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Joey Logano’s crew chief likes new aero rules, drop in downforce

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The force will not be with Todd Gordon, Joey Logano or any other crew chief and driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as much this season.

Downforce, that is.

On Monday’s “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Gordon talked at length about how the new aero rules will impact racing this season in NASCAR’s premier series.

Following last month’s tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Jan. 10-11) and last week’s test at Phoenix Raceway, Gordon said Logano’s No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion showed a dramatic drop in downforce.

“If you look to Las Vegas test to Las Vegas test over two years (2016 vs. 2017), at probably 200 mph, it’s probably 500 pounds of downforce that they’ve taken off the cars,” Gordon said. “It’s a substantial number, but obviously as you go slower, that becomes reduced.

“Middle of the corner, it’s probably about half that because our speeds are in the 150 (mph) range at some places. But it’s still a dramatic change in downforce, but I think it’s made better racing, less dirty air and we’ll continue on that path.”

One of the key differences is in the makeup and size of the rear spoiler. During last year’s low downforce races at Kentucky and Michigan, the rear spoiler was 2.5 inches tall, down from the 3.5-inch spoiler used in other races. This season, for all races, the rear spoiler will be 2.35 inches tall.

“It’s a little different than what we had for low downforce last year in that the spoiler we had at Kentucky and Michigan was taller and narrower than what we got this year,” Gordon said. “Similar amounts of downforce, a little more sideforce with the spoiler being wider than what it was at the low downforce races last year.”

The Phoenix test only heightened Gordon’s optimism about how the new aero rules will come into play.

“I really like it,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think NASCAR did a good job in trying to keep balance in our race cars as they’ve taken downforce away from them. The cars aren’t drastically different in the balance they’ve got.

“When Joey hopped in and drove it, it’s not like ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve got to tighten up a bunch or free up a bunch.’ The mechanical balance that we’ve got to have with the car is still the same, it just slides around more. I think NASCAR did a great job identifying what we need to do there. It’s going to make it interesting.

“I’d say the bigger piece, the ‘Oh my God moment’ was when we went to the Las Vegas test. Joey said, ‘Holy cow, these things continue accelerating down to the corner.’ It used to be when we got to the start/finish line that there’d be so much drag on the car, the car would quit accelerating with so much drag.

“Now that spoiler is smaller and it continues to accelerate all the way down into the corner, it’s a lot of speed that we make into the corner but we’ve also taken some of that corner speed out of them. I think it’ll be good for racing. It showed that last year when we ran it the few times we did and I really look forward to what we’ve got.”

MORE: Changes to NASCAR rulebook – driver biometrics, roof hatch, rear spoiler height

Erik Jones, in his rookie NASCAR Cup season, agrees with Gordon that the new aero rules make for a noticeable impact while driving his No. 77 Toyota Camry for Furniture Row Racing.

“It’s different; it’s a lot different,” Jones said at last week’s test in Phoenix. “This is the second time I’ve driven the low, down-force package. Quite a bit different in general and a little bit more challenging overall to drive than what the Xfinity cars are or the what the previous package was on the Cup cars when I drove it in 2015. Just kind of figuring it out.”

On the flipside is Kevin Harvick. After 35 career Cup wins, all in Chevrolets, the 2014 Cup champ said the biggest difference in the switch to Ford is “the way it sounds.”

MORE: Harvick begins Stewart-Haas Ford era at Phoenix test.

“The drivability of it isn’t that big of a difference,” Harvick said. “But the balance of the car is a bit different than we’ve had in the past – just not one reason for that though.

“I think that’s a little bit where we’re at right now – the balance of the car with the balance of the new aero package.”

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Matt Kenseth wrecks out of Auto Club 400 on late restart

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Matt Kenseth crashed out of the Auto Club 400 on a restart with 16 laps remaining in the race at Auto Club Speedway.

Kenseth had restarted fourth following a caution for an incident involving Gray Gaulding.

Kenseth was in the middle groove exiting Turn 2 when he was tapped from behind by Martin Truex Jr. and slid toward the inside wall, which his No. 20 Toyota hit hard. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was cleared and released from the infield care center.

It is Kenseth’s third DNF in the first five races of the season and his second in as many races. He had four in all of 2016.

Kenseth entered the race 20th in the point standings.

Martin Truex Jr. has commanding performance in Stage 2 win at Fontana

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Martin Truex Jr. has taken over as the most dominating driver in today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

After pole-sitter Kyle Larson won the first 60-lap stage, Truex won Stage 2. During the session, Truex’s car showed supremacy with nearly a seven-second lead in the closing laps of the stage.

Truex has now won three of the last six stages, having captured both stages two weeks ago en route to his overall race win at Las Vegas.

Larson is in second place, followed by Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

There has been just two cautions in the race – both coming in Stage 1.

We now move to the final stage, an 80-lap shootout to determine the race winner.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 of Auto Club 400 at Fontana

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Pole-sitter Kyle Larson is almost one-third of the way to winning Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The California native won Stage 1 of the race at his home-state Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Larson (43 laps) and Martin Truex Jr. (12 laps) have led the majority of the laps during the opening 60-lap segment. That segment will be followed by another 60-lap segment, and then an 80-lap final section for 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile low-banked track.

It was Larson’s first stage win of the 2017 season under the new enhanced scoring format in the NASCAR Cup Series. Larson has finished runner-up in each of the last three races and four of the last five (dating back to the 2016 season finale). He has just one career Cup win, last year at Michigan.

Truex is running second, followed by Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Sixth through 10th are Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.

Each of the top 10 finishers in Stage 1 will earn stage points in the NASCAR Cup standings.

Two incidents of note occurred early in the race, both involving Brad Keselowski:

* On the first lap, Keselowski’s car suffered left rear damage when several cars were involved in an accordion-like wreck. Others involved included Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, but there was no caution called.

* Keselowski continued on without repairing the damage and was spun out on Lap 3 when he was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson, causing further damage to Keselowski’s Ford Fusion. The caution came out for Laps 5 through 7. Johnson claimed there was little or no damage over his team radio, but Johnson has continued to have struggles this weekend. He’s running 32nd, one lap down.

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Bad race start results in damaged cars for Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick

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A bad start by the inside lane at the beginning of the Auto Club 400 resulted in damage to the cars of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman.

Denny Hamlin struggled to get to speed at the drop of the green flag, causing the first few rows of cars to bunch up. It resulted in Newman making contact with Keselowski’s left rear and causing damage. Harvick then ran into Newman as the inside bottlenecked.

On Lap 4, after falling back to 17th, Keselowski was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson on the front stretch, which sent the No. 2 car spinning through the infield grass. Keselowski, the Atlanta winner, was 19th and the first car a lap down when the first stage ended.

During pit stops in the resulting caution, large amounts of tape were put on the front bumper and grille of Harvick’s car and the right-front fender of Newman’s.

With 35 laps left in the first 60-lap stage, Harvick was forced to pit for a flat right-rear tire. He now runs in 28th, a lap down. Newman, who won last week at Phoenix, a lap down in 22nd.

Johnson, a six-time Auto Club winner and the defending winner, was told his No. 48 had damage that could easily be fixed in the pits.  He runs in 20th a lap down. Johnson is winless this season.