Team Penske is Finding Early Success in 2020

Team Penske driver, Ryan Blaney at Auto Club Speedway February 28, 2020.
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 28: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Ford, prepares for practice laps at Auto Club Speedway on February 28, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the third consecutive week, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney looked to be THE driver to deal with for a NASCAR Cup Series checkered flag. And while tough luck circumstances resulted in another ‘near miss’ rather than Victory Lane celebration – his work has still been stellar enough to propel him into driver standings lead for the first time in his five-year career.

The 26-year-old holds that top position in the championship for the second straight week as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s FanShield 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Alex Bowman Soars to Victory at Auto Club Speedway

Alex Bowman wins the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, March 2, 2020
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 01: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Cincinnati Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 01, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Alex Bowman becomes the third driver to qualify for the Cup Series playoffs.

Auto Club Speedway hosts the third NASCAR Cup Series race of the season, with a 400 hundred mile run on a track surface that provides a challenge for the cup series. The track surface has not been repaved since the speedway began hosting Cup races back in 1997. The racing surface along with its multiple racing grooves provides a style of racing that is fun and exciting.

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Jimmie Johnson Enjoys Strong Run in Swan Song at Auto Club Speedway

Five Wide Salute with Jimmie Johnson NASCAR Cup Series at Auto Club Speedway, March 1, 2020
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 01: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 01, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

FONTANA, Calif. – Before the green flag waved Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, Jimmie Johnson took prime position behind the pace car as the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field fanned out five-wide behind him in a respectful salute to the seven-time champion.

When the green flag waved to signal the beginning of the Auto Club 400, Johnson saw his wife Chandra and daughters Genevieve and Lydia doing the honors from his second-place starting position.

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Corded Tire Knocks Ryan Blaney Out of Runner-Up Spot at Fontana

Ryan Blaney at Auto Club Speedway NASCAR Cup Series March 1, 2020
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 01: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Ford, races in the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 01, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Ryan Blaney had one of the fastest cars in Sunday’s Auto Club 400, but at the end of the day, he had very little to show for it.

Blaney finished second to eventual race winner Alex Bowman in the first stage. He turned the tables on Bowman in Stage 2, winning the segment by a wide margin. But Blaney got shuffled back after a restart on lap 128 and found himself in fifth place when Bowman passed Martin Truex Jr. for the lead on lap 133.

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Kurt Busch Recovers from Pit Road Miscue to Run Third on Sunday

Kurt Busch finishes third in NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway. March 1, 2020
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 01: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, races in the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 01, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The pit stop during the break between the first and second stages of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 certainly didn’t go the way Kurt Busch or his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team had planned it.

Under caution on lap 63, Busch missed his pit stall, failed to get service and had to return to pit road to correct the mistake a lap later. From fifth at the end of the stage, Busch dropped to the back of the lead-lap cars for the subsequent restart on lap 67.

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Alex Bowman Scores Dominating NASCAR Cup Victory at Fontana

Alex Bowman wins the NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway on March 1, 2020
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 01: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Cincinnati Chevrolet, applies the winner’s sticker after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 01, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

FONTANA, Calif. – Alex Bowman had a new nose for the finish line Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet—a sleeker version of the Camaro with a new front fascia—Bowman ran away with the final stage of the Auto Club 400 at the two-mile track in the Inland Empire.

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Clint Bowyer Edges Local Favorite Jimmie Johnson for Fontana Pole

Clint Bowyer on the Pole for the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 29, 2020
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 29: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Rush\HAAS CNC, points to his autograph after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 29, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

FONTANA, Calif. – It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas, but Clint Bowyer was the Grinch whole stole the thunder from local favorite Jimmie Johnson during Saturday’s time trials at Auto Club Speedway.

With a stronger run off turn four on his qualifying lap, Bowyer edged Johnson by 0.007 seconds to earn the pole position for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Kyle Busch Ready to Run Well at Auto Club

Kyle Busch speaks with the media at Auto Club Speedway February 18, 2020.
FONTANA, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 28: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, speaks to media before practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on February 28, 2020, in Fontana, California. Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

It has certainly not been the season start to a robust defense of his 2019 NASCAR Cup Series championship for Kyle Busch.

A pair of sub-par showings in the opening two races have placed the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in a rather unfamiliar position – not even among the top-20 in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings. But he arrives at California’s Auto Club Speedway for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with at least four good reasons to feel optimistic about turning the early season tide. Trophy, trophy, trophy, and trophy.

Appearing all-businesslike at his media press conference Friday morning at Auto Club, the defending racer winner minced no words about his desire to get back on track, in all senses of the expression.

A disheartening 34th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 – due to an engine issue – followed by a 15th place showing in his hometown Las Vegas race last week has left the two-time series champion 27th-place in the rankings. It’s the lowest he’s been ranked after two races since 2013 when he was 33rd heading into the third event.

“If you look at last year, look at Vegas as a trend over the last few years, besides (JGR teammate) Martin (Truex Jr.) kind of being the anomaly, JGR cars haven’t really run very well at Vegas for a while,’’ Busch said. “When you come to California, here, we’re always one of the guys that are upfront – cars that are to beat.

“I don’t look at this week as being too worrisome for us. It’s going to be nice to hopefully come out here with a good run, be able to run upfront, maybe win like we did last year. That would certainly be really good for then getting into Phoenix with the different package.”

Certainly, the two-mile Auto Club Speedway presents a more than a reasonable expectation of celebrating in Victory Lane for Busch. Only the track’s all-time winningest driver, six-time victor Jimmie Johnson, has more checkered flags. Busch has earned seven top-ten finishes in the last eight California races, including three of his four wins (2013, ‘14, ‘19), a runner-up in 2012 and a pair of third-place showings (2011 and 2018).

His 807 career laps led is second only to Johnson’s 980. And perhaps most encouraging about this total for Busch, is that he’s led 564 of those in that last seven-year span – 69.8 percent. And then there’s that feel-good part of the equation in that Busch earned the first of his 56 career NASCAR Cup Series wins at Auto Club Speedway in 2005. He remains the youngest winner in track history – aged only 20 years, four months and two days when he won in September 2005.

In other words, there’s plenty of reason for Busch to feel optimistic about returning to form Sunday afternoon. Even if he wouldn’t exactly declare himself the favorite.

“I have no idea,’’ Busch said when asked what he expected of the race.

“I’d like it to be a cake-walk for the 18 (Busch) and nobody is within the vicinity, but that’s not always exciting,’’ he said. “The Interstate Batteries Camry here last year was really, really fast and (Martin) Truex was a little better in the final run, but we had much of the guys covered throughout the race.

“There in that final run we were just as good and we were able to hold everybody off. Can’t say what’s going to happen this time around, there’s been a year’s worth of development on everybody’s side to get to this point. Could be a completely different race, but I would like to hope not.’’

Busch is not a good loser. And he’s really not had to learn to be considering he’s much more accustomed to winning with a record 209 victories over the three major NASCAR Series – the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series.

While his Cup start has been a bit off, Busch has already hoisted a big shiny NASCAR trophy – winning the Las Vegas Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race last Friday night. His dominance in the series – he’s won the last seven races he’s entered dating back to 2018 – has even incited a little social media revolution.

Fellow NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick along with the CEO of the Gander RV & Outdoor retail chains, Marcus Lemonis, has offered a ‘bounty’ of sorts. Should another NASCAR Cup Series driver beat Busch in one of the remaining Truck Series races he’s slated to compete in, then big money – $100,000 – will be donated to that driver’s charity. Should Busch prevail, the money would go to his and his wife Samantha’s charity, The Bundle of Joy Fund, which helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

It’s still a bit hard to read Busch’s gut reaction to the proposal, but he certainly embraced the additional publicity it would bring to one of NASCAR’s perpetually most exciting series shows. He was glad to see the chance for major money to help out a charitable fund.

“It’s all good,’’ Busch said, allowing a slight smile. “It’s going to be interesting, exciting, whatever you want to term it. I guess Cup drivers in the Truck Series do sell tickets so take that for what it’s worth.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity for more attention on the series, which is good. Maybe if more drivers had more teams that had rides then there would be someone else there than just myself. I don’t remember who I told, but once (Kevin) Harvick kind of put the idea out there, I thought the guy that really has a shot is (Kyle) Larson at Homestead. Bring it on.”

Auto Club 400 Victory Gives Kyle Busch 200 Wins Across NASCAR Top-Three Series

FONTANA, CA – MARCH 17: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, crosses the finish line to take the checkered flag and win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 17, 2019, in Fontana, California. Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

NASCAR’s West Coast Swing wrapped up Sunday in California for the Auto Club 400. The 200-lap race is difficult on the cars and drivers as the weathered, bumpy track eats up tires and gives drivers a rough ride on race day. Coming off his win at ISM Raceway, Kyle Busch was still hot on Sunday afternoon under sunny skies at Auto Club Speedway.

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Despite Win No. 200, Kyle Busch Still Rues the Ones that Got Away

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FONTANA, Calif. – How intense a competitor is Kyle Busch?

The victories that elude him seem to bother him more than the wins he celebrates—even monumental ones.

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