Chris Rice breaks down key decisions, tire issues
Editor's note: Chris Rice, crew chief for the No. 99 Rheem Toyota for RAB Racing and driver James Buescher in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, has joined NASCAR.com as a guest writer for the 2014 season. Here is his first-person analysis from Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway.
The Auto Club 400 played up to what was really going to happen with the tire wear and the race track and everything falling off. The racing was good all day. Jimmie Johnson looked like he had the dominant car, but at the end of the day the tire got him. The left front tire finally went down. That was a long green flag run before he had that tire issue.
The tire issues go back to Saturday. It showed up in practice and everybody was saying it was either low air pressure or tough setups. But I think what it boils down to is the new low-riding race cars and the way they are having to set the cars up is going to be tough on the left side there. And then when the tire wears as much as it wears, it just chunks them out and starts pulling the cap off of them.
Kyle Busch kind of hung around all day. He had short run cars and it showed there at the end with his second straight win at Fontana. It’s pretty cool for Toyota to get that first Sprint Cup Series win of 2014 near the home base of Toyota in Costa Mesa. It’s always good when you can go home and win.
At the end of the day, the two Kyles (Busch and Larson) were at the top again like they were on Saturday (Larson won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday at Fontana, while Busch finished third but was challenging Larson at the end with Kevin Harvick) so that goes to show you that the Nationwide Series is a good series to run because they were able to manage their tires today and race to the victory (Busch in the Cup Series, Larson in Nationwide).
Kyle Larson is an outstanding race car driver. He shows it and he’s going to continue to show it. He was running back there with Austin Dillon for awhile running 15th, 16th, 17th. Larson ends up finishing second and Dillon ends up 11th. That shows that the rookies ran around all day and figured out what they needed and made it happen there at the end.
You look at the end of the race where the Stewart-Haas Racing cars took two tires with Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart. Stewart managed to get a top-five out of it for the second straight week, which was good for him. He had that spin early, but regrouped for a solid finish. Matt Kenseth, who finished fourth, is just a guy who hangs in there all day.
Jeff Gordon was getting ready to win the race and a caution comes out and he ends up in 13th place. Alan Gustafson (Gordon’s crew chief) took the strategy of taking four tires instead of two. It was a huge, huge decision to take four tires especially after watching his teammate have a tire go down minutes earlier. You sit on that box and you make decisions and you have to answer to them on Monday. I think Alan and Jeff and all them were in agreement to take four and it just didn’t work out at the end of the race.
Sam Hornish Jr. jumped in Denny Hamlin’s car and did a phenomenal job. At one time right there, he was 12th and looked like he would get a top 10. It goes to show you that Hornish is a good race car driver and we hope Denny gets to feeling better. It’s always cool to see someone from right off the couch, jump in a car and finish in the top 17 like he did. He just worked all day, worked on the race car and got better and better.
That was a big move for Landon Cassill to not take tires at the end and comes home with a top-25 finish in a backup car, not a bad deal for him. My pick, Harvick, had two tires go down, but he showed that he was fast, so I am only batting .500 right now so I got to do better when I go to Martinsville.
All in all, it was great race. NASCAR, Goodyear and everybody did a good job in bringing a tire that made for an interesting race for all the race fans. California’s a real good race track. I hope they don’t pave it and I hope they don’t change the bumps. This was a really cool race to watch and it produced one great green-white-checkered finish.