Nascar Exclusive Race Report

Stewart-Haas Race Report:
Auto Club Speedway Speedway | 3/26/2017

Greg Zipadelli|Vice President of Competition, Stewart-Haas Racing

Friday: Practice and Qualifying

“Qualifying well for Sunday’s race was the main focus for our teams on Friday. In practice, the teams started out in race trim and then swapped over to make mock-qualifying runs in an effort to get ready for the afternoon’s qualifying session. Qualifying is so important for two reasons: track position and pit stall selection. Having a solid starting spot is key at just about every track we race at, and the better you qualify, the better your shot is at having a good pit stall for Sunday’s race.

“The track surface at Fontana is 20 years old, so it’s fairly rough at this point and that means the tires fall off really quickly. This year NASCAR implemented a new rule where teams must start the race on the tires they use in qualifying. Given how tough the track surface is, you face a balancing act in qualifying because you want to qualify as well as possible, but you also want to limit the number of laps on your tires, especially at a track like Fontana.

“We didn’t qualify as well as we wanted to on Friday. All four teams made it into the second round, but only Kevin (Harvick) made it to the final round and ended up seventh. Kurt (Busch) said his car was too tight at the apex of turns one and two and qualified 15th. Clint (Bowyer) qualified 17th for Sunday’s race. In the second round, Danica (Patrick) said her car was way too loose going into turn one, so the team waved off the lap, cooled the engine down as best they could, made a second run and she ended up 22nd.”

Saturday: Practice

“Saturdays are spent focusing on longer runs in race trim to tweak on the cars’ balance in preparation for Sunday’s race. A number of cars made contact with the outside wall during practice, including the No. 4 (Harvick) and No. 41 (Busch) teams. Both cars sustained a bit of right-side damage, but the teams were able to make repairs and, thankfully, neither had to go to a backup car.”

Sunday: Race

“As a whole, the race was a bit of a mixed bag for SHR. Clint and the No. 14 team had a great day overall. He worked his way into the top-10 by lap 16, consistently ran up front and was in the mix for the win in the closing laps before ending up third. Kevin’s team had to overcome a number of issues at the start of the race, but he was able to battle back and get a 13th-place finish. Kurt struggled with his car’s handling all day and finished 24th, one lap down. Danica’s team dealt with a few issues as well on Sunday and ended up 26th.

“It was significantly warmer throughout most of the race on Sunday than it had been during Saturday’s practice sessions. That made for a hot and slick track, and given the tire fall off at Fontana, teams pitted at nearly every opportunity for fresh tires. A few teams gambled and stayed out at times, but it was clear how important new tires were as the gamble never paid off for any of those teams.

“Aside from dealing with a hot, slick track, Kevin’s day got off to a rough start as his car sustained significant front-end damage on the initial start of the race after making contact with the No. 31 car (Ryan Newman). The team did their best to make repairs under caution, but then he went a lap down when the team was forced to make an unscheduled, green-flag pit stop at lap 25 for a flat, right-rear tire. At one point during the race, Kevin was two laps down, but late in the event he was able to take the wave around and then scored the free pass to get back on the lead lap. After all of that, when we had that rash of cautions at the end, he was able to capitalize on being back on the lead lap and raced his way back up to 13th.

“The No. 41 team struggled to get a handle on the car’s balance throughout the race. Kurt had no grip and the car was loose in, loose off and tight in the center of the corner at the start of the day, and then he made contact with the wall. The team wasn’t able to improve the handling issues Kurt was battling, which limited his ability to gain any ground and they ended up 24th.

“Danica and the No. 10 team had handling issues at the start of the race, got stuck a lap down and weren’t able to get back on the lead lap during the rest of the race. At the end of Stage 1, her car sustained a good bit of right-front fender damage after contact with the No. 95 car, and then when the team pitted early in Stage 3, they discovered the right-rear tire had been punctured and was significantly low on air. Neither issue helped their day at all.”