Several NASCAR Cup Series drivers used Sunday’s Auto Club 400 to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash five weeks ago.
The No. 12 Ford driven by Ryan Blaney, who finished 19th, was painted in purple-and-yellow colors. So was the No. 24 Chevrolet driven by William Byron, who finished 15th.
“I was fortunate enough to meet Kobe and this is a great way to honor him, Gianna & all the victims,” Blaney said in unveiling the paint scheme on Twitter last month.
Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 96 Toyota, also wore purple-and-yellow racing gloves; he finished 28th.
Kyle Busch’s disappointment
Defending Auto Club 400 winner Kyle Busch started Sunday’s race 17th in the 38-car field before he reached the leaders late in the race.
But Busch never led a lap and he didn’t have nearly enough to overcome race winner Alex Bowman, who finished nine seconds ahead of Busch.
“Slow, we were slow,” Busch said. “Just didn’t have the speed overall today for some reason. Then, there at the end, [it] felt like the tires were worn out at the last bit of the race.
“Just a frustrating day for us. I just feel like we’re kind of missing it a little bit.”
Wait till next year
Several top drivers still have failed to win a Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.
They include Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Joey Logano. All have made a dozen or more starts in the Auto Club 400.
Bowyer started on the pole Sunday but on Lap 93 had a tire go flat in Turn 1 that forced him to the pits. As he made the long, slow ride to pit road, he damaged the front spoiler on his No. 14 Ford. He ultimately finished 23rd.
Almirola, who finished eighth in the No. 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, said: “I thought we had a top-five car, and we just kept giving away all of our track position. We have to do better.”