The Auto Club 400 didn’t look too much different from the previous three races of the 2019 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.
However, the final race of the West Coast Swing was headlined by Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and his 200th win across three NASCAR’s three national series, and his 54th in the premier category.
Despite an unforced error after speeding in pit lane at the end of Stage Two, Busch completed some daring manoeuvres and received some luck on St. Patrick’s Day to reclaim the lead with 26 Laps left, after a tyre puncture for Darrell Wallace Jr. bought out the caution flag.
Because of this, many cars were a lap down and were forced to take the wave around, while ‘Rowdy’ catapulted all the way to the chequered flag.
As an unsurprising consequence, the #18 Toyota Camry faced little competition and led 134 Laps in total, with the Team Penske trio of Joey Lagano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney the only drivers within reach.
Busch’s milestone win wasn’t without controversy, so here are some important from the recent race in California:
Different Paths to 200
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 18, 2019
While Kyle Busch now has 200 wins in NASCAR, many were quick to point out that this feat isn’t equal to that of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty.
Although it may be argued that Petty raced in easier circumstances, no ‘minor-league’ wins are included his tally.
Busch’s achievements are historic, but they aren’t near the magnitude of ‘The King’.
Lack of Attrition
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 17, 2019
A interesting trend in the early stages of the season is the lack of cautions and prolonged green flag stints.
The only major incident that took place at the Auto Club Speedway involved Ricky Stenhouse Jr. when he spun in front of the field at the end of Stage One.
The three other cautions were brought out for the Stage Two conclusion and for separate incidents which saw Austin Dillion and Wallace Jr. experience tyre punctures.
Excluding the numerous crashes which occurred during the season opening Daytona 500, the season has been quite calm.
Apart from competition and stage cautions, the yellow flags have only been deployed 12 times across the last four races; twice in Atlanta, none in Las Vegas, seven times in Phoenix and on three occasions at California’s Auto Club Speedway.
It is also worth noting that the three track most effected by the new aerodynamics packages – Atlanta, Las Vegas and California – have played host to clean races.
Furthermore, only six cars have failed to finish a race over the last month of racing.
Engine failures have become less common, fewer tyre punctures occur and there is minimal contact amongst the drivers on track; factors which have split NASCAR’s fan base as to whether these are positive or negative developments for the sport.
However, the field has been spread out as a result and the main title contenders are not having porous days.
The Fantastic Five
We can't get enough of this five-wide salute. 😍
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 18, 2019
Speaking of the title contenders, they are certainly starting to pull away from the rest of the competition.
Although the championship standing do not currently reflect this the likes of Kyle Busch, Joey Lagano, Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Brad Keselowski and Martin Turex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing) are the drivers I feel will go on to dominate the proceedings.
Busch lead the Drivers’ Standings and has dominated the last two races, with second-placed Lagano winning in Las Vegas and has ran in the top five consistency thus far.
Although he has yet to enter victory lane in 2019, Harvick has three fourth places since Atlanta and the most stage points to slot in third, while fifth-placed Keselowski took the race win at Atlanta and was pipped to the line in Las Vegas by Penske team-mate Lagano.
Turex Jr. also has a pair of second and eighth place finishes despite his troubles in qualifying and races, and is currently seventh in the championship.
There are certainly other contenders, but in terms of speed and execution, it is going to be hard for the chasing pack to keep up with these drivers on NASCAR’s conventional tracks.
Racers such as Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney all possess the speed necessary, but currently lack the killer instinct necessary and may struggle to win multiple races this season.
However, the next race offers the chance for the field to experience a change in pace, as the NASCAR circus heads to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway known for high levels of in-race retirements and wheel-to-wheel action in recent years.
The race is scheduled to air this Sunday at 6pm GMT (2pm EDT in the US) on Sky Sports (Fox Sports 1).