Two NASCAR teams still seeking a breakthrough
FONTANA, Calif. — Four drivers have earned a victory in the first four weeks of what’s shaping up as a competitive NASCAR Cup Series season.
Only two teams have reached Victory Lane, however. Two other giants of the sport are eager to join them.
Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are still looking for their first wins of the year heading into Sunday’s race at Fontana. Plenty of uncertainty still exists around NASCAR’s new racing rules package as the West Coast Swing wraps up at Auto Club Speedway, but the trailing teams believe they’re starting to figure it out.
While cars fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have made quick adjustments to the new rules, Hendrick and Southern California’s own Jimmie Johnson are still trying to bounce back from a slow start. They’re hoping for a boost on this familiar weathered asphalt one hour east of Los Angeles, where Johnson has won six times.
‘‘There are tracks that a driver can make a difference at,’’ said Johnson, who hasn’t won anywhere since June 2017. ‘‘This track has been one. The one thing that is so different right now is we’re back to a package we’ve run two other times this year. We’re on a high-wear track. I look at Atlanta. It did not go well.
‘‘Atlanta is similar to this place, so I’m hopeful that we’ve made our car better since Atlanta for this type of environment. That’s what I think the whole Hendrick Motorsports crowd is focused on right now.’’
Stewart-Haas also appears to be making progress. Kevin Harvick was the fastest in the second practice Saturday in his Ford Mustang, and the California native is counting on his familiarity with Fontana to help Sunday, even while every driver attempts to figure out how their cars are working under the rules package.
‘‘I think in the last three weeks, you have seen the veteran guys shine,’’ said Harvick, who starts second on Sunday. ‘‘I used to tell Danica Patrick this all the time, ‘I have 25 years on you, and you will never catch up.’ And that is the truth. Experience matters, more so in our sport than maybe any other sport. The knowledge of the race track, things you have been through, things you have done.’’
. . .
Cole Custer postponed Kyle Busch’s historic 200th victory for at least one more day.
Custer held off Busch to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway, preventing Busch from tying Richard Petty’s record with his 200th win across NASCAR’s three major series.
The 21-year-old Custer, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., capitalized when a disastrous pit stop dropped Busch to 14th place with 33 laps to go in a race Busch had dominated up to that point.
Although Busch charged back through the field, he couldn’t catch up to Custer, who drove his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to his third career Xfinity victory on his home track.
‘‘You definitely look in the mirror and you see that black car, and you’re just hoping it doesn’t get bigger,’’ Custer said.