First Race at Auto Club Speedway Since 2020
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and 2021 race win leader, Kyle Larson, won his first race of the 2022 season on Sunday, February 27, at Fontana. The 29-year-old claimed his first victory of the 2022 season in front of his home fans by taking the checkered flag in WISE Power 400 on Auto Club Speedway, the second race of the season.
This marked the first race at Auto Club Speedway since 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented NASCAR from traveling to California last year.
Kyle Larson Wins WISE Power 400 and Justifies His Tag as the Favorite
There is no better feeling than winning a race in front of the home crowd, and Kyle Larson can tell you all about it. The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion emerged as the winner of the WISE Power 400 on Sunday, February 27, when he edged past Austin Dillon and Erik Jones, who placed second and third, respectively.
This was Larson’s second victory at the Auto Club Speedway and his first since 2017, after a chaotic restart with only four laps to go. Luckily, this time out, Larson managed to avoid a crash – which he was unable to do at Daytona – and proved once more why he is widely recognized as one of the best NASCAR drivers in the world.
“It’s always fun here to win in the home state,” said Larson.
“Hard work all weekend there. Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday.”
Larson took One Step in Defending his 2021 Title
By winning the WISE Power 400, Larson won his first race of the season and took one step closer to defending the title. And while it was a phenomenal performance by the California native, it’s hardly surprising to see Larson end up on top.
The 29-year-old was the bookie’s favorite to win the race, priced at close to +300, ahead of Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch, and he did enough to justify his tag as the top dog. Larson outperformed both Elliott and Busch, who ended the race in 26th and 14th place, respectively.
Perhaps the biggest talking point about WISE Power 400 is the surprisingly high number of cautions. The race saw a total of 12 caution flags, which seemed to benefit some drivers more than others.
Kyle Larson, who doesn’t have the best track record at Fontana, has benefited the most from the cautions, took advantage of some crashes, and ended up crossing the finish line first. Ironically, Larson is known for often finding himself in a crash, but he successfully avoided it this time.
Impressive Performances All-Around, As Outsiders Step Up And Exceed Expectations
While all the spotlight is on Larson, the WISE Power 400 has seen many drivers who weren’t expected to shine and outperform expectations. Likewise, drivers who were anticipated to deliver with a strong finish failed to step up, producing a perfect mix of impressive and disappointing results across the board.
Daniel Suarez, who entered the WISE Power 400 as a complete outsider, impressed many with his driving and even had a chance to claim his maiden NASCAR win. Chasing his first Cup victory, Suarez powered up to pass Larson at the exit turn 2, with only three laps to go, but by the time the drivers circled back. Larson was back to the inside and cleared Suarez for the lead in turn 1.
Suarez’s 10th Top 5 Finish
Suarez ended up finishing the race in fourth place, marking his first top-four since the Bristol Motor Speedway race in 2021. Furthermore, it was Suarez’s 10th top-5 finish of his career and a nice improvement from his 18th-place finish in Daytona.
“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” said Suarez.
“I just can’t thank everyone enough in my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. The team had a few issues. The car hit the wall once. There was an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends; it’s unbelievable.”
Austin Dillon’s teammate, Tyler Reddick, finished the race in 24th place, which was quite a disappointing result seeing how Reddick won each of the opening two stages. He even led 90 laps – his career-best and race-high. Unfortunately, the Richard Childress Racing driver suffered a flat tire while leading with only 49 laps to go.
Things got even worse for him when William Byron lost control of his car and collided with Reddick while the latter was exiting turn 2. The crash ended Byron’s day prematurely and left Reddick with a damaged car, which contributed to his 24th-place finish.
Names that Stand Out at the WISE Power 400
Erik Jones, who no one expected to look good, led for 18 laps, doubling his laps-led total from one year ago in a single race. What’s more, his third-place finish marked Jones’s first top-5 since October 2020, when he finished third for Joe Gibbs Racing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
On the other side, Brad Keselowski struggled on Sunday. He spun twice, once on his own in turn four and once when he touched with Bubba Wallace in turn 2. Although Keselowski was able to continue racing, he could only manage a 27th-place finish, two laps down.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season continues with Pennzoil 400 on Sunday, March 6.
* All odds provided by Action247 Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
**All views expressed are my own. My picks are my own and are not a guarantee, bet at your own risk.