Kyle Larson Wins as Debate About the Future of California Speedway Heats Up

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 27: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 27, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Kyle Larson ended his Sunday in a very familiar place, in Victory Lane. But he put on quite a show to get there winning the NASCAR Cup Wide Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

The reigning Cup series champion took the lead for the final time from Daniel Suarez at the start-finish line with two laps to go and held off Austin Dillon by .195 to cap off one of the more thrilling races at the 2-mile oval in Fontana California in a race that will no doubt reignite the debate about the future of the track.

“It’s always fun here to win in the home state,” he California native said. “Hard work all weekend there. Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday.

 “Cliff (Daniels, Crew Chief) and everybody made some good adjustments overnight, and the car handled a lot better.”

While Larson was declared the winner, several other drivers starred in their own roles throughout the day.

Tyler Reddick was the driver to beat for a good part of the race. He took the lead early, won both Stages and led a race high 90 laps, more than he ever had in his Cup career. But on lap 153 a flat rear tire sent him into the wall collecting William Byron’s Chevy in the process. Byron was forced to retire, Reddick managed to finish 11th.

Chase Briscoe led a total of 12 laps last season; Sunday he led 20, 17 of those after lap 75. Slow pit stops doomed him, however. During stops for a crash involving Chris Buscher on lap 112, Briscoe came in from fifth place and exited in 22nd. His crew then gambled late in the going leaving him out in the lead with 6 lap older tires during stops on lap 173 after a caution for a spin by Ross Chastain, while the rest of the leaders pitted for fresh rubber. On the restart Briscoe’s Ford was quickly swallowed up and with only 22 laps remaining he ran out of time and finished 16th.

The race produced fantastic battles throughout the pack and up front. After the restart on lap 178 that saw Briscoe’s fortunes change, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were in a three wide battle for the lead. Entering Turn 1, Elliott shot up and tried to overtake his Hendrick Motorsports teammate on the outside, but Larson, whether intentional or not, came up the track and pinched Elliott’s Chevy into the wall.

Elliott, who had hit the wall earlier in the race while leading, slowed, and Larson shot past Logano for the lead. Larson maintained his lead until the races record tying 12th can final caution came out with 7 laps to go; ironically the yellow flew when Elliott spun on the backstretch due to damage from the earlier incident.

The leaders pitted with Larson exiting pit road first followed by Suarez, Logano, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones.

On the restart Jones, who led 18 laps on the day, pushed Suarez to the lead. There was again a three wide battle for the top spot with Larson, Suarez and Logano. Larson was able to grab the spot with two to go and hold on for the win.

Larson had his own issues before the race even started. His crew was forced to change an ignition part on his Chevy early in the day forcing him to start at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments. It seemed to matter little as he scored the 17th win of his Cup career and the second at the California track.

“There were definitely some guys that were quicker than us,” Larson said. “But they had their misfortunes. Just kept our heads in it all day. Long race. Just restarts were crazy. The whole runs were crazy.”

Behind Dillon, Jones was third, Suarez held on for fourth, and Logano was fifth.

“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” Saurez lamented. “I just can’t thank everyone enough in my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once. We had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends; it’s unbelievable. It’s the best pit crew I’ve ever had, and it’s a lot of fun to race like that.

“I’m happy and I’m honored at the same time. I can tell you that I’m going to work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”

Aric Almirola was sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh, and Kurt Busch who also started in the rear and had to serve a pass-through penalty at the start for failing inspection three times on Saturday was eighth.

Daniel Hemric overcame a six-lap deficit to finish ninth, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top 10.

Other than a few tire failures there were no major issues for NASCAR’s new car in its first outing at the speedway, which NASCAR hadn’t raced on since 2020 due to the covid 19 pandemic.

Sunday’s race did fire the debate about the future of the track, as last year there were discussions about turning the 2-mile oval built by Roger Penske into a short track. Those talks however, were put on hold late last year and it appears no decision will be made prior to next season. After Sunday’s race, that decision may just be a great deal more difficult to make.

NASCAR continues its Western swing at Las Vegas next weekend.

Photos: NASCAR at Auto Club Speedway, Sunday Feb. 27, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Wise Power 400

Auto Club Speedway

Fontana, California

Sunday, February 27, 2022

  1. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.
  2. (16)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.
  3. (2)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 200.
  4. (15)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 200.
  5. (7)  Joey Logano, Ford, 200.
  6. (31)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.
  7. (32)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.
  8. (36)  Kurt Busch, Toyota, 200.
  9. (5)  Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, 200.
  10. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 200.
  11. (21)  Cole Custer, Ford, 200.
  12. (1)  Austin Cindric #, Ford, 200.
  13. (12)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200.
  14. (3)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200.
  15. (4)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.
  16. (24)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 200.
  17. (18)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.
  18. (6)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.
  19. (34)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 200.
  20. (26)  Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 200.
  21. (29)  Garrett Smithley, Ford, 200.
  22. (30)  BJ McLeod, Ford, 200.
  23. (35)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 200.
  24. (11)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 199.
  25. (14)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 199.
  26. (8)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 198.
  27. (9)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 198.
  28. (25)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 198.
  29. (33)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 198.
  30. (28)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 198.
  31. (23)  Michael McDowell, Ford, Electrical, 193.
  32. (27)  Cody Ware, Ford, 187.
  33. (22)  Harrison Burton #, Ford, Accident, 157.
  34. (10)  William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 151.
  35. (20)  Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 111.
  36. (19)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, Engine, 94.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  114.222 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 7 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .195 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  12 for 59 laps.

Lead Changes:  32 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   A. Cindric # 0;E. Jones 1-10;T. Reddick 11-15;E. Jones 16;T. Reddick 17-22;C. Elliott 23-34;T. Reddick 35-38;W. Byron 39;T. Reddick 40-53;W. Byron 54;K. Harvick 55;T. Reddick 56-67;E. Jones 68;T. Reddick 69-73;K. Larson 74;C. Briscoe 75-91;W. Byron 92;T. Reddick 93-99;W. Byron 100-112;T. Reddick 113-121;E. Jones 122;T. Reddick 123-132;E. Jones 133;T. Reddick 134-151;E. Jones 152-155;J. Logano 156-166;K. Larson 167-174;R. Blaney 175;C. Briscoe 176-178;J. Logano 179-180;K. Larson 181-192;J. Logano 193;K. Larson 194-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Tyler Reddick 10 times for 90 laps; Kyle Larson 4 times for 28 laps; Chase Briscoe 2 times for 20 laps; Erik Jones 6 times for 18 laps; William Byron 4 times for 16 laps; Joey Logano 3 times for 14 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 12 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 8,43,24,14,5,48,22,12,2,47

Stage #2 Top Ten: 8,43,22,12,5,41,2,10,24,11