Wednesday, March 22, 2017

NASCAR California Notes: 2017 Auto Club 400

Point leader Kyle Larson is the talk of the Cup Series.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Auto Club 400
The Place: Auto Club Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 26
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

Larson Leads Points Standings Following Third Straight Runner-Up Finish
There’s a new sheriff in town as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series closes out its West Coast swing with Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club (Calif.) Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

Kyle Larson has ascended to the top of the points standings following his third consecutive runner-up showing last Sunday at Phoenix. It’s the latest in the season a Chip Ganassi Racing car has led the standings since Sterling Marlin’s Coors Light Silver Bullet led the field in 2002.

Larson is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity alumnus to lead the points standings.

He is followed in the standings by Brad Keselowski (-6), Chase Elliott (-13), Martin Truex Jr (-31) and Joey Logano (-49). Ryan Blaney (-57), Kevin Harvick (-61), Jamie McMurray (-65), Kurt Busch (-79) and Kasey Kahne (-79) round out the top 10.

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver is the 16th different driver to finish runner-up in three consecutive races. The feat has been achieved 25 times – most recently by Carl Edwards (2011 playoffs). Larson is the first in series history to accomplish the feat in the first four races of a given season.

Four drivers have finished runner-up four consecutive times in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Mark Martin (1998), Harry Gant (1985), Darrell Waltrip (1983) and Richard Petty (1964). No driver has finished runner-up in five straight races.

At 24 years and seven months old, Larson is the sixth-youngest points leader in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history – 1. Kyle Busch (22 years, 10 months, 2008) 2. Jeff Gordon (23 years, 11 months, 1996), 3t. Jeff Gordon (24 years, four months, 1995) 3t. Joey Logano (24 years, four months, 2014), 5. Kurt Busch (24 years, six months, 2003) 6. Larson

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Set For 600th Start
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will become the 25th driver in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history to make 600 or more starts when he hits the track for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

The 25 drivers with 600 or more starts comprise less than one percent (.009%) of the total number of NASCAR drivers to make at least one start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (2,537).

Only one active driver boasts more than 600 starts (Matt Kenseth, 618).

In his 599 previous Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career starts, Earnhardt has posted 26 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories (2004, 2014), 148 top fives, 252 top 10s and 13 Coors Light poles.

He las led 8,195 laps and has completed 170,689 laps. His career average starting position is 16.0 and his career average finishing position is 15.6.

Winning In The Sun: Newman Breaks 128-Race Winless Drought At Phoenix
Ryan Newman turned in a gutsy performance Sunday when he stayed out on old tires for overtime and pulled away to victory in the two-lap shootout at Phoenix. The checkered flag snapped a 127-race winless streak for Newman who last visited Victory Lane on July 28, 2013 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Newman’s victory also marked the first for Richard Childress Racing since Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix on Nov. 10, 2013 – 112 races ago.

Newman sits 11th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings (83 markers below Kyle Larson) and claims five playoff points.

In 552 career starts, Newman owns 18 wins, 106 top fives, 226 top 10s and 51 poles.

Suarez And Jones Post Career-High Finishes

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones posted career-best finishes of seventh and eighth, respectively, in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Suarez leads a tight rookie race by one point over Jones. They are followed by Ty Dillon (seven points behind Suarez), Corey LaJoie (-11) and Gray Gaulding (-21).

Suarez, 25, and Jones, 20, are alumni of the NASCAR Next program. Although Suarez ranks better than Jones in the Rookie of Year race, Jones sits higher in the points standings at 18th (102 points behind Kyle Larson), while Suarez occupies the 21st spot (-112).

Cutting To The Chase: Elliott Continues Strong Start
Although he finished 12th, Chase Elliott continued his strong start to the season by earning his first playoff point via a Stage 2 win on Sunday at Phoenix. On the day, Elliott led four times for 106 laps.

The 21-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver ranks third in the series standings – 13 points behind leader Kyle Larson. He has high finishes of third (Las Vegas) and fifth (Atlanta) this season.

Keselowski Has Most Stage Points
Brad Keselowski must like NASCAR’s new race enhancements. He leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with 57 points from Stage 1 and Stage 2 – six points more than Kyle Larson in second – even though he trails Larson by six points in the overall points standings. They are followed in stage points by Chase Elliott (-10), Kevin Harvick (-17) and Martin Truex Jr. (-23).

Keselowski and Larson are the only drivers who have earned points in every stage this season.

Celebrities Aplenty For Auto Club Weekend
With Auto Club’s proximity to Los Angeles there’s bound to be celebrities in attendance.

Scott Eastwood, from the upcoming movie "Fate of the Furious" will serve as grand marshal. Kaitlin Olson, of "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia," is the honorary pace car driver. Acting as honorary starter is singer-songwriter Pepe Aguilar. Teen music sensation Skyler Stecker will sing the national anthem.


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