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NASCAR: Saturday Auto Club Notebook

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Sunday, March 17th, 2019

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

 

Kyle Busch vs. Kyle Larson: different approaches, and both are effective

FONTANA, Calif. – Denny Hamlin conjured up a name from “Days of Thunder” when talking about his golf buddy Kyle Larson.

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 iK9 Toyota, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway on March 16, 2019 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The debate was simple. Is it better for a driver to know his race car from the ground up, as Kyle Busch does, or is it better for a driver to leave all the mechanics and setup to his crew chief, as Kyle Larson does.

Busch often suggests specific changes to crew chief Adam Stevens. Larson remains deliberately and blithely uninformed about the workings of the car.

“I’ve talked to both of them pretty often, between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” said Hamlin, who has been Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing for more than a decade. “Larson is definitely the Cole Trickle. He just gets in and drives. He has no idea what’s going on within the car—and that style works, and he’s fast, and he’s really, really talented.

“Kyle Busch, when I hear him talking in debriefs, he’s very downloaded into ‘The right front has this feel. It’s got too much load, not enough load, this, that and the other.’ Some crew chiefs could maybe be overwhelmed with that. I think he’s got a great pairing with Adam. He understands (Kyle) when he’s saying what he’s saying.”

If Busch and Larson are the two extremes, Hamlin considers himself more of a blend of styles.

“I think I’m kind of an in-between guy, to be honest with you,” said the most recent Daytona 500 winner. “There are so many different ways to do it. (Teammate) Martin (Truex Jr.) is kind of an in-between guy as well, but Kyle is certainly more detail-oriented with the car itself.”

KEVIN HARVICK PUT LAST YEAR’S FONTANA ACCIDENT OUT OF MIND

Kevin Harvick has a selective memory—and he’s happy about it.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Ford, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 16, 2019 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When Harvick came to Auto Club Speedway last year, he was riding a three-race winning streak and trying to join the elite four-in-a-row club. But Harvick’s bid to win at the two-mile track didn’t survive the first stage of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Harvick was racing for position against Kyle Larson on Lap 38 when the two cars collided near the exit from Turn 2.

After repairs, Harvick finished the race nine laps down in 35th place. But does the memory of that wreck and the lost chance for four straight victories bother him? Hardly.

“I honestly had forgotten we wrecked until you brought it up,” Harvick told reporters during a question-and-answer session on Friday at Auto Club Speedway. “I could care less. Sometimes I wreck. Sometimes I win. Honestly, I have grown so numb to what people think or the things I have done that I just love going to a race track with a fresh mind-set on a week-to-week basis.

“I’ve learned that what I did last week has no merit in what I need to do this week. I don’t know. I guess I have done this for so long that I just have a short memory. I can laugh those things off.”

This year, Harvick comes to Fontana third in the standings and seeking his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the year. In the first four events of the season, his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing cars have been fast, but not dominant.

“For us, I feel like we have had top-five, top-three cars the last three weeks,” Harvick said. “They’re just not quite winning cars.”

Of course, that could change in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Harvick will start on the front row beside pole winner Austin Dillon. 

BRAD KESELOWSKI TOPS SPEED CHART IN HAPPY HOUR

With drivers exploring a variety of lines through the corners at windswept Auto Club Speedway, Brad Keselowski jumped to the top of the speed chart on his 27th lap in Saturday’s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, leads a pack of cars during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 15, 2019 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Keselowski covered the two-mile distance in 40.759 seconds (176.648 mph), edging Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Daniel Hemric (teammate of pole winner Austin Dillon) for Happy Hour honors by .023 seconds.

Dillon was ninth fastest, as the Richard Childress Racing entries continued to show early-season strength.

Hemric’s Chevrolet was an anomaly in the top seven, which featured six Fords from three different teams. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammates, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano, were fifth and sixth, respectively.

Kevin Harvick, who will start next to Dillon on the front row on Sunday, fought a tight condition in Happy Hour and posted the 17th fastest single lap. Six-time Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson was one spot behind Harvick on the speed chart despite getting the most track time in the session. Johnson ran 52 laps in the 50-minute final practice.

Hemric was fastest in consecutive 10-lap average at 174.940 mph, with Blaney second and Keselowski third.

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