Coming into this weekend's race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, there were a lot of questions on what this new Next Gen car will do and how it would race on the two mile race track with 14 degrees of banking in the turns. During Saturday’s Practice and Qualifying for the Cup Series, those questions only grew larger. Many of the Series regulars like Harvick, Elliott, Keselowski, Buescher, Wallace, and many others either spun during practice or on their qualifying lap. Ross Chastain took the hardest hit of them all during the first few minutes of practice. His car was destroyed and even knocked the wind out of Chastain, leaving him not wanting to do interviews afterwards.
But like the title of this article says, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That was certainly the case for the Wise Power 400 that took place Sunday afternoon. A familiar face took a trip to victory lane this weekend being Kyle Larson. But this win wasn’t near as dominant as the other 10 victory’s he took in last year's season. This one came after putting his Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott into the wall with just a handful of laps left in the race. Then a caution came out just moments for Elliott spinning off of turn two. Then the crazy restart with just four laps to go happened, with Larson, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones within car lengths of each other trying to score the win. Suarez was the closest one stealing the win away from Larson, but ultimately got passed by Dillon to end up finishing third in the race. Dillon was close on the final lap on the front stretch, but couldn’t chase down the 2021 Cup Series champion at the end of the day.
“It's always fun here to win at my home state,” said Larson. “We worked hard all weekend here, but didn't feel great in practice yesterday. Cliff (Larson’s Crew Chief) and everybody made some good adjustments overnight, and the car handled a lot better. There were definitely some guys that were quicker than us, but they had their misfortunes. We just kept our heads in it all day for this long race. Just restarts and the runs were crazy. Definitely wild, but cool to get a win here in California and hopefully get on a little streak.”
Larson also addressed the contact with Elliott with just a couple of laps to go. ”I didn't get through turns 3 and 4 very well. Joey (Logano) did a good job on the bottom, and then we were side drafting each other, and I'm not even looking in my mirror at that point because all I'm worried about is Joey and I'm looking out of my A-post window. I had a run, so I went to peel off, and as soon as I peeled off, my spotter was yelling, ‘Outside! Outside! Outside!’ I had no clue he was even coming. I hate that I ended his day after they worked so hard to get back to the lead lap and back in contention to win, but it was just an honest mistake on probably both of our faults. I should have had more awareness in my mirror. My spotter could have told me he was coming with a big run, and we would have avoided that mess. I would have probably not been side drafting on Joey as hard as I was. I would have been more so protecting Chase than worrying about Joey. It happened, and I hate that it did. I know they're upset. But we'll talk, and hopefully we'll get on the same page. I would never run into my teammate or block him that aggressively and that late on purpose.”
Daniel Suarez talked about some of the emotions that were happening with the win slipping away from him with just three laps to go. “We're going to win a few races very soon here. I just can't thank everyone enough in my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once and had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends; it's unbelievable. It's the best pit crew I've ever had, and it's a lot of fun to race like that. Freeway Insurance, Chevrolet, everyone that helps Trackhouse out, to be able to be here and perform this way. I'm happy and I'm horror at the same time. I can tell you that I'm going to work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”
The 26th annual Wise Power 400 was three hours, three minutes, and seven seconds on Sunday. The race had 12 cautions for 59 of the 200 laps, which ties the record of cautions at the Auto Club Speedway (2008). The race had 32 lead changes and had an average speed of 114.222 mph. Kyle Larson won his 17th career race and his second at Auto Club Speedway. The top 10 finishers are 1st Kyle Larson, 2nd Austin Dillon, 3rd Erik Jones, 4th Daniel Suarez, 5th Joey Logano, 6th Aric Almirola, 7th Kevin Harvick, 8th Kurt Busch, 9th Daniel Hemric, and 10th Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The next Cup Series race will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, NV. The race start at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcasted on FOX, and radio coverage will be on PRN.