FONTANA, Calif. — #NASCARGoesHome
With NASCAR’s three-race trek to the west coast over, NASCAR Cup drivers — not to mention the teams — will enjoy a relatively short trip next weekend to Martinsville Speedway, which is only an hour or two from most of the race shops.
There are plenty of drivers who will say “Good riddance” to the west coast swing of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. Included in that group is at least one driver who grew up on the West Coast.
Jimmie Johnson left the swing with finishes of 11th, ninth and 21st. With damage from early contact with Brad Keselowski at his “home” race at Fontana on Sunday, the San Diego-area native Johnson sits 17th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings.
“I think we used up all the good luck in the season finale last season,” the defending Cup champion said. “We battled all day long to get back on the lead lap, but we have got some work to do.”
Another driver who hopes for a reversal of fortune is Matt Kenseth, who has had incredibly hard hits in accidents the last two weeks with finishes of 37th and 36th. He has dropped to 25th in the standings.
“I’m fine,” Kenseth said after his wicked wreck following a late restart Sunday. “I just didn’t do the best job getting through the gears and I think the 1 [of Jamie McMurray] snuck outside of me, so I was trying to leave room for him on the top and then I just got hit in the left rear quarter panel off of Turn 2 and got spun out and I was just kind of along for the ride.”
Earnhardt had finishes of 16th, 14th and 16th out west, while Dillon went 21st, 16th and 11th. And since his Daytona 500 victory, Kurt Busch can’t seem to find a happy place with finishes of 30th, 25th and 24th.
Even one driver who could look at good results out west can’t really leave it behind.
Keselowski had finishes of fifth, fifth and second in the three races. That second came after that contact with Johnson, which appeared to ruin Johnson’s day but the more-damaged Keselowski was able to rally.
But a 35-point penalty and a three-race suspension to crew chief Paul Wolfe hung over the Penske team’s head while Keselowski and the crew delivered an impressive comeback.
Wolfe didn’t make the trip to California, and the organization likely will decide Monday or Tuesday whether to appeal the penalty. Points matter — winning the regular season title is worth three wins (15 playoff points under the new system) and five playoff points more than any other driver.
The Keselowski car failed the laser inspection station after the Phoenix race, and the team wanted to evaluate the car — which didn’t get back to the shop until last Wednesday — to decide whether to appeal.
Keselowski said the team has to be prepared to just move forward.
“Nobody likes the situation,” Keselowski said. “It’s one of those things that you can’t do anything about so I guess you’ve got to kind of move on.
“It’s a huge deal. But that’s the rule. It’s our job to abide by the rules.”
Another team that can’t just leave the west is the Kevin Harvick team as it was issued a 10-point penalty for an illegal track bar slider assembly and crew chief Rodney Childers faces a one-race suspension.
The Stewart-Haas Racing team got the suspension deferred by requesting an appeal hearing, but whether SHR actually goes through with it remains to be seen.
Childers might want to sit out Martinsville to make sure he can get to Texas the following week — a track that has been repaved and reconfigured. Missing Texas doesn’t seem like a desirable option.
Childers declined to comment on the penalty while working at Fontana.
He might have just been putting off the inevitable. Unless SHR has something incredibly convincing for the appeals panel, Childers will be among those who felt like while NASCAR went west, things kind of, at least sometimes, went south.
Xfinity Series: Another Top-5 For Byron
William Byron remained second in the standings with his fifth-place finish Saturday at Auto Club Speedway. He was the top finisher among the Xfinity regulars.
“It’s been good lately to get some top-5s,” said Byron, who was fourth last week at Phoenix. “We were able to make some good adjustments over the race. We kind of started the race, we struggled a little bit just in traffic and getting the car to handle right.
“Ultimately after that, we got it pretty good.”
Byron is a Hendrick Motorsports development driver.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the season,” Byron said. “Our performances on the short track [at Phoenix were] really strong and we’re getting our big-track program and we should be good.”
Camping World Truck Series: Time To Race … And Learn
The Camping World Truck Series teams have not raced for three consecutive weeks, but they’ll get a chance to get back on track this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
With 16-year-old and 17-year-old drivers eligible to race short tracks in trucks, that means a 16-year-old such as Harrison Burton will get his first start of the season.
Burton drove at Martinsville last October for Kyle Busch Motorsports and returns for the race this weekend. He can lean on his owner for advice.
“He’s done all of these great things, but you have to realize that you have to be your own driver and you can’t always rely on 100 percent what someone says,” Burton said.
“Obviously, he knows what he’s talking about, but every driver has their own style and you never really know what you’re getting into until you get in and feel the track yourself, because every driver feels something different. You have to rely on what he says on the driver side, but you also have to make your own way and drive a car that makes you comfortable and not Kyle Busch comfortable.”