Fontana, Calif. — Kyle Larson took the checkered flag in the Wise Power 400, the first race in two years at the Auto Club Speedway. He led 28 of the 200 laps on Sunday afternoon in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
This was Larson’s second win at the Southern California race track and the 17th of his NASCAR career. Meanwhile, Austin Dillon came in second place by just .195 seconds and Erik Jones finished third. Daniel Suarez finished fourth giving Chevrolet the top four finishers.
“A fun race, a lot of hard work by everybody on our team and I’m proud of everybody’s effort,” said Kyle Larson, who won the race in his home state of California. “We had runs where we’d be tight next run we’d be loose. I felt like we had a decent shot to win. Fun race and proud of everyone’s effort. It wasn’t as nervous for me as yesterday. They made some changes to the overall ride quality of my car. I had a couple of moments where I thought I was close to spinning. Still feels like a stock car to me. Chevys were really strong today. Some different players then you’ve had in the past. It’s pretty cool to see.”
He blocked Chase Elliott with 20 laps remaining which caused him to hit the wall. Larson later stated that he did not know his teammate was directly behind him.
“I didn’t get through three and four very well,” Larson explained. “Joey did a good job on the bottom. We were sidedrafting each other and I’m not even looking at my mirror at that point because all I’m worried about is Joey. I had a run so I went to peel off and as soon as I peeled off, my spotter said, ‘outside, outside, outside.’ I had no clue he [Elliott] was coming. I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to lead lap and back into contention to win. It was just an honest mistake on both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror and my spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run. We would have avoided that mess. I probably would have not been sidedrafting on Joey as hard as I was. It happened. I know that it did. I know that they’re upset but we’ll talk and hopefully we’ll get on the same page.”
There were 12 cautions for a total of 59 laps. On lap 15, Kyle Busch spun out in the backstretch. Then on lap 38, Chase Elliott spun out. On lap 53, Josh Bilicki spun out in turn two and got stuck in the grass.
Later on lap 70, Todd Gilliland lost his right front wheel and had to return to pit road. On lap 86, Kyle Busch’s left rear tire was flat. Then on lap 93, his brother Kurt Busch’s car had overheating issues. On lap 111, Chris Buescher spun out.
Tyler Reddick led 90 laps of the Wise Power 400 and won the first two stages of the race. But on lap 152, he lost his left rear tire. Then on lap 172, Ross Chastain spun out in turn four. With just one lap to go, Justin Haley slid through the infield grass and hit the wall. The race stayed green and Kyle Larson took the checkered flag.
Austin Cindric, who started the race in first and won last weekend’s Daytona 500, finished in 12th position. He was involved in a four-car wreck with Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton on lap 158.
“To come here second race of the year everything new with the vehicle…I’m very proud of everyone back in North Carolina,” said Jeff Andrews, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. “We got to a good spot there at the end and was able to capitalize on that restart. We want to go to Las Vegas in a good spot. This track has always been a tough track regardless of the car. I think you saw a great product on track today. There was a lot of side-by-side racing today.”
Matthew Stafford and Andrew Whitworth from the Super Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams made an appearance to give the command for drivers to start their engines. Actor Danny Trejo waved the green flag to get the race underway. L.A. Rams Guitarist Nita Strauss performed the national anthem.
The Wise Power 400 was the first opportunity for drivers to try out their new Next Gen race cars. Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric started from the pole with the fastest lap speed of 174.647 mph. Erik Jones started the race in second with Kyle Busch in the third position.
Racing fans I talked to said they enjoyed their experience at the Wise Power 400.
“It was pretty cool, this was my second race,” said fan Luis Fernandez from Palmdale, Calif. “My first race was at the LA Coliseum. I really enjoyed it. I’m glad we’re able to come out onto the track. I was rooting for Suarez at the end. He wasn’t able to make it to first place but it was still a good pull.”
His friend, Amanda, added: “I don’t really have a favorite driver. This is my second race as well. The track is amazing. It was a really nice experience.”
“It feels great, I think they are holding it later in the month,” said Dewey McFadden from Diamond Bar, Calif. “We had some rain earlier in February. You can tell by the fans we’re all excited to be back. I think this track was the one where we did the car rides. They had cars you could ride in with a professional driver to feel how fast you can go.”
NASCAR has plans to reconfigure the Auto Club Speedway and turn it into a shorter track. Fans I spoke to say they like the two-mile oval just the way it is.
“No, that’s not a good idea. It’s a terrible idea,” says racing fan Janet from San Diego. “If anything, make it bigger. (Laughs) It’s amazing. It’s a beautiful day. I’m excited to be back. I’m glad everything is over with Covid and everything. Very excited to be back.”
“It seems like they want a Martinsville out here or the paper clip track,” said racing fan Jean Jackson from Las Vegas. “I’d rather have one of these. We love it. With no race last year, this makes the difference.”
“I don’t like it, short tracks are OK but I think they should leave it just like it is,” said racing fan Carissa Palmieri from Las Vegas.
Cole Custer won the Production Alliance Group 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race in triple overtime on Saturday afternoon. Noah Gragson finished second and Trevor Bayne ended up in third.
Next up, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas for the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday.