By: Drew Hierwarter
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are thieves. They both stole races right out from under the noses of other drivers. In Busch’s case it was the Nationwide race on Saturday while on Sunday in the Cup race, Harvick was the thief.
On Saturday the Royal Purple 300 was dominated by Harvick and Carl Edwards as the two combined to lead 112 of the 150 laps. But a late race call by Busch’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff to take on two new tires when most of the others took four, put Busch in the lead and it was bye, bye Kyle.
The win was Busch’s 46th as he closes in on Mark Martin’s all time Nationwide Series win record. (Martin has 50 wins).
On Sunday, the crowd that was advertised at 88,000 saw a Sprint Cup race that was lacking in anything that could even vaguely be called excitement. This time it was Kyle Busch’s turn to dominate as he led 151 of the race’s 200 laps. The two-mile oval that is Auto Club Speedway in Southern California is wide with broad sweeping turns and multiple racing grooves that virtually assure that cars will be spread out all over the track.
So while Busch droned around in the front, what passing there was behind him was done with plenty of room to spare and no real drama. Until just a few laps from the end that is.
Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick made it interesting in the last ten laps as they caught, and ultimately passed Busch. But it was Harvick who woke up the nearly comatose crowd and brought it to its feet with a daring last lap pass on Johnson and stole the win away from both he and Busch. It was the only time he led all day!
Speaking of the crowd, it’s been no secret that Auto Club Speedway has struggled to attract fans, in spite of the fact that it is located smack in the middle of one of the largest population centers in the country. Things got so bad that NASCAR decided that part of the problem was over exposure and they cut one of the track’s two races.
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 was the only NASCAR race the track will host this season. And you’ll notice another change right there in the race’s name. It was cut from 500 miles to 400 in response to many fans asking for shorter races. With only 4 caution periods for 16 laps, the time of the race was a quick two hours, 39 minutes.
Those changes must have worked, for in spite of what was, by southern California standards a frigid, blustery day, the crowd looked to be larger than any time in the last few years. Whether it was the full 88,000 that officials claimed it to be is open for debate, but the important thing is that it was an improvement.