Auto Club: Checkered and Black Flags
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on March 21, 2016 | 1:38 P.M. EST
MRN's Pete Pistone looks back at Sunday's Auto Club 400 and gives Chase Elliott one of his "Checkered Flags" for the weekend. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway provided many reasons to celebrate and be disappointed.
New Rules Package
It’s safe to say the new low-downforce rules package is a success. Maybe it’s still a work in progress, and NASCAR will continue to make adjustments as teams figure out how to put more downforce back into the equation. But early returns are nothing short of a home run. Sunday’s race on the worn-out, rough ACS surface combined with the rules package created three hours of stellar competition and - most importantly - an entertaining afternoon in the "Inland Empire."
Two wins in five races is a strong statement from the man who passed the late Dale Earnhardt on the all-time Sprint Cup Series win list with his 77th victory. Physically, Johnson said he feels the best in his career and the way the No. 48 team has come out of the box, it could mean many more trips to Victory Lane in 2016.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Speaking of early returns, things are looking brighter for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse was again the best of the stable this weekend with a top-five finish and an impressive rebound from the team’s disappointment a week ago at Phoenix International Raceway.
The rookie is living up to the nickname "phenom" early in his Sprint Cup career. Elliott looked like a seasoned veteran on Sunday and late in the race, he may have had one of the fastest cars. It took him some time to get around Joey Logano or perhaps Elliott could have gotten close to the leaders. Nonetheless, it was another impressive top-10 finish for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver.
It’s been a struggle for several months now at JTG Daugherty Racing. Since Allmendinger’s Watkins Glen win in 2014, things have not gone well ... until Sunday, when the No. 47 team turned in one of its best performances in recent memory with a top-10 finish.
His demeanor when things don’t go his way hasn’t changed. Busch blew off explaining his side of the story after Saturday’s XFINITY race finish that saw him blow a tire while leading the race. His in-car communication accusing NASCAR of "fixing races" and then missing his obligation to go to the media center as the second-place finisher will certainly result in penalties. For good measure, Busch got into a Twitter war with several fans after Sunday’s race - conduct that wasn’t very flattering, especially coming from a Sprint Cup champion.
Apologized to Danica Patrick for their accident on the fronstretch for what Kahne said was, by no means, a purposeful move. However, it was poor judgment for a veteran driver that continues to disappoint and has gotten off to a slow start in 2016.
She should be penalized for walking up onto a "hot" racetrack to show her displeasure for Kahne’s move. Mad or not, it’s a rule that NASCAR implemented in the name of safety about two years ago and Patrick clearly violated it.
While Roush teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enjoyed a strong day in Fontana, Biffle had a rough weekend that started with a practice crash on Saturday involving Kyle Larson. Biffle’s Sunday ended with a rare blown engine and a 37th-place finish.
Martin Truex Jr.
Wasn’t pleased with Joey Logano’s move that caused the Furniture Row Racing Toyota to make contact with the wall. Logano took blame for the incident, but it didn’t stop crew chief Cole Pearn from taking to Twitter to make some not-so-pleasant remarks he later apologized for. At the end of the day, this season has gotten off to shaky start for Truex.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.