Kyle Larson got a good feel for the Next Gen car on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway after having to come from the rear of the field in the Wise Power 400.
The reigning Cup series champion drove through the field rather quickly, finishing the first stage in the fifth position and taking the lead for the first time on lap 74.
It turns out Larson was surprised by what he felt.
“It’s definitely edgy,” he said after winning the race. “Honestly, I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to. I thought dirty air was going to be really bad behind people, and it didn’t seem way worse or different than normal.
“So that was encouraging. I thought the runs were equally as big if not bigger down the frontstretch. Restarts were still crazy.”
Sunday’s race was one of Fontana’s best showings in recent years. There were 32 lead changes amongst nine drivers, and no driver ran away from the field with the lead by more than two seconds.
Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels said the race played out like old school Darlington where tires gave up after 10 to 15 laps, and those who didn’t take care of them blew one. Teams had 12 sets of tires for the race, and every caution brought the field down pit road for a fresh set.
“I think it just races so different that a lot of the concepts that you would bring as a crew chief to call a race into like a short track race or a specific intermediate race, it’s all different,” Daniels said of the car. “It’s unique to itself, and it’s going to be my job to be a student of the game and try to make sure we do it right every week.”
One of the most notable statistics came from the cautions. Of the 12 cautions, two of which were for the stage breaks, they all involved a driver in a multi-car accident or a single-car spin. There were seven single-car spins, whereas in the previous race at Auto Club in 2020, there were three cautions, and two of them were for the stage breaks.
“I thought it was way different, which was good for me anyways and probably for us drivers,” said Larson. “And then you have the part where, yeah, it’s on edge where if you get a little too stepped out, you spin.
“You have to be aware of that and your aggressiveness on the restarts and try to work on your balance a lot. We did that throughout the day quite a bit.
“We had runs early on where we’d be tight and then the next run we’d be loose, and then we were able to kind of narrow that window down there it seemed like around halfway, and that’s when I felt like we were going to have a decent shot to win.”