A week after feeling like he would have made a run at Ryan Blaney for the win in Las Vegas, Alex Bowman left no doubt at Auto Club Speedway.
In a dominating performance in the Auto Club 400, Bowman led five times for 110 laps and won for the second time in his NASCAR Cup Series career. He did so by nearly nine seconds on Kyle Busch, who took the runner-up spot after Blaney had to pit with three laps to go for a vibration.
“The first (win), that was a really enjoyable experience, and then we sucked for six months,” said Bowman. “We started this year so strong; I feel like I’ve got a lot on my side that I’m doing better. My life is kind of a lot more organized than it was back then, and Greg [Ives, crew chief] and all the guys, they’re just on point.
“We’ve unloaded the last two weeks, I don’t think we’ve had got a change in the race car from how it came off the truck. That makes my job a heck of a lot easier. I’m just so proud of this team, Hendrick Motorsports, Hendrick horsepower under the hood, the whole shop back home. They work their butts off. We put a lot of effort into this new car, and it’s obviously working well.”
Bowman finished 13th in Las Vegas after he and Blaney pitted when the caution came out with six laps to go. As the fastest car on the track, Bowman lamented, “Damn it; we had him” over the radio when the caution came out and changed the complexion of the race.
Sunday, Bowman started third and led 44 of the first 60 laps on his way to winning the first stage. With Blaney pacing the field for much of the second stage, leading 50 of its 60 laps, Bowman stayed steady inside the top five.
The No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team then took back control of the race off of the restart to start the final stage. Bowman cycled back to the top spot for the final time with 34 laps to go after green flag pit stops and kept extending his lead over Blaney throughout the run to the checkered.
A second-place finish for Busch was welcome after his steady progression all afternoon. Busch started 17th and didn’t make much noise inside the top five until the final stage.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Busch. “Guys did a great job here though with just trying to work on it and trying to make everything we could out of it all day long, all weekend long. Interstate Batteries Camry wasn’t a second-place car, but thankfully we got a good finish with trying to get some points.”
Kurt Busch finished third, rebounding after he missed his pit stall at the end of Stage 1. Chase Elliott finished fourth, and Brad Keselowski was fifth.
Jimmie Johnson finished seventh after starting on the front row at his home track. Johnson also led 10 laps.
Blaney was 8.7 seconds behind Bowman when he complained about a vibration, which turned out to be a corded tire. After pitting with three laps to go, Blaney, who won the second stage, finished a lap down in 19th position.
Polesitter Clint Bowyer led the first 10 laps but was never again a factor. Bowyer ran between 10th and 20th much of the afternoon and finished 23rd off the lead lap following a flat left-front tire on Lap 94.
Despite back-to-back disappointing finishes, Blaney continues to lead the point standings as the series heads to Phoenix Raceway.