Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series News & Notes from Auto Club Speedway

Next Race: Auto Club 400
The Place: Auto Club Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 18
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

#4 For No. 4

Kevin Harvick’s victory Sunday at ISM Raceway in Phoenix set him up with a historical opportunity. It was the third consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in the young 2018 season for Harvick. Should he win this Sunday at Auto Club Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) in his native California, he would become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson (2007) to win four consecutive Monster Energy Series races.

The two-mile track has potential for the feat. Harvick won there in 2011 and scored back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2016. In 24 starts at the track, he has six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes to go with the win.

After winning his third in a row in Phoenix, Harvick admitted that the motions are high as he heads back home to attempt to continue his winning ways.

“He [Rodney Childers] knows I put a lot of emphasis on California. Racing in your home state, a racetrack that I really enjoy racing at, I got so amped up that I wrecked it on lap zero last year, knocked the grille out of it, knocked the hood off of it, never got a chance to race.

“Yeah, I’m excited about it.”

Phoenix Rising

Birds of a feather flocked together in Phoenix.

Stewart-Haas Racing (Ford), Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) and Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet) put together impressive team performances in the final race of the “old” configuration of ISM Raceway.

Stewart-Haas Racing captured the checkered flag with Kevin Harvick and tallied an average finish amongst their four cars of 6.0. The complete SHR contingent finished in the top-10 with Clint Bowyer in sixth, Aric Almirola in seventh, and Kurt Busch rounding out the group in 10th.

Joe Gibbs Racing may not have won the race, but their average finish with their four entries was a 5.75. They also put all four teammates into the top 10 – Kyle Busch was second, Hamlin placed fourth, Daniel Suárez was eighth, and Erik Jones crossed the line in ninth.

With SHR and JGR taking up so many slots in the top 10, there wasn’t much room for anyone else. But Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott came home third and his three teammates all placed in the top 14 (William Byron – 12th, Alex Bowman – 13th, Jimmie Johnson – 14th).

West Coast Kings

Three of the five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers from California have wins at Auto Club Speedway – led by Jimmie Johnson’s track-best six victories. The El Cajon, California, native – who captured the first of his 83 Monster Energy Series trophies at the track – has finished in the top-10 in a remarkable 16 of his 23 starts and won a pair of Busch Pole awards too. His five runner-up showings at Auto Club are also a series record.

Bakersfield native Kevin Harvick has a win (2011) and 11 top-10 finishes in 24 starts as he goes for his fourth win in a row this weekend.

Kyle Larson, of Elk Grove, dominated the event last year winning the race from the Busch Pole and leading 110 of the 202 laps. He finished runner-up at the track in his 2014 Monster Energy Series debut there.

Kurt Busch Riding SHR Wave Of Success

A trip home didn’t fare too well for Las Vegas native Kurt Busch, who finished 35th following an accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But Busch didn’t let that stumble completely derail his west-coast jaunt. At Phoenix, he collected his second top 10 of the season, joining the other three Stewart-Haas Racing cars in the top 10.

Now 11th in points, Busch looks to crack another top 10 – that of the championship standings.

The last two races at Auto Club Speedway weren’t to Busch’s liking (he finished 24th and 30th), but prior to that, he scored three consecutive top fives. He won the Auto Club Speedway race in 2003.

Some more news is on the horizon for Busch. Be sure to visit NASCAR.com on Thursday, where Stewart-Haas Racing will make a special announcement about his No. 41 car.

So Close…

Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick last week at ISM Raceway marked his third runner-up showing in the last five races – dating back to the 2017 Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has 43 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories and – incredibly – nearly that many (42) runner-up finishes.

Now on a two-race runner-up streak, Busch has twice recorded three runner-up finishes in a row between other top-five finishes.

He was runner-up three times in a four-race span in 2014 (at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis) and three times in a six-race span in 2015 (at Watkins Glen, Richmond and Dover).

Looking For California Gold

Three of the sport’s highest profile drivers – including reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. – are still looking for their first-ever win at Auto Club Speedway.

Truex, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are a combined 0-for-44 at the track. And all three are hoping to score their first win of the 2018 season in Fontana this week.

Truex’s finish of fourth-place in this race last year was a career best in 17 starts at the two-mile track. Hamlin has won three Busch Pole positions at Auto Club Speedway, but his best finish in the race is third in 2016.

Logano is 0-for-11 with a best showing of third-place in 2013. He does have top-five showings in his last two visits to the track, including a fifth-place in the race last year.

Still Chase-ing A Win

Last week’s third-place finish for Chase Elliott was a season high for the Hendrick Motorsports driver and perhaps a solid launching point as he heads to one of his historically best venues, Auto Club Speedway.

The third-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season to date has consisted of a pair of DNFs – at Daytona Beach and Las Vegas, and a pair of top-10s – at Atlanta and Phoenix.

But he must be eager to arrive in Fontana this week, where he boasts the best average finish (6.5) of anyone in the field with two top-10 finishes in two starts.

Dusting Off the Rookie Rust

William Byron led the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series laps of his career Sunday at ISM Raceway, pacing the field for 15 laps and recording a season-best 12th-place finish. He moved up to 21st position in the standings coming to Auto Club Speedway, where he has only one NASCAR national series start, which resulted in a fifth-place finish in the NASCAR Xfinity Series last year.

Fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., finished 25th at Phoenix and still maintains a slight rookie edge in the overall Monster Energy Series standings in 19th position. He never finished worse than 12th at Auto Club Speedway in three Xfinity Series starts that included a pair of top-10 efforts.

In Form

Stewart-Haas Racing’s first ever top-10 team sweep last week at Phoenix was indicative of how the team’s fortunes have been so far this season.

Clint Bowyer’s hold on ninth place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings is his best showing through the opening four races of the season since 2013.

The second-year Stewart-Haas Racing driver has two top-10s, including a sixth-place run at ISM Raceway last weekend and a third-place effort at Atlanta three weeks ago.

Although Bowyer has not won at this week’s California venue, he finished third there last season – his best run at the track since a runner-up finish in 2010.

And SHR’s newest driver, Aric Almirola, is 10th in the standings – a career best for the driver in his seventh Monster Energy Series season.  He has four top-13 finishes through four races and is coming off a season-best seventh-place finish at Phoenix.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Two of a Kind: California natives Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson are the only drivers in the field Sunday to have won the race from the pole position. And Johnson (six wins) and Kyle Busch (three) are the only multi-time winners in the field. …

Stage Points Update: Three-time race winner Kevin Harvick leads all drivers with 53 stage points. Kurt Busch (42) and Martin Truex Jr. (41) round out the top-three.