Race Report: Larson Wins at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 27, 2022 -After a two-year COVID forced suspension from racing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, the stands were nearly full, and excitement was high as 36 NASCAR Cup Series cars took the green flag for the Wise Power 400 on Sunday. Defending series champion Kyle Larson wheeled his № 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the win, holding off a last lap charge from Austin Dillon by .195 seconds. It was Larson’s first victory of the season and the 17th of his career. Larson’s victory also calmed the nerves in the Team Chevy camp after Ford won The Clash at the Coliseum, both of The Duals races at Daytona, and the Daytona 500.

Credit: 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)

Chevy takes 6 of the top 10
After watching the Ford teams celebrate four times in Victory Lane to start the season, Larson lead the “Bowtie Brigade” to grab 6 of the top 10 finishing spots at the Wise Power 400:
P1 -Kyle Larson, № 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet
P2 -Austin Dillion, № 3 Dow Coatings Chevrolet
P3 -Erik Jones, № 43 FOCUSfactor Chevrolet
P4 -Daniel Suarez, № 99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet
P9 -Daniel Hemric, № 16 Poppy Bank Chevrolet
P10 -Ricky Stenhouse Jr. № 47 Ralphs/Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet

It was another ZL1 Camaro, the № 8 Lenovo Chevrolet of Tyler Reddick, that dominated the race up through Lap 152 when a left-rear flat tire led to a tangle with the № 24 of Willam Byron. Reddick led 90 laps to that point — 17 more than in his first 75 Cup starts combined — and he won the first and second stages with what looked to be the car to beat. Reddick’s flat tire and the rapid closing rate of Byron coming full-send off turn 2 resulted in a collision that damaged both cars, ultimately ending Byron’s day. “Willie B” would finish P34.

Tyler Reddick, driver of the №8 Lenovo Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400. (CREDIT: James Gilbert | Getty Images)

Practice and Qualifying are back! “Harvick into the wall!”
Fans at Auto Club Speedway were excited to have Cup Series Practice and Qualifying back as part of the Saturday program with the NASCAR Xfinity Series race. Cup teams were given just 15 minutes of practice ahead of single car qualifying. Some in the garage expressed concern about such a short practice session given NASCAR has not run at Auto Club Speedway the previous two years and the new Cup Series car has only run in competition on the 1/4-mile short track of The Clash at the Coliseum and on the high banks of Daytona with the Super Speedway lower horsepower package. How would the new car react to the bumps, worn-out pavement, and SoCal sun heating up the track surface? Well, those concerns were validated when practice was quickly halted after Kevin Harvick spun through Turns 3 and 4 and backed his № 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Subway Ford into the wall.

Kevin Harvick № 4 Subway Ford into the wall during Saturday Cup Series practice at Auto Club Speedway. (Image credit: FS1/Fox Media LLC and Fox Sports Interactive Media, LLC)

Not just Harvick — Five cars spun out in practice
Once the safety crews cleared the 4 car from the track, it was only minutes later Ross Chastain and Chris Buescher spun. Then Christopher Bell had the rear of his № 20 Rheem Toyota step out. Then Bubba Wallace clipped the wall in Turn 2. With only a short break before qualifying, teams had little time to make adjustments and lots of concern about the limited number of back up cars each team brought to Fontana.

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 26: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, spins after an on-track incident during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) | Getty Images

More spinners during Qualifying
Drivers with handling challenges during qualifying included Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Willaim Byron. With Daytona 500 winner Austin Cendric at P1 in Round 2 of Qualifying, Chase Elliott in his № 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet was the final car of the ten to try for the pole. But just as those before him, Elliott hit the bumps and spun off turn 4 after the car bottomed out. When it was all over, 4 of the 10 cars in Round 2 of Qualifying spun and Cindric held onto P1 and Pole Position for Sunday.

FONTANA, CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 26: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Menards/Quaker State Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 26, 2022 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) | Getty Images

The Caution is Out!
There was a near record 12 cautions for 59 laps and one of those cautions was for pole-sitter and Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric who suffered damage in a four-car accident involving Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton on Lap 158. The most talked about contact of the day was when Larson was battling Logano into Turn 3 on Lap 180 and moved up track and pinched Chase Elliott into the outside wall. Larson said on his radio that he didn’t know Elliott was there. Larson’s spotter later took responsibility saying in a Tweet that he was focused on the battle with Logano and was late telling Larson that the № 9 of Elliott had a run on the outside. Elliott’s car was damaged and falling back fast. But the former Cup Champion was trying (disputed in some people’s view) to nurse his car to the finish. But Elliott spun on Lap 192 to cause the final caution of the race and set up a high stakes four-lap sprint finish. Trackhouse Racing’s № 99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet of Daniel Suàrez briefly battled for the lead with Larson, thanks to a push from Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones in the famed № 43. But Larson regained the lead off Turn 4 with just over two laps remaining and held off Dillion, Jones and Suàrez for the win.

Kyle Larson and Crew Chief Cliff Danials pose with the trophy in Victory Lane.
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 27: Kyle Larson and Crew Chief Cliff Daniels of the winning No 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet from the Hendrick Motorsports team celebrate in Victory Lane (Image Credit: Bob Francis — Go Full Throttle Racing News / gofullthrottle.net)
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 27: Wise Power 400 winner Kyle Larson in Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway being interviewed by SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Clair B. Lang (Image Credit: Bob Francis — Go Full Throttle Racing News / gofullthrottle.net)
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA — FEBRUARY 27: Wise Power 400 winner Kyle Larson’s 5 car on its way to Post Race inspection at Auto Club Speedway (Image Credit: Bob Francis — Go Full Throttle Racing News / gofullthrottle.net)

Up next: Vegas Baby!
We will be reporting live from Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, March 4–6, 2022 with all the action. Before we go, look for the updated #GFTaiDriverRankings and more on the ongoing story of how NASCAR is trying to address Cup cars being stuck on the track with flat tires.
All on our website https://gofullthrottle.net/ and real-time updates on our Twitter feed

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association