It was a word not normally associated with racing at Fontana, but after Sunday’s Auto Club 500, it was word uttered by many racers: fun.
It wasn’t last weeks Daytona 500 thriller, but Sunday’s race did deliver something that most would agree hasn’t been see at the two mile oval in quite some time, actual racing.
Jimmie Johnson was the favorite going into the event and he delivered scoring his 48th career win at the track he scored his first.
“I really saw a lot of great racing,” Johnson who also led the most laps said. “The fact that in the lead where I was most of the day, Harvick and I raced really hard and I watched the 31 and the 18 race hard. I saw great, great racing.”
Mark Martin, who finished fourth, agreed.
“It was fun, man,” Martin said. “What a great race track to race on, man. There was a lot of racing going on out there and a lot of passing and side-by-side and fighting. I had a blast today.”
During the course of the afternoon most of the action was behind the leaders as battles, one time six wide, were raging all through the field. At one point, Johnson and Kevin Harvick were running side-by-side for the lead. Both Johnson and Harvick would fall out of the top spots but made their way back to the front. Harvick tried to reel in Johnson in the closing laps but would scrape the wall with two laps to go and fade though hold on for second.
“Just a great day,” Harvick said. “We got a speeding penalty early. The car was good enough to come back through the field. Put our self back in contention in the end. Just came up one short. Good day and a lot of fun today.”
Even drivers who didn’t finish the race had fun. Ryan Newman lost an engine on lap 147 and ended the day in the garage. Despite that Newman was still able to smile.
“It was good. It was fun running against the wall,” Newman said. “I don’t do that a whole lot here. I thought the racing was pretty good. We were mixing it up and that is the most competitive I have been here in a long time.”
Auto Club Speedway, or California Speedway as it was once known, is ‘famous’ for long green flag fuel mileage races that are about as entertaining to watch as grass growing. And while NASCAR did make some changes for last weeks Daytona 500, everything here was pretty much the same as last year. With one notable exception perhaps; NASCAR is allowing drivers more leeway to police themselves, and just the thought that big brother isn’t staring down may have given drivers a whole new attitude.
In the end NASCAR fans got a pretty good race at a place not typically known for good racing.
“I think today was a great race for NASCAR, great race on this racetrack,” Johnson said. ”I know it’s big and spread out from time to time, but in every situation I was in, there was a lot of great racing going on. “
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