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NASCAR Cup Series ‘Auto Club 400' at Fontana: Bowman takes a dominant win

NASCAR Cup Series ‘Auto Club 400' at Auto Club Speedway
• A second Cup win for Bowman

Fontana, CA, Mar 1/20 (GRW): In his first three years in NASCAR Cup racing, he only finished in the top ten three times. In the past two years, he had one win and ten top-fives. A decent record but not top rank by any means; he has been something of a weak member of the Hendrick driver lineup. However, here at Fontana, he showed his stuff, starting on the pole and leading 110 of the races 200 laps, including the final 34 laps of the race to take the race win by a solid nine-second margin over Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.

Indeed the top three finish by both of the Busch brothers came as a late-race breakthrough as others faded in the final laps and they surged forward. Chase Elliott was fourth and Brad Keselowski was fifth at the checker.

Bowman also won the first Stage, while Ryan Blaney, who looked strong for much of the race, won the second stage.

This strong showing by Bowman has to be encouraging for the Hendrick team, which had been relying primarily on Chase Elliott to be their frontrunner. Bowman looks poised to be another strong contender for the team this year.

This race was to be the final start by Jimmie Johnson in this home-state event, at the place where he had scored his first ever Cup win back in 2002. There was great speculation that Johnson might be able win one more time here in this, his retirement year. He did start from the front row of the grid and he ran up front for much of the race, even leading for ten laps but he gradually faded back and he had to settle for a seventh-place finish. We will likely see this kind of pre-race hype followed by a modest result much of this season.

The first Stage ended on lap 60 with Bowman taking the Stage checker ahead of Blaney, Johnson, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch.

The 200-lap race saw only one real caution, not counting the Stage ends. It came on lap 95 when Clint Bowyer, who had started on the pole with Johnson alongside, had a tire problem (a broken valve stem) in the middle of the second Stage and had to pit for a replacement.

The second Stage saw Blaney taking the honours with Bowman, Johnson, Keselowski, and Truex next in line.

Given the lack of cautions, the number green-flag pit stop cycles and the drafting possibilities of this track, the order at the front changed stayed somewhat the same with the front-runners trading positions as the race went on.

The last cycle of green-flag pit stops came with about 40 laps remaining – leaving everyone with a long-ish run to the checker. This track has never been repaved so it was producing a high level of tire wear and everyone was going to have to hope that their tires would hold out to the finish.

When this cycle of stops finally finished, it was Bowman in the lead with Blaney, who had already shown his strength by leading 54 laps, in second place. But now the Busch brothers – Kyle and Kurt were gaining on the race leaders while Johnson was beginning to fade back.

With ten laps to go, Blaney reported that he had a tire vibration – and he pitted six laps later, falling a lap down. Meanwhile the Busch duo were ready to take over second and third, setting up the finish order.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bowman. “Thanks to (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and all the guys. He made great calls all day. We were up front when it counted.”

Recalling his previous win, he said “The first one, it was a really enjoyable experience and then we sucked for six months. We started this year so strong. I feel like I have a lot on my side that is much better. My life is a lot more organized than it was back then. Greg and all the guys are just on point. We’ve unloaded the last two weeks — I don’t think we’ve had to make a change in the race car from how it came off the truck. That makes my job a heck of a lot easier. I’m just so proud of this team. We put a lot of effort into this new car, and it’s obviously worked out really well.”

Click HERE for the results of the NCS race at Fontana.

The next NASCAR Cup race will be run next Sunday, March 8, at Phoenix Raceway.

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