Bowman Dominates in Cali

Heading into the Auto Club race in Fontana, California, all eyes were on 7-time champion and Cali-native, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson announced late last year that he would retire at the end of this season, making this race his last at his home track. Auto Club honoured him this weekend with several special tributes, one of which was leading the field in a 5-wide salute past the grandstands before the green flag flew.  Johnson had won 6 times at Auto Club in the past and the majority of fans were hoping he could cap off his impressive career with a storybook victory. 

LAP 1: Clint Bowyer in the #14 started in pole position with Johnson’s #48 beside him on the front row. The pair led the field to the green flag, which was waved by Johnson’s daughters and wife. 

LAP 11: Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, dove to the bottom of the track in Turn 1 and made the pass on both the #14 and the #48 to take the lead. 

LAP 24: On the 24th lap of the race, fans in the grandstand and infield stood for a brief tribute to the late Kobe Bryan, who’s jersey number was 24. Ryan Blaney (#12), Daniel Suarez (#96), and William Byron (#24) ran special paint schemes to honor the LA Lakers legend who passed away in a tragic helicopter accident just a few weeks prior. 

LAP 27: Green flag pitstops began with the JGR drivers of Martin Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin, and Erik Jones. When stops cycled through, Bowman returned to the top spot. 

LAP 34: While racing for the 12th position, Denny Hamlin locked onto the bumper of Kyle Larson in the #42 heading into Turn 1. Hamlin pushed the #42 so hard, Larson wiggled into the wall and suffered significant damage to the right side of his Chevrolet. 

STAGE 1 CONCLUSION – LAP 60: Alex Bowman won the stage 4 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney. Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 5 at the end of the segment. Johnson picked up the lead during pit stops. 

LAP 68: The field fanned out 5-wide on the restart as drivers jockeyed for position. Johnson held the lead while Blaney and Bowman fought for 2nd place. 

LAP 81: The #95 of Christopher Bell dropped to the apron of the track with engine issues. His Toyota Camry had dropped a cylinder and forced him to exit the race early.  

CAUTION – LAP 93: Clint Bowyer in the #14 had a left-front tire go down in Turn 1. Bowyer limped around the apron before he made it to pit road which triggered the only caution flag of the day. Ryan Blaney picked up the lead on pit road and led from the restart. 

LAP 102: As Blaney pulled away with the lead, a major battle for 5th place broke out between Joey Logano (#22), Chase Elliott (#9), and Martin Truex Jr (#19). Tempers flared during the aggressive racing with Truex coming on the radio to tell his spotter, “Tell the 22 I should have wrecked him. Next time, I will”. In the end, it was Elliott who prevailed for the spot, while Logano and Truex continued to swap P6 back and forth. 

STAGE 2 CONCLUSION – LAP 120: Ryan Blaney claimed the second stage and picked up a playoff point. Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Truex Jr completed the top 5. Bowman picked up the lead during the race off pit road and pulled away on the restart. 

LAP 144: The #11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin got into the wall in Turn 4 and scraped the right side of his Camry. Luckily for Hamlin, the incident did not cause a tire rub or a caution. 

LAP 160: The last green flag pit stops began with a group of JGR cars including Truex Jr and Erik Jones. During the stop, Truex’s rear tire changer experienced a muscle cramp in his arm that prevented him from changing the tire in a timely manner. Truex lost several spots and was not able to recover.

LAP 165: When pit stops cycled through, Bowman found himself back in the lead with a 12 second advantage over Ryan Blaney.

LAP 196: Ryan Blaney suddenly came over the radio to report a vibration and suspected tire failure. With 4 laps to go, Blaney was forced to pit and dropped to 19th, ending his hopes of a top 5 finish.  

CHECKERED FLAG – LAP 200: Alex Bowman took the checkered flag, the second of his Cup Series career, after a dominating performance.

In his post race interview, Bowman confessed he and a friend promised “we would all get matching 88 tattoos if we won, and I think I have to go get a tattoo now.” Never change, Alex. Never change. 

RESULTS: 

  1. Alex Bowman
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Kurt Busch
  4. Chase Elliott
  5. Brad Keselowski
  6. Denny Hamlin
  7. Jimmie Johnson
  8. Aric Almirola
  9. Kevin Harvick
  10. Erik Jones
  11. Tyler Reddick
  12. Joey Logano
  13. Matt Dibenedetto
  14. Martin Truex Jr
  15. William Byron
  16. Chris Buescher
  17. Ross Chastain
  18. Cole Custer
  19. Ryan Blaney
  20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
  21. Kyle Larson
  22. Michael McDowell
  23. Clint Bowyer 
  24. Austin Dillon
  25. John H. Nemechek
  26. Ty Dillon
  27. Bubba Wallace
  28. Daniel Suarez
  29. Corey LaJoie
  30. Ryan Preece
  31. JJ Yeley
  32. Brennan Poole
  33. Joey Gase 
  34. Garrett Smithley
  35. Quin Houff
  36. Reed Sorenson
  37. Timmy Hill
  38. Christopher Bell

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