AutoMatters & More: NASCAR racing returns to Auto Club Speedway – Jimmie Johnson bids farewell

NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 race
(Jan Wagner)

NASCAR’s annual Southern California, double-header stock car races were held this past weekend at Auto Club Speedway – a very wide, two-mile, D-shaped oval superspeedway in Fontana.

NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race, with its field heavily populated by up-and-coming drivers, ran on Saturday, followed on Sunday by the premiere NASCAR Cup Series race. Jimmie Johnson – a popular, seven-time NASCAR Champion, two-time winner of the prestigious Daytona 500 and record six-time winner at Auto Club Speedway – and native of El Cajon, California – was honored at his ‘home track’ in this, his final season as a NASCAR Cup Series regular.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 Race

Saturday was a beautiful Southern California day, ideal weather for the Xfinity Series race. It was arguably more exciting than Sunday’s Cup Series race, as young, up-and-coming drivers competed with each other for positions, and for the attention of the premiere NASCAR Cup Series teams.

Pit stop action in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race
(Jan Wagner)

The race began with Brandon Jones leading the large field of 36 cars. He had earned pole position in his Toyota by posting a lap time around the two-mile track of 39.948 seconds, at an average speed of 180.234 mph, but the driver who went on to win the race was 19-year-old Harrison Burton in his Joe Gibbs Racing/Dex Imaging #20 Toyota Supra. Harrison continued a family tradition of NASCAR race victories – his father Jeff Burton having earned 21 over his career.

Jimmie Johnson before the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400
Jimmie Johnson before the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400
(Jan Wagner)

While he had appeared to be calm in the cockpit, his mother – who was frequently shown on the T.V. coverage – looked anything but calm. Harrison was thrilled that his whole family was with him in Victory Lane. He credited them for helping him through the tough times and for motivating him to be better.

He explained that his rough time racing trucks last year motivated him to get better this year. He especially commended Joe Gibbs Racing for its incredible resources, saying that they prepared their drivers better than any other race team.

Chase Briscoe loses control in the Xfinity Series race
(Jan Wagner)

NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 Race

The weather turned unseasonably cold for Sunday’s Cup Series race. A light rain started to fall shortly before the race was to begin, so the crews quickly covered up the cars. Fortunately for the racers eager to compete for the $7 million total race purse, the rain remained light and did not last long.

Jimmie Johnson was given the honor of leading the field in a ceremonial “Five Wide Salute” pace lap, before falling back into his qualifying position of second, beside Busch Pole Award winner Clint Bowyer.

Jimmie’s wife and two young daughters served as Honorary Starters, waving the green flag from the flag stand. His longtime friend and famous motocross racer Ricky Johnson (no relation) served as the Honorary Pace Car Driver of the 2020 Toyota Camry Pace Car.

Alex Bowman & team celebrate Auto Club 400 victory.
(Jan Wagner)

The cool weather made the track more grippy than it was in Saturday’s warm sunshine. Throughout the race, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman – his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, raced each other for position, much of which was at or near the front of the field. Both earned valuable stage points, but Bowman, who led 110 of the 200 laps, decisively won the relatively caution-free race with an 8.904 seconds margin of victory at an average speed of 152.753 mph.

Afterwards, Alex said: “I don’t know that we changed anything since we unloaded off the truck, so that really comes down to a lot of great preparation in the shop, Greg making really good decisions with our package that we brought here.” “We knew we had a really good car, and it was our job just to keep up with the racetrack from there.”

Harrison Burton celebrates victory in the Xfinity Series race
(Jan Wagner)

“Obviously the racetrack is quite a bit different today, just being 30 degrees cooler than it was on Friday, raining for the first 50 laps probably, but it was a lot of fun and Greg did a great job keeping up with it.”

“Every year is a contract year, every year of my life in the Cup Series has been a contract year.” “I’m as motivated as ever, doing everything I can to try to be the best on and off the racetrack as I can be. Hendrick Motorsports is where I want to be, its where I want to stay for the rest of my career.”

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Jimmie Johnson leads the field in a ceremonial “Five-Wide Salute”
Jimmie Johnson leads the field in a ceremonial “Five-Wide Salute”
(Jan Wagner)

Copyright © 2020 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #632


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