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Reigning series champion Kyle Larson won the race, but not without controversy and he certainly didn’t dominate, leading just 28 of the 200 laps.
Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s race as the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Next Gen car’s first visit to a 1.5-mile track.
1 ) Auto Club Speedway is a perfect example of why all track owners should shelve – at least temporarily – any ideas to change the layouts of current NASCAR tracks. While the 2-mile oval in Fontana has a key ingredient for good racing – a rough, worn track surface – it was abundantly clear Sunday that the Next Gen car provided a much more entertaining on-track product from start to finish. Yes, one driver (Tyler Reddick) led a majority of laps but there were many drivers who had the opportunity to win and the outcome wasn’t decided until the checkered flag.
Will we see this good of a product at every track with the Next Gen car? Perhaps not. However, before we take the wrecking ball and start tearing up any more current tracks, how about we give the Next Gen car a chance to see what it produces? A year ago, changing Auto Club Speedway to a short track sounded like a great idea. Now, after what we saw Sunday? Not so much.
2 ) There was a lot of discussion prior to the start of the season about whether the Next Gen car would “level the playing field” in the Cup series – at least for a while as teams became more familiar with working on the car. While it’s true the first two races have been won by a couple of the series’ dominant teams in Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports, it is also true some teams not typically in the hunt for wins on a regular basis have shown to be quite competitive.
Both Erik Jones (Petty GMS Motorsports) and Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse) both had chances at the win on Sunday and the same was true of both of Richard Childress Racing’s drivers – Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick. Although their finishes don’t show it, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing have been very competitive in the season’s first two races.
3 ) It was interesting to see what has typically in the past been a fairly routine problem – spiking engine temperatures – turn into a race-ending issue for several Toyota drivers on Sunday. For decades now, if a team’s engine temps were spiking and it wasn’t related to debris on the front grille, the go-to remedy was to remove some of the duct tape placed on the front grille before the race. That’s no longer allowed in the Next Gen car.
Teams now control the temperature and the flow through the engine with the hood vents. In addition, each team creates a plate that goes behind the radiator and water cooler with a hole pattern to produce what it believes will be the right performance for engine temperature. The problem? Once that’s in the car and the race begins, that can’t be changed. Old race rundowns are peppered with cars dropping out from engine failure or “overheating.” Everything old seems new again.