for most of the race was Tony Stewart.

This weekend we saw several important trends develop, including the fact that right now there are four organizations that are extremely competitive with Hendrick, Childress, Gibbs and Roush. Those organizations have each had their own struggles at different points early on, but they seem to be rounding into form and will fill this season with some pretty intense battles.

Also, we saw the new nose configuration in action on an aero-sensitive track. Combined with the spoiler, this setup looks like it will provide better racing where the leader doesn’t always drive away from the field, and while it’s not easy to pass somebody, it can certainly be done. As far as competitive racing is concerned, the aerodynamics of the cars are as good as they’ve been in quite some time.

Next week its back to short-track racing as the series heads to Martinsville. This track has produced some pretty exciting battles of late, and there’s little reason to think that will change. If anything, it might be amplified on NASCAR’s shortest track.

6 comments:

  1. I agree on the 4. Nice to see the 17 car moving up.

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  2. 4 stars? I've seen testing sessions that were more exciting.

    9/10ths of the race were extremely boring, even for Kyle's fans.

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  3. Yea have to agree with Gene on this one JM - 3 stars at best with a 4 star finish. Thank god I had the DVR to zip thru the first 150 laps or I might not have stuck around for the finish. Boring! That said - amazing racing in those final laps.

    Hope this isn't a total predictor of the cookie cutter performance or Penske is going to be in trouble...

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  4. 180 laps of ZERO (as in goose egg) and 20 laps of racing equals a... 1/2 star!

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  5. olderguy - The Fords were decent on Sunday. I think the will be better on some of the 1.5-mile tracks than the big, wide tracks such as California and Michigan.
    Thanks!

    Gene - Busch was out for a nice Sunday drive for the most part, but he was never devoid of challengers, as Johnson has been a few times. Plus, the aging of the track helps as cars don't have to stick to the bottom. The finish would've never panned out if they couldn't use the entire track.
    Thanks!

    klvalus - At least the pit crews finally got to make a few pit stops, because they certainly won't next week. After as good as Kurt Busch has been this year, it was surprising to see him struggle so much this weekend.
    Thanks!

    Dwindy1 - I still think we would have had a good finish even if Bobby Labonte hadn't pounded the wall in the final laps, but it set up quite a finish.
    Thanks!

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