Jimmie Johnson finished 21st in the Auto Club 400 and fell to 17th in the points standings.
This was the latest in a long line of disappointing finishes for the defending Cup champion. He has only one top-10 in five starts and an average of 18.8. So far, this team has not shown much power in the early or late stages of a race and his 18 segment points is 11th-best.
Erik Jones incurred a penalty for an uncontrolled tire during a lap-193 caution that dropped him from fifth to 21st. He surged through the field at the end to finish 12th.
Jones would easily have scored a top-10 finish—probably a top-five—if not for the penalty. Until his salary cap increases substantially, he is going to be one of the best values in the game.
Kevin Harvick experienced a cut tire on lap 26 of the Auto Club 400, lost a lap getting it changed, and spent most of the afternoon a lap down to the leaders. He regained his lap with 10 circuits remaining and finished 13th.
Harvick’s Fantasy Power Rankings number will take a hit this week, but he showed a lot of poise and strength at the end of the race to secure that top-15, advancing from 22nd. He should be watched closely in the coming weeks.
Chase Elliott finished 10th in the Auto Club 400, which was his 10th consecutive top-15 finish stretching back to last fall’s Hellman’s 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway.
Tenth was a far cry from the victory that many believed he would score, but consistency is establishing this sophomore in the playoff contention. As soon as pundits ignore him, he will win when it’s least expected.
With his ninth-place finish in the Auto Club 400, Ryan Blaney has earned three top-10s in 2017. None of them have come in consecutive weekends.
Expand the parameters some and Blaney has now finished in the top 10 in every other race during a seven-week span. He is not particularly strong at Martinsville Speedway, but will be a top contender at Texas Motor Speedway, so that pattern could continue.
Kyle Busch finished eighth in the Auto Club 400 after starting the event ninth.
Busch challenged for the win in the closing laps, but pushed a little too hard while battling Kyle Larson. He slipped up out of the groove and was overhauled by a several drivers, but this race was important nevertheless because it allowed him to get back inside the top 10 at Auto Club. He had crash damage in this race last year to finish 25th and that snapped a four-race streak of top-fives.
For the second straight week, Daniel Suarez spent most of the Auto Club 400 outside the top 10, but he surged at the right time and finished seventh.
Unofficially, Suarez logged only about 14 laps in the top 10 of the 202 available. It is too soon to make a sweeping generalization, but the rookie should be watch closely to see if this tendency to move up during restarts is one that he will keep all year.
Jamie McMurray followed his winning teammate Kyle Larson across the line at Auto Club Speedway in sixth.
That was his third top-10 in the past four races and his fourth consecutive top-15. McMurray has not spent as much time in the top 10 during races as his teammate, but in some ways that makes him more attractive because he is flying under the radar screen.