Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and 2021 wins leader Kyle Larson claimed his first win of 2022 in his home state of California on Sunday when he took the checkered flag in the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway, the second official race of the season and the first Cup Series race at ACS since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented NASCAR from visiting Auto Club last year.
“It’s always fun here to win in the home state,” Larson said. “Hard work all weekend there. Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday.”
Austin Dillon finished second, Erik Jones was third, Daniel Suarez was fourth and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Larson and Logano were among a handful of drivers who dropped to the back for the start of the race — Logano because of repairs made to his car after a qualifying crash Saturday and Larson after work was done to the ignition of his car before the race.
“The guys did a great job of getting the car fixed after I wrecked in qualifying, and we were fast right off the get-go,” Logano said. “We were okay. The short runs weren’t really our cup of tea with our Auto Club Mustang, here. We had a shot there at the end though going down the backstretch two-wide, and I thought it was my chance. It was a low percentage move and it was kind of too late down the straightaway to make the move, but I thought I had a big enough run that I could maybe get position going in. It was just too late, and I couldn’t get my amigo Daniel Suarez, there, to get far enough back on my quarter. He was on my door, and I had to start chasing it. I don’t know. I probably could have finished second or third if I didn’t make that move, but you have to go for the win. We were so close. I probably would do it again but maybe checked up the entry a little bit anticipating him washing up into Larson. But, hey, I tried.”
Tyler Reddick led nearly half of the 200-lap race, running ip front for 90 laps before a flat tire sent him into the wall on lap 152 while leading. William Byron, who also led laps, got loose and slid up the track into Reddick’s car.
Jones, who led early and ran second to Reddick for a significant portion of the race, inherited the lead as a result of Reddick’s misfortune. Logano and Larson, then, took the top-two positions on the restart that followed.
The Reddick/Byron wreck was the first multi-car crash of the race. The largest crash came on lap 158 and involved Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. and Austin Cindric.
“It just looked like they stacked up in front of us, there,” Burton said. “I don’t know how many crashed but there was a lot of smoke and I couldn’t see where I was going. I kind of had to take a guess on where they wouldn’t be and ended up finding the 23 [Wallace] I think. It was a frustrating day. It felt like we weren’t running as well as we needed to be anyway. I guess those things happen when you don’t have great track position. We were fighting in the teens and 20’s all day and we need to be fighting further up to be able to avoid that mess.”
Larson took the lead on lap 167, but gave up the position to pit during the 11th and penultimate caution for a Ross Chastain spin on lap 172. Most cars pitted, but Chase Briscoe stayed out to inherit the lead. With the benefit of new tires, Larson retook the lead on the restart with 22 laps remaining and held off challenges from Logano.
“Cliff [Daniels, crew chief] and everybody made some good adjustments overnight, and the car handled a lot better,” Larson said. “There were definitely some guys that were quicker than us, but they had their misfortunes. Just kept our heads in it all day. Long race. Just restarts were crazy. The whole runs were crazy.Definitely wild but cool to get a win here in California and hopefully get on a little streak.”
After the 12th and final caution for a Chase Elliott spin from contact with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson with nine laps remaining, Suarez took a brief lead from Larson with three laps to go. Larson, then, retook the position a lap later.
Despite reporting discomfort in his seat, Reddick dominated and won the first 65-lap stage of the race. After Jones took the lead from pole sitter Austin Cindric on the first lap, Reddick took the lead from Jones on lap 11.
Reddick lost the lead to Elliott on lap 23, but Elliott scraped the wall 10 laps later and lost the lead to Reddick on lap 35.
Elliott ultimately spun and brought out the second caution of the race on lap 38 while Kyle Busch was on peat road for an overheating issue. Busch was the culprit of the first caution when he spun on lap 15.
The yellow flag waved for a third time in the first stage when Josh Bilicki spun into the infield grass on lap 53.
Reddick also won the second stage at lap 130. He took his second stage-winning lead when he got off pit road first during a caution when Chris Buescher hit the wall with a blown tire on 111 and maintained that lead when the yellow waved again just after the lap-116 restart for a Brad Keselowski spin.
Byron was the race leader when the yellow waved for Buescher but a pit gun issue resulted in a slow stop for Byron and a 17th-place restart.
After Briscoe led early in stage two, Reddick took a lead on pit road during a caution for a Christopher Bell spin on lap 91. After Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Busch and Bell battled overheating in stage one, a third JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, was on pit road was on pit road with the same problem. By that time, Busch had made another unscheduled green-flag pit stop and was four laps down.
Reddick, then, lost the lead to Byron on lap 100.
Aric Almirola finished sixth, an his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick was seventh after making his first appearance inside the top-10 on lap 168. Kurt Busch finished eighth after starting in the back and serving a pass-through penalty early because of three failures in inspection.
“I can’t describe what we went through today with all the adversity, all of the problems – the self-inflicted things, the odd ball scenarios, wow,” Busch said. “What a top-10. That is a statement piece for us at 23XI, to get our top-10 like this with everything we have been through. I’ve got to thank all of my guys for staying focused. They showed me the way, and I showed them on what we’ve got to do this year to keep chiseling away. I think we are the highest finishing Toyota, so we know we have some work to do, and the restart fell our way on that last one, but that was the best our car had handled since the first stage, so lots to learn. Lots to go through. Thanks to Monster Energy, Toyota and everybody that has been working hard on these cars at 23XI.”
Daniel Hemric finished ninth, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 10th.
WISE POWER 400 RESULTS