Kyle Larson Wins Drama Filled NASCAR Cup Series Race At Auto Club Speedway

Kyle Larson and his crew take a selfie in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway Sunday (Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson waited until late in Sunday’s Wise Power 400 to flex his muscles.

But in the end, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet held off a charging Austin Dillon by .195 seconds at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to notch his first victory of the season, his second at the 2-mile track and the 17th of his career.

In a race that featured 12 cautions for 59 laps, Larson, who started from the rear of the field because of unapproved adjustments to his Camaro, took the lead from Joey Logano on Lap 167 of 200 and held it for 27 of the final 34 circuits on the way to the victory.

That was after the dominant car of Tyler Reddick suffered a flat left rear tire while leading on Lap 152, and in the aftermath of that incident was collected by the sliding car of William Byron. 

Reddick had led 90 laps to that point—17 more than in his first 75 Cup starts combined—and had won the first and second stages in convincing fashion. 

Larson, however, outlasted arguably stronger cars and was in position to win at the end of the race.

“It’s always fun to win here in the home state,” said the Elk Grove, Calif., native Kyle Larson. “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. Restarts were crazy. The whole runs were crazy. So definitely wild, but cool to get a win here in California and hope we get on a little streak.” 

Larson’s victory came at the expense of teammate Chase Elliott, who fell two laps down after scraping the wall on Lap 33 and spinning off Turn 2 five laps later. 

As the beneficiary under two cautions, Elliott regained the lead lap, drove through the field and was battling Larson and Logano for the lead when Larson shot up the track and pinched Elliott’s Chevrolet into the outside wall. Larson said on his radio that he didn’t know Elliott was there.

It was Elliott who spun on Lap 192 to cause the final caution and set up a dramatic four-lap sprint to the finish that saw Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez briefly wrestle the lead from Larson, thanks to a push from Petty GMS Motorsport’s Erik Jones. But Larson regained the lead off Turn 4 with just over two laps left and held it the rest of the way.

In a testament to the relative parity achieved by NASCAR’s new Next Gen race car—admittedly with a small sample size so far—nine different Cup organizations finished in the top 10 at Fontana. 

One of those was the Trackhouse Racing team of Suarez, who rolled home fourth behind the Chevrolets of Larson, Dillon and Jones.

“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” Suarez said. “I just can’t thank everyone enough on 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. We 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. The Freeway Insurance Chevrolet, everyone that helps Trackhouse out, to be able to be here and perform this way… I can tell you that I’m going to work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”

Logano ran fifth, followed by Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch (who started from the rear and served a pass-through penalty to start the race because of three inspection failures). Daniel Hemric and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the top 10.

Polesitter and Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric finished 12th after suffering damage in a four-car accident involving Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton on Lap 158. 

Larson, who won 10 races last year in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, led four times for 28 laps, second only to Reddick’s 90. All told, there were 32 lead changes among nine drivers in an event in which radical shuffling of the running order was commonplace.

NASCAR Cup Series Race – 25th Wise Power 400

Auto Club Speedway

Fontana, California

Sunday, February 27, 2022

               1. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

               2. (16)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

               3. (2)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 200.

               4. (15)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 200.

               5. (7)  Joey Logano, Ford, 200.

               6. (31)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.

               7. (32)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.

               8. (36)  Kurt Busch, Toyota, 200.

               9. (5)  Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, 200.

               10. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 200.

               11. (21)  Cole Custer, Ford, 200.

               12. (1)  Austin Cindric #, Ford, 200.

               13. (12)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200.

               14. (3)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200.

               15. (4)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.

               16. (24)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 200.

               17. (18)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

               18. (6)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.

               19. (34)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 200.

               20. (26)  Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 200.

               21. (29)  Garrett Smithley, Ford, 200.

               22. (30)  BJ McLeod, Ford, 200.

               23. (35)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 200.

               24. (11)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 199.

               25. (14)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 199.

               26. (8)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 198.

               27. (9)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 198.

               28. (25)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 198.

               29. (33)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 198.

               30. (28)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 198.

               31. (23)  Michael McDowell, Ford, Electrical, 193.

               32. (27)  Cody Ware, Ford, 187.

               33. (22)  Harrison Burton #, Ford, Accident, 157.

               34. (10)  William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 151.

               35. (20)  Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 111.

               36. (19)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, Engine, 94.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  114.222 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 7 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .195 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  12 for 59 laps.

Lead Changes:  32 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   A. Cindric # 0;E. Jones 1-10;T. Reddick 11-15;E. Jones 16;T. Reddick 17-22;C. Elliott 23-34;T. Reddick 35-38;W. Byron 39;T. Reddick 40-53;W. Byron 54;K. Harvick 55;T. Reddick 56-67;E. Jones 68;T. Reddick 69-73;K. Larson 74;C. Briscoe 75-91;W. Byron 92;T. Reddick 93-99;W. Byron 100-112;T. Reddick 113-121;E. Jones 122;T. Reddick 123-132;E. Jones 133;T. Reddick 134-151;E. Jones 152-155;J. Logano 156-166;K. Larson 167-174;R. Blaney 175;C. Briscoe 176-178;J. Logano 179-180;K. Larson 181-192;J. Logano 193;K. Larson 194-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Tyler Reddick 10 times for 90 laps; Kyle Larson 4 times for 28 laps; Chase Briscoe 2 times for 20 laps; Erik Jones 6 times for 18 laps; William Byron 4 times for 16 laps; Joey Logano 3 times for 14 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 12 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 8,43,24,14,5,48,22,12,2,47

Stage #2 Top Ten: 8,43,22,12,5,41,2,10,24,11


  1. Definitely had a different feel to the race imo. No question that overnight Saturday crews made adjustments on a lot of the cars. No question that drivers got more comfortable on Sunday as to how far they could go till they were “over the edge”.
    They still have some tire issues imo. Not sure if its because it’s California and track so rough. Not sure if the rubbin each other or brushes to wall is doing more tire damage than was projected to happen with new cars. But, once these tires are down, these cars are literally on the ground in the rear. And, I thought that the brain trust would have been prepared, as to how these cars would be hooked up and towed back to pit road under these conditions A lot of issues with that, and that needs work.
    Another thing I did not realize, is that some of these hubs on these cars are reverse thread for the wheels. A few issues on pit road with air guns spinning in the wrong direction.
    Overall, once they get it all figured out, if California is any indication on a 2 mile track, these cars at this point, appear to be racy. Again, I’m still going to reserve judgement until they race at other venues. California is bumpy, and a rough surface, which created its own issues this weekend, with these new cars. Should be an interesting team meeting at the Hendrick camp this morning for sure though!

  2. Suitcase Jake says

    The BEST car doesn’t always WIN…. Those tires, tires, tires….. The #8 was the BEAST of the field… That Reddick can really wheel a Race Car …. especially when its a track with a groove right next to the WALL …..WOW He runs it on the RAZOR thin EDGE…..He will Win some of those Races…..

  3. Well, one thing learned throughout these opening races is that NASCAR has to come up with a better way to get cars moved once they get flats or are in the grass. There needs to be a quick plug-in receptacle in the front end so a service truck can simply plug in and pull the car out. There seems to be reluctance in pushing the cars, not sure why. This screwing around to figure out how to move a car with flats or in the grass looks silly and amateurish. NASCAR needs to do better, and it starts with thinking things through. Geez, when I saw the new tire spec, I knew these issues would happen and that measure would need to be in place. But no, NASCAR missed it.

  4. New cars seem to be a Great Equalizer… except for Larson.

    It was a good race, given the new cars and what is needed to make them work, and deal with them on the track. But it was a pretty good race. Crazy as this sounds, I kinda liked the bumpiness. That said, it will be an awesome track once refurbished. The way the cars spread out all across (width) the track was incredible.

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  5. Dareal,
    I believe the reluctance to push is due to the new flap assembly coupled with the new downforce assembly located at rear, and under the cars, which apparently, is made of plastic or some type of fiber.
    I dont know if you watched practice on Saturday, but my oh my, you should have seen the issues, when an attempt was made to put harvicks car on a conventional ramp truck. A boatload of hands were a wavin for sure, as the nose scraped the ramp and the underneath rear started to dig ground.
    So no “run flats” in these newer lower profile tires. Mike joy mentioned that they should be able to run on the sidewalls, back to pits. (Or so that was apparently the plan) Well, for the most part, that was a miscalculation.
    Agreed, Gotta figure out what caused a lot of these flats in the first place, and how to get cars back to pits without more damage being done to rear undercarriage downforce assemblies. With rear flats, just lifting the car from the front, caused issues to these components in some cases according to commentary. Bowyer commented maybe some type of forklift from the side(s) Think he was kidding. Maybe.
    Jake, Reddick class of field. Nice to see Dillon get a great finish at the end as well. Things looking up at Childress maybe?
    Nice to see haas have 2 cars in top 10. Good comebacks by both harvick and almirola.
    As far as Larson, maybe he wins or doesn’t, if he hadn’t taken out Elliott. Accident or not, Elliot got cleaned out by him, and he was fast. The “I did not see him” comment larson made on the radio at the time, well, I’m not sure. Gotta take him at his word but……
    So, in general, I think these cars apparently, much different. It took a bit for drivers and crews to get comfortable.
    So, I aint that smart, but Im hoping Preece somehow gets seat time in one of these things (not a simulator) before he actually has to race one against guys that have race seat time already in them. Im sure thats been thought of though. Jmo

  6. A much better race than Daytona. How bout that Jones boy, ran up front all day. So far this new car does seem to be the equalizer it was meant to be. Agree with Dareals, something needs to be done as far as getting the car to move with a flat, or coming up with a more effective tow system. You shouldn’t lose 4 laps because of a simple flat.

  7. Larson’s spotter took responsibility for the Larson-Elliot jangle, posted on Twitter.

  8. Are there any cars left that Keselowski has not hit yet?

  9. Bobf, I hear ya, but the cars do quite a bit of bumping in the rear on track, so I would think that a push truck can push them right out of the way, no problems.

  10. You could be correct dareal, but my thought is that the bump that comes when both vehicles are in motion, close to the same speeds, the physical push from that sItuation, might be different than the forces and angles of a push truck trying to move a vehicle with a flat, from a dead stop. But maybe the force is the same, I dont know. One thing for certain, there were issues moving vehicles this way, and there must be a reason, it was shied away from. I’m no expert or engineer, but I feel it may because the cars were not designed, with that particular aspect in mind. Oops? Jmo.

  11. There are trade-offs with any design. The bigger wheels are something the OEM’s wanted very much, and the low profile tires are part of what is making them harder to drive. The trade-off is that they can no longer fit inner liners in the tires.

    The “underwing” is in part to help the dirty air. There are also ride height blocks that both keep the teams from getting the cars too low and help protect the underwing from damage. The entire thing is multiple composite pieces with a few fins at the back, none of which can be repaired by the teams, and it is undoubtably in shortish supply right now. The trade-off to all of that is that they get beached when they get multiple flats. this is a view of all the different under body components

    It’s hard to balance right now. Some seem to think getting rid of the rub blocks and letting the entire floor drag would help with the beaching issue. Some think raising the car with suspension changes will help. Either way, changing the height of the underwing would change the aero significantly, and thus the racing product. And you might overwhelm Fiberworks with damaged parts.

    But enough about the negatives. The 4 was able to fix his car in a couple of hours after his wreck. Rodney Childers said afterwords that the same crash in one of the older cars would have been a 2-3 week turnaround back at the shop. The 43 ran up front more than it has in recent memory. They raced really well, though it’s too early to put that much judgment into it. And after a summer of rumors on how this thing was going to be a death trap and that it was killing the dummies in the crash tests, the car has handled some pretty significant wrecks the last two weeks without even a bit of concern from the drivers.

  12. That was a great comment. Especially recognition of benefits as well as challenges complete with details and a visual aid.

  13. Zig, nice summary, good info.
    I also found this when looking around for more insight on this issue:

    “ Yes, this is a problem and NASCAR is starting to work towards a long-term solution to prevent teams from suffering DNFs simply because they had a flat tire and lost too many laps getting towed back to pit road.

    Some things to understand, undeniably:

    The new tire does not have an inner liner and there is no way to include one because there simply isn’t any room for it. The Next Gen feature a very large brake package. NASCAR can’t simply remove the underwing because that would fundamentally change how the car races and considering it took two years of debate and some tension to even get it on the track as is, that’s not the immediate answer either.

    This could be solved with a ride height adjustment, but again, this also creates a fundamental change in how the cars currently race.

    So, this is not a simple fix and NASCAR is working towards something.

    In the meanwhile, NASCAR is allowing drivers to stay in their cars when they get beached with a flat tire and that means its not an automatic DNF in this scenario. Until otherwise addressed, a flat tire is a costly issue but at least its not a reason to not finish the race.”

    Vegas this weekend should provide more insight as to what the fixes might be. Ill be curious as to what they come up with, to “unbeach” the cars.

  14. The rub blocks are needed to protect the rest of the floor pan et al. Just like on the Indy and F1 cars.

    Need a quick way to grab the cars and drag them to the pits. On my personal cars, there is a feature to screw a tow eye in the chassis right behind the front bumper, takes seconds. Hopefully NASCAR can come up with something like that.

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  15. Given that in all reality most teams discount Daytona and count the second race as the first real race of the season, things went pretty good. It was refreshing to see cars that in the past would have run outside the top 20, to be running up front all day. This car so far seems to be the equalizer it was intended to be. It will be interesting to see if the parity continues far into the season or if the powerhouse teams will rise to the top as in years past. Hemeric coming from 6 laps down to finish where he did was something you would have never seen in years past. Although Daytona was a snooze fest Cali turned out to be a good race, hope the trend continues.

  16. Does anyone know what that slot at the top of the windshield is for. Thought it was for camera, but those are still on the roof.

  17. dareal, there are already tow straps on the front and back end of these cars. tow straps dont solve the problem of them being beached. they would still damage under body stuff as they are being dragged.

    Rob, that is a vent for driver cooling. One of the outlets is tubed down to the pedal area, while the other is left open to help push air out through the slits in the rear window. This was added during testing in the fall after drivers complained about the heat.

  18. Thanks for the info zig13

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