For the third week in a row, Ryan Blaney and the 12 team have to be wondering what they need to do to get a win this season.
The last two races they have been leading at the close of the race only to have to run to the pits and relinquish the race lead. Fontana saw Ryan Blaney lead 54 laps and yet fail to win the race. That honor went to Alex Bowman who led 110 laps. Both drivers had fast cars set up for the long run. But Blaney had his tires fall off faster and was forced to pit to avoid wrecking and getting an even worse finish. He still has the Cup points lead but I am sure he would rather have the wins.
Bowman has been fast in the early stages of the season and is in a contract year, although he feels like every year is a contract year. Blaney has also been fast but has been bit by untimely pit road calls.
Blaney has two Top 5 finishes and 4 Top 10s with a best 3rd place finish at Phoenix, but he has to best the JGR Toyota juggernaut and Kevin Harvick this week.
The Fontana race was a good race with few cautions and lots of green flag racing. Being Jimmie Johnson’s home track, there was a lot of fanfare and his family waved the green flag to start the race. That was pretty cool.
Clint Bowyer and Johnson sat on the front row and Bowyer led early laps but started fading as Johnson surged. Eventually Bowyer blew a tire that wound up putting him a lap down that he never recovered. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson led 10 laps and finished 7th after running in the top 5 much of the day.
Johnson was hoping for a better finish but he was overtaken by the Toyota’s of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch who also ran in the top 5 much of the day. Kyle Busch was saying they were lacking speed yet he somehow managed a 2nd place finish. I don’t mind of they struggle with speed from time to time. I am not looking forward to another year where JGR wins over half the races.
Toyota started out badly but, as you would expect, the JGR machines made steady progress to the front. Martin Truex, Jr. was running towards the front but found himself needing to pit and then was mired in traffic that frustrated him to no end. Sorry dude, the rest of the field has every right to fight you for position.
Hamlin got to the front by hard driving and, well, driving through the 42 car of Kyle Larson. Hamlin was pushing Larson hard and then didn’t let up once they got into the corner. Larson smacked the wall hard and somehow kept the car going straight and not wrecking the rest of the field.
Also for the second straight week, we saw a lot of new names running in the top 10 that faded a bit at the end of the race yet still managed Top 20 finishes. Among those drivers, Tyler Reddick finished 11th, Matt DiBenedetto 13th, Chris Buescher 16th, Ross Chastain 17th and Cole Custer 18th. I am pleased to see these guys running decently this early in the year. It makes me wonder if they can make this even more interesting as the season progresses or if they will just be Top 15 or so cars all year. Not bad for the rookies, but DiBenedetto and Buescher are wanting more.
And in case you missed it, Harrison Burton (son of Jeff Burton) won his first Xfinity race at Fontana. Kudos to the Burton family.
Ryan Newman made an appearance at the Roush Fenway Racing shop to applause by his teammates and coworkers. It is still amazing that he is out and about after that horrific accident.
Next up is Phoenix which used to be Kevin Harvick’s playground but where he has just one win in the past six races. Hamlin has one win and Kyle Busch has two in the last 6 races. I look for that battle to continue.