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Time to Park It: Auto Club 400

California certainly was kind to the No. 88 team this season.

Not sure what got into the drivers this weekend, but we certainly got a lot of exciting racing at the Auto Club Speedway.  So much so, there’s probably people thinking this was the best action we’ve had through three races.

Cannot disagree with that point.

This old surface and it’s sweeping corners certainly meant that rather than it being a fuel mileage event, it was a tire mileage event.  Races like this remind me of the old Darlington, prior to the 2009 repave before the Southern 500.  Although not as rough, like as when Dale Jr. described it, one would “cut their hand on the surface.”  But at the same time, the 23-year old racing surface was slick, abrasive, and tires were becoming a premium.  With the lone exception being when Clint Bowyer had a tire go down following a pit stop, the only breaks drivers had all day were the two stage breaks.

That meant very few opportunities under caution to come in, get new tires, and not have to worry about if the rubber on the road was good enough to make it.

We certainly learned that when the tires became unwound, rubber coming off like ribbons on a birthday gift.  It took away Ryan Blaney’s chances at a decent finish, and almost cost a few other drivers earlier in the running.  Just like Atlanta, I do not want to see this track get a resurfacing for a while.  It may not be as slick as Atlanta, but the track still has a lot of character that would be lost if new asphalt were to be put down.

New surface or not, the biggest thing we saw is that the draft is no longer just for Daytona and Talladega.  Pushing down the straightaways, getting on the rear corner, cutting fast after a big run; all these were seen at multiple times all afternoon.

Certainly didn’t work all the time, as seen with the McDonald’s Chevrolet ending up in the wall after Denny Hamlin got a little too pushy.

Still, this place is always going to be a multiple-lane race track, where even running the apron can gain a position.

In the end, it wasn’t about who was doing the passing, but rather the one driver no one could pass for over half the event.  Let’s be honest, with the lone exception being Blaney, was Alex Bowman.  He, and for that matter all the Chevrolet teams, have been running a lot better even through just three races than they were the entire 2019 season.  The bow tie brigade did not see victory lane a lot last season, with the only non-plate track victories coming courtesy of Bowman, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch.  Toyota won over half the schedule, and has seemingly become the new dominance in the sport.

Yet, through three races, we have seen a Toyota win at Daytona, then last week went to Ford at Las Vegas, and now Chevrolet has gotten in the winner’s circle.  Although it is early, this is certainly an intriguing manufacturer battle.

But, this race without question belonged to Bowman.  Leading over half the race, flawless on pit road, and ensuring his car was at the right place all race long.

Only time he had to worry about his tires was once he took the checkered flag, and that was only because he burnt all the rubber off in the burnout.  It was worth it, since he’s now locked into the playoffs.  Three races, 3 of 16 positions locked in.  Certainly is a very wild start to the season.

So, with that said, it’s time to park it for another week.  Onto Phoenix next Sunday.

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