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OBSERVATIONS: Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

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On a day when everywhere you look there is something green, it makes sense that Kyle Busch is parking the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry in victory lane. 

In typical Rowdy fashion, he did not take the easy route to victory. He was dominant and had the fastest car of the event, but he would speed on pit road setting him deep in the field. Unlike Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series where he missed the win by a spot due to a pit road issue, he was able to make his way back to the front and cruise to the victory. 

It marked his second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, and continues his strong start to 2019 as he is the only driver to finish each race in the top-five. Busch’s success is not a surprise, as he was one of the big three last season and has placed in the top-four of the year-end standings the past four years.

On Sunday, that wasn’t the focus though, as his Auto Club 400 triumph was his 200th NASCAR National Series victory (across Cup, Xfinity, and the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series). It has opened the debates to where Busch stands in relation to Richard Petty’s 200 Cup wins back in the day, or how he compares to Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson despite only one championship.

It brings forth a healthy debate among fans and media alike, as there are several ways to look at this and it depends on the perspective you take. As Richard Petty noted, we’re talking about two different eras entirely and that’s what makes this difficult.

Regardless, you cannot deny Busch’s talent behind the wheel as you do not win that many races without it. That’s fueled by his pure grit and determination, which is sometimes seen as a negative when he doesn’t appear cheery following an event he failed to win. However, it’s also a passion to admire, too, in watching how hard someone works to accomplish every single goal they have.

While Busch dominates the headlines, it begins a problem for NASCAR on FOX as it sometimes appears as though commentators Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon have a love affair with him, without giving the attention the other 39 drivers deserve. Although the recognition should be given to Busch, they need to remember that they are supposed to be telling the story of the race as a whole.

On the flip side, you cannot blame the commentators are they are now trying to sell a racing product that has failed to live up to the expectations. When NASCAR brought forth the new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package, they promised there’d be more side-by-side racing, perhaps in pack format.

For the second straight intermediate race in a row – Las Vegas Motor Speedway and now here, the racing did not appear to live up to those expectations. The pack racing was certainly there on the restarts with drivers fighting for every piece of real estate four-wide, and you saw a pair of cars side-by-side stall out to allow the third car behind them get a run. However, the deeper into the run, the field began to string out single-file just like years past.

While some intermediate races can be like watching paint dry, Auto Club Speedway isn’t quite that dull. We’ve had exciting moments – Joey Logano vs. Busch last year, and tire fall off over a run and who can conserve their rubber the most can create drivers moving forward and falling back. So overall, it wasn’t the worst ever race witnessed by fans. But compared to the expectations set forth by the sanctioning body, it’s certainly not that.

The advice is usually to wait five races into the season before making a judgment on the racing action. So far, it hasn’t quite lived up to what everybody was expecting. Daytona was dull at times with single-file riding along combined with a wreck ’em derby, while the intermediate tracks just strung out over the event. There was also the qualifying debacle on Friday, too. Although ISM Raceway was in the middle and a little different animal, it didn’t produce anything that caused people to grasp in excitement. Overall, you could say that this year has just been average so far.

That could change, as the first short track lies next on the schedule with Martinsville Speedway. We’ve seen the paperclip create drama and close racing, with a couple fights at times, so let’s hope we can add some spice here.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.