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NASCAR’s three-race Western Swing ended Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, where Kyle Larson won a wild Auto Club 400, race No. 5 of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Larson was dominant all weekend, qualifying on the pole and winning over Brad Keselowski in a race marred by a spate of late-race cautions.
Here are five quick takeaways from today’s race:
Without question, the team that’s made the biggest gain this year is Chip Ganassi Racing, which fields a pair of Chevrolets for Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray. Both those drivers were fast all weekend, including in Sunday’s race.
Larson came into the race leading the points on the strength of three consecutive runner-up finishes. Today, he survived a furious challenge from Martin Truex Jr. and a lot of late-race restarts to win the second Cup race of his career and sweep the weekend.
An old racing truism is that you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can lose it. And that’s what happened to 2012 NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski, who started the race from fourth place. But when Denny Hamlin made a bad start, Keselowski hit him and got hit from behind by Ryan Newman.
Then, after falling through the field, Keselowski got spun on Lap 4 by Jimmie Johnson. Given that he lost 35 points and the services of crew chief Paul Wolfe because of an inspection issue at Phoenix it was a brutal week for Keselowski. And yet, neither he nor the team gave up and after making repairs, Keselowski made an amazing rally to finish second.
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Champ still struggling
It was another bad weekend for Jimmie Johnson, who has a best finish of ninth in five races this season. Johnson crashed his primary car on Friday and in Sunday’s race, he suffered collision damage in the contact with Keselowski. Johnson, who has six race victories here at his home track, was a lap down before Stage 1 ended. He finished 21st.
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Joe Gibbs Racing won 26 races in the last two seasons. But they have been outperformed so far this year by fellow Toyota team Furniture Row Racing. Five races into the season, JGR is winless, while Truex won at Las Vegas and nearly won again today .
Three JGR Toyotas were up front on a late-race restart, but Truex and Kenseth had contact that sent Kenseth hard into the wall in a frightening impact. He walked away. The JGR Toyotas were good, but Truex was better. Truex finished fourth, Daniel Suarez was the best JGR Toyota, finishing seventh.
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More racing wisdom
For better or for worse, drivers and teams only get to enjoy winning for one week. Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman, who was the surprise winner last week at Phoenix, had a rougher time of it in Southern California, finishing 15th.
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