Chase Elliott wasn’t happy with Kyle Larson after he put him in the wall at Auto Club Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series race. Will the two teammates patch it out, or will we see this tension carry into the rest of the season?
Chase Elliott‘s displeasure with Kyle Larson was a rare moment of conflict between two teammates that have won the last two Cup championships, and now the looming question is how the two will race each other going forward.
On the surface, the two will patch things out. They’re arguably the two best drivers in the sport today, and they were the biggest contributors to one of the greatest NASCAR seasons ever by an organization in 2021.
But at the same time, the two of them know that they will be rivals going forward. When Elliott won the championship in 2020, he was Hendrick’s No. 1 driver. And with Jimmie Johnson retiring, it looked like he would be the one to carry the torch for years to come. Just one year later, Larson posts a 10-win, 2,500-plus-laps-led season that nets him a championship in his first try with Hendrick Motorsports.
Larson has bested Elliott in the win column 11-2 since they became teammates, and Larson appears to have taken on the role as No. 1. Going forward, both drivers are going to do everything they can to make sure that they – respectfully – best the other. It will be fun to watch.
Auto Club tied a track record of 12 cautions in the Cup Series. Will Las Vegas Motor Speedway be a tame race, or another chaotic one?
For a race that had so many questions going into it, Auto Club overall was a success. The Next Gen car showed that its drivers are capable of passing other drivers with ease, and the race featured a variety of comers and goers.
That said, the race devolved into mayhem at times. It tied the Cup track record of 12 cautions set in February 2008, and it was the first 400-mile race at the track with more than nine cautions. The race featured multiple spins, two multi-car wrecks, a few blown tires and some Toyota overheating problems for good measure.
The drivers and teams are still adjusting to the new cars, so Vegas will likely feature more chaos than usual. The track is also shorter, narrower and higher banked than Auto Club, and that will provide drivers with a new host of challenges in adjusting to the car and the new style of racing.
Fortunately, the smoother pavement means that tire blowouts should likely be a nonfactor, but it will still take a handful of races for things to feel normal on the racetrack.
Tyler Reddick suffered the biggest heartbreak of his Cup career at Auto Club. How soon will he break through into the win column?
After ending last season with flashes of brilliance at Vegas, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and Texas Motor Speedway, it looked like Tyler Reddick had finally put it all together in last weekend’s race at Auto Club. Reddick – who had only led 73 laps in his first 75 Cup Series starts combined – had led 90 of the first 151 laps of last Sunday’s race and looked to be cruising to a top-five finish at the very least. But everything fell apart on lap 152 when he suffered a flat tire, and an ensuing crash with William Byron left him with a 24th-place finish.
On a positive note, it was Reddick’s best race to date, and it showed that he has what it takes to lead and contend for wins in the future. It was the first race of his Cup career where he led the most laps, and just the second race of his Cup career where he led double-digit laps.
In addition to his strong showing at Auto Club, Reddick also looked to be one of the best cars in the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Reddick, who started second, had led 51 of the first 53 laps before being sidelined with a drivetrain failure.
So far, Reddick looks to have figured out the Next Gen car, and it appears that it is now a question of when he will win rather than if.
He certainly has a chance this weekend at Vegas. In the final stage at the track last fall, Reddick was hounding Denny Hamlin for the lead until a poor final pit stop left him with a sixth-place finish. If he can shake off the outcome of last weekend’s race, he might be one of the fastest cars again this weekend.
Erik Jones ran top five all day at Auto Club for Petty GMS Motorsports. Was it the race of his life, or can we expect more from him throughout the season?
For all the hype that he had coming up to the Cup Series, Erik Jones has mostly underwhelmed. Even his freshman season at Richard Petty Motorsports last year was a slight miss, with just six top 10s on the year.
But last weekend, everything clicked. Jones raised eyebrows by qualifying second, and that qualifying run was no fluke. He led 18 laps, had an average running position of fourth, collected 18 stage points and finished third. It was an incredible performance for a driver and team (now known as Petty GMS Motorsports following a merger with GMS Racing) that had been treading water for years. And it begs the question of what Jones can do as a Cup driver.
It’s important to note that this entire season has a bunch of question marks due to the introduction of the Next Gen car. The Richard Childress Racing-affiliated cars appeared to have Auto Club figured out, as Reddick was the dominant car and Jones was right behind him.
It’s possible that Jones may regress to his performances of last season, but it’s also possible that Jones was being held back at Joe Gibbs Racing in a similar vein to Logano, who had just two wins in four seasons at JGR but then blossomed into a star at Team Penske.
Does Jones have the potential to follow the same trajectory? For now, it’s too early to tell. But if these performances continue, we’ll have to reconsider what Jones and Petty GMS can achieve in the future.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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