Kyle Busch drove his No. 18 Toyota Camry to a white-green checkered victory Sunday after tire failures plagued the majority of the NASCAR Sprint Cup field at the Auto Club Speedway 400 in Fontana, CA.
Busch was the first driver on four fresh tires after a restart on Lap 205 of the race. Busch passed his older brother, Kurt Busch, as well as Tony Stewart on the second last lap of the race and held off a determined Kyle Larson for the win. Larson crossed the line .214 seconds behind Busch in his No. 42 Chevrolet SS, with the second Busch finishing a close third in the No. 41 Chevrolet SS.
Four yellow flags were called for drivers who suffered blowouts from the track’s unusually rough and bumpy surface, shuffling up the standings several times throughout the course of the race. There were several more blowouts which didn’t prompt a caution flag, including Jimmie Johnson, who was leading until his front left tire suffered a blow out with only six laps to go. This handed the lead over to Team Chevy driver Jeff Gordon, who was in first when another yellow flag was put out, prompting an array of different pit strategies from the teams, which ultimately put Gordon in 13th position.
“It is just so disappointing,” Gordon said after the race. “I hate Goodyear was not prepared for what happened. They are so good at what they do, and that is just uncalled for. When I saw (Johnson) had issues I was just hoping we would make it to the end, and I was just going as slow as I possibly could trying to maintain the lead and cars were just blowing tires left and right all around me. It’s unfortunate that was happening.”
The tire failures are being chalked up to an extremely rough track surface which hasn’t been repaved since Auto Club Speedway opened in 1997, and increased downforce from the generation-six stock cars, which on average produce about 500-600 pounds more downforce than the outgoing cars.
A blowout due to the rough surface during practice on Saturday is what ultimately led Kyle Busch to victory. He said after the blowout, his team went conservative on their suspension and aerodynamics setups to help preserve the tires.
“We were lucky, we had our tire problem with two minutes to go in practice yesterday, and that allowed us to go into a conservative approach overnight,” Busch said. “I’m glad that we had that. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise to blow a tire and to not pay a penalty by spinning and wrecking your primary car.”
Team Chevy cars accounted for six of the top ten positions at the Auto Club Speedway 400, including a fifth place finish from Tony Stewart and a sixth place finish from Jamie McMurray, putting Chevrolet further ahead in the manufacturers standings.
Other Team Chevy drivers, including fan favorite Danica Patrick, weren’t quite as lucky. Patrick started 27th and battled her way into a top-20 position when she suffered a front-left tire blowout on lap 139. However a yellow flag on lap 141 gave her the opportunity to edge her way back into the top 20, leading to a 14th place finish overall, the best of the season so far for the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS.
Team Chevy and the rest of the NASCAR drivers will be looking for a more consistent race during the next leg of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia on March 30.