By admin | March 27, 2011
By Richard Allen
Had it not been for the misfortunes of Andy Lally and Bobby Labonte the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California might have gone down as one of the worst races in NASCAR history. But because of the late race cautions brought out by Lally’s spin and Labonte’s impact with the wall, there was at least some pit strategy and late race passing at the front of the field to talk about.
Kevin Harvick got around Jimmie Johnson on the last turn of the last lap to secure the victory. Johnson had just passed by Kyle Busch to assume the lead briefly only two laps earlier.
Before this late race flurry the event had been marked by lap after lap of cars parading around the slightly banked 2-mile track. Kyle Busch led 151 of the 200 laps as others rode around waiting on their next pit stop. Although the length of the race had been shortened by 100 miles from last year’s events at the track, it was difficult to tell.
“It seemed like a 500-mile race out there to me,” Johnson said in a post race interview.
In-car radio chatter by Kyle and Kurt Busch did provide some levity throughout the day. Both the brothers are quiet well known for their entertaining conversations with their crews. Sunday proved no different.
It only took Kyle Busch one lap to deliver a hard hitting zinger directed at one of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. After making a bold attempt at going three-wide under Denny Hamlin, Kyle was upset at a move he perceived as an unnecessary block so early in the race. “Go tell the 11 appreciate it,” he said sarcastically. “Thanks for being a teammate on lap one.”
He wasn’t through with Hamlin after that stinging jab. As he closed in to pass the #11 car later in the race he said, “I’m taking one from Tony Stewart’s book,” Kyle said in reference to remark made once by Stewart as he gained on Harvick in Indianapolis. “Here kitty, kitty.”
And lastly, Kyle went after Hamlin one more time before the Virginia driver finally retired from the event. After Hamlin fought off a pass attempt by the #18 car, Kyle uttered, “I’d like to call a team meeting, please.”
Not to be outdone, Kurt Busch weighed in with a number of hard hitting comments. The elder Busch’s comments were mostly directed at his own crew and organization. “Did I mention we’re tight yet?” he asked sarcastically at one time. A very tart, “Yeah” was the reply he received.
Kurt’s talk then turned from sarcasm to bitter scorn. He railed against the Penske Racing engineering department for what he believed to be too much reliance on computer data and not enough listening to feedback from the drivers.
After not getting any response to one tirade Kurt then said, “I’m shutting the radio off. Just wave at me when you want me to pit.” For a long period of time, his radio went silent.
Eventually, Kurt came back with, “We are the worst team on pit road when it comes to adjustments during the race.” And then more harsh words for team engineers. “They won’t listen to anything unless you’ve got data.”
If not for the close racing between eventual winner Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch over the final 10 laps and the in-car chatter of the Busch brothers the entertainment value of the Auto Club 400 would have been quite low. Luckily, the race was rescued by those two things. However, one has to wonder how many people had access to the radio chatter or hung around long enough to see the finish on a day in which the NCAA Tournament was being played out.
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