Auto Club 500: Surprising, Not Surprising

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IFebruary 23, 2009

NASCAR's second weekend is officially over. While the race was a bit more exciting than past races at Auto Club Speedway, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series' provided snoozers—unless you are a Kyle Busch fan.

Here are the things I found surprising (and not so surprising) from all three series over the weekend.

Surprising: Kyle Busch dominated the field in both races Saturday.

Sure, we all know that Rowdy has been phenomenal at Auto Club Speedway, but did anyone expect him to lead that many laps in both races? Busch led 95 of 100 laps in the Camping World Truck Series showdown Saturday afternoon, and a few hours later he led 143 of 150 laps in the Nationwide Series.

For those of you that hate doing math—that's 95.2 percent of the total laps he ran on Saturday. If you take out the pit cycles, Busch could have led even more.

Not Surprising: Busch didn't win Sunday.

The tri-fecta has never happened in NASCAR. While Busch changed history Saturday, becoming the first driver to win in two of NASCAR's top series, completing the tri-fecta was out of the question.

In fact, Busch never led a lap on Sunday, and though ran in the top-10 most of the day, never really seemed to be a threat to win.

Surprising: Matt Kenseth is two-for-two

Coming into the 2009 season, all the fuss was around Kenseth's teammate Carl "Flipper" Edwards. Nobody gave the "Killer Bees" a chance, yet he stands undefeated after two races.

Sure, one came as a result of some luck when the skies opened up and the rain fell on Daytona last week, but Sunday's win came as a result of talent and determination.

Kenseth was strong all day and won the race in the pits—as usual. Once he got out in the open air, it was good bye, see ya later to the field and Kenseth recorded his second win of the 2009 season—mark down 20 bonus points for the No. 17 team when they make the Chase.

Not Surprising: Cup regulars dominated the Nationwide field again

Cup stars took home the top eight finishing positions in Saturday evening's Nationwide race at ACS.

This has become the norm, however. Last week at Daytona, only one non-Cup driver—Jason Keller—brought home a top-10 finish.

Surprising: Jimmie Johnson finished outside the top three

Johnson has been red hot at ACS in recent years. In his last four trips out west, he finished no worse than third. During that stretch, he also record two wins.

To take it back even further, in 12 starts at the California speedway, Johnson has finished outside the top three only four times.

Of course, Hendrick Motosports was having engine problems on Sunday (see Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin), which could have caused Johnson's slide near the end of the race. I have a feeling, the Lowe's team will be back on top when the circuit visits ACS this fall.

Not Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished outside the top-10

In 15 starts at ACS, Earnhardt Jr. has finished outside of the top-10 11 times now. Sure, Sunday was entirely his fault when the engine went sour, but was he really headed towards a top-10 finish anyway? I doubt it.

He ran strong throughout the race, but seemed to be mired in the 13th-18th range all night long, before the engine went south.

Surprising: Michael Waltrip sits seventh in championship points

Are you serious? This is the same Waltrip team that struggled to make races in their inaugural season and had to work overtime to maintain a top 35 position last year.

After two strong runs, Waltrip and his No. 55 NAPA Toyota appear to be on track a team best position.

Having a good run at California is promising for a team that struggled so mightily on 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks since its inception into NASCAR. If Waltrip can keep up the momentum, he could—that's a big could—be fighting for a Chase berth come Richmond.

Not Surprising: Tony Stewart sits fourth in championship points

Call me crazy, but I called this one. I knew that Smoke would be successful in his first season as an owner/driver. People said, "he'll struggle."

It only makes sense for Stewart to run well. He's a top-notch driver—two time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion—and he is in the sport's best equipment with HMS providing everything he needs.

Throw in Darian Grubb as a crew chief and you've got one heck of a combination that will be fighting for a Chase spot at the end of the 26-race cutoff.

Surprising: Drivers near or out of the top-35

I know, it's only two races in. But, there are some top-notch drivers sitting on the edge of the top-35 and/or outside.

For instance: Earnhardt Jr. is 35th in points. Pit road problems and frustration led to poor finish in the season opening Daytona 500 and engine problems soured a shot at a decent finish at California.

Paul Menard sits 40th in points, Aric Almirola is 36th, yet John Andretti is solidly in at 25th. (Oh by the way, Travis Kvapil, the guy replaced by Menard sits 30th in points, are they going to do another points swap if Menard can't make it in?)

The good news for Menard, Earnhardt Jr. and Almirola is that they are still guaranteed a spot in the next three races, while others—such as Andretti—are not, so all three should be able to move back into the top-35 by the end of race five.

Not Surprising: Joey Logano outside of the top-35

I know it's a bit harsh, but I'm not a bit surprised that Joey Logano is currently 38th in points—a place the 18-year-old rookie does not need to be.

Could you imagine a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota being outside the top-35? That would be ludicrous!

I doubt this team is going to remain on the outside looking in after five races, however. Logano is having some early season problems, and just needs to relax and put together a couple decent—doesn't even have to be strong—finishes to quickly move his way back up the ladder.

Two races down, only 34 more to go! On to Sin City!


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