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Race Rewind: Looking back at the Auto Club 400

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Monday, Mar. 25, 2013

Observations

• Here we are in March 2013 and we're still having discussions about why some walls of NASCAR tracks are not covered by energy-absorbing SAFER barriers. Once again a driver - in this case Denny Hamlin - wrecked and just happened to crash into part of the infield wall not covered by the barrier. How many times does this have to happen before NASCAR and/or the tracks get the message that it is impossible to predict where accidents are likely to happen and it's best to cover all your bases, or in this case, walls? And while we're at it, why is NASCAR holding a Truck race at an Ohio dirt track this season - a track that has no SAFER barriers?

• Tony Stewart has never been shy about his distaste for blocking and repeatedly has said he would wreck anyone who tried to do it to him. His anger over Joey Logano's block on the final restart led him to physically confront Logano after the race. But a quick look at Stewart's record shows he hardly practices what he preaches. He has started numerous wrecks by blocking, including an enormous one last season at Talladega, Ala. Blocking is legal in NASCAR. Don't like it? Try Formula One and IndyCar - they have rules against it and in IndyCar's case, electronic devices that will help you pass if you can't do it yourself.

• Lost in the aftermath of Sunday's race was what a spectacular weekend it was for Auto Club Speedway, a track that has been much-maligned in the past. One of biggest crowds in recent years was on hand for a very entertaining race during one of the most beautiful race weekends weather-wise this track has seen in a long time.


Notebook

Earnhardt Jr. takes the lead: No race win yet but Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed to claim another prize with his runner-up finish Sunday - he became the series points leader. Earnhardt holds a 12-point advantage over Brad Keselowski heading into the off weekend.

"We were lucky there at the end and came in and got some fresh tires and that sort of fixed our mistakes and helped us to get a good finish," Earnhardt said.

"We had a good car and had some wheel issues, but was real happy about how we finished and made it up. We had a good enough car to run up there."

Good day for the other Busch, too: After a difficult start to the season in which he had no finish better than 20th, Kurt Busch has come roaring back with consecutive top-five finishes. He was fourth last weekend at Bristol, Tenn., and fifth Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

"This is what it's all about - persevering, digging hard, and bringing it right back up to the front when it counts," Busch said. "I had a chance to pass Kyle for the lead on that final restart, and I took it.

"The car just was a little tight on that top side, couldn't quite get the power down and couldn't get in front of him and (Joey) Logano to seal the deal."

Edwards continues good start: Carl Edwards never ran out front but did bring home a fourth-place finish Sunday - his third top-five finish during the season's first five races.

"Man, that was just an unbelievable race," said Edwards. "It is so cool to come here to California and have a standard old-school NASCAR race where tires make a difference. It was really a great show."


5 key moments

1. Two of the fastest cars – those of Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski – get behind before the race started when both had to change engines. They start from the rear of the field.

2. Kyle Busch shows his car is fast early, taking the lead on Lap 11 and being out front 32 of the next 33 laps. He ended the race having led the most (125).

3. After Tony Stewart briefly leads, Busch runs him down and returns to the front on Lap 146.

4. With seven laps remaining, Joey Logano makes his way around Busch to take the lead as Denny Hamlin, on newer tires, moves into position to challenge.

5. As Logano and Hamlin beat and bang battling for the lead, Logano spins and Hamlin slams into the wall allowing Busch to win.


Next race

STP 500

Where: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway

When: 1 p.m. April 7

TV: Fox

Radio: Motor Racing Network

Last year’s winner: Ryan Newman

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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