This time there would not be another hard-charging comeback by Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, the record six-time winner at Auto Club Speedway and defending winner of the Auto Club 400, had to start near the rear of the 39-car field Sunday after he failed to qualify because he crashed his practice car.
Johnson climbed back to about mid-field but not much higher in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished 21st.
And on Lap 155, he found himself spun around in his pit stall and facing the pit wall after swerving to avoid hitting Martin Truex’s Toyota during a pit stop.
“We definitely didn’t have the fastest car out there today,” said Johnson, who won his seventh championship in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the final race last year.
“I think we used up all the good luck in the season finale last season,” he said. “We battled all day long to get back on the lead lap, but we have got some work to do.”
Dale Earnhardt’s day
Johnson teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 18th but likewise found himself at the rear of the field starting the race.
Earnhardt climb back through the field and flirted with the top 10 but finished 16th in his 600th Cup start.
“We will keep grinding,” Earnhardt said on Twitter.
Earnhardt is still looking for his first top-10 finish this season.
Cllint Bowyer remains positive
Clint Bowyer’s third-place finish reinforced the veteran’s enthusiasm about moving to Stewart-Haas Racing this year to drive the No. 14 car formerly driven by team co-owner Tony Stewart.
“It’s just amazing to be a part of it at this point in my career,” said Bowyer, 37.
He qualified 17th but raced in the top 10 for much of the day.
“It’s a confidence thing right now, a momentum-builder and we’re getting closer [to a win],” Bowyer said. “To come home with the wild finish and everything that it was, we’ll take it.”
The talent of NASCAR’s crop of young drivers was on display as seven of the top 12 finishers are 26 or under.
They included not only race winner Kyle Larson, 24, but Joey Logano (who finished fifth), Daniel Suarez (seventh), Ryan Blaney (ninth) and Chase Elliott (10th).