The sun comes up on Auto Club Speedway. The truck thunders down some distant highway, carrying the American Ethanol Chevrolets back east. Crewmen and drivers wake up late to the smell of coffee and chocolate chip cookies.
A few short days ago the number 3 skipped along the backstretch, arcing through the turns to take the Pole for the 400 miler. Austin achieved a bar he has not seen in over 2 years of Sprint Cup competition.
Saturday saw a race dominated by the Gibbs Toyotas. In the closing laps as everyone was saving fuel, trouble struck the leaders. The number 2 Rheem Chevy seemingly renewed with vigor coursed into turn 3, easing up the track and scuffing the wall Austin set his sights on the finish line. The numer 18 NOS Toyota made contact with the left rear quarter, straightening the car Austin took the checkered flag and his first victory of the season.
All was set for an amazing Sunday. The cars came to life and the crew sounded happy and excited, hopeful for the day. Through the first 200 miles the American Ethanol car ran in the top 10, holding some of the best lap times of the race. After minute adjustments the car only seemed tight through the center and loose off.
That’s when the wheels seemingly came off the 3 train. After a pit stop Austin was called in, the crew could not get an accurate reading if the gun had properly torqued out a tire. Slugger called Austin down and explained that the chance wasn’t worth it. While in the pits the crew made a small change to bump stops to help the tight entry. Restarting at the tail Austin fought through traffic until the next caution. A quick stop helped them move forward to 12th.
With 2 laps left the caution came out, Austin requested 4 new tires. During the stop, the rear gun failed on the left side. As the 3 car roared into motion, Austin was halted by the radio. Slugger told him to back up. These are the breaks in the season, sometimes you have to pay the piper. Restarting 24th, Austin would pilot the green car to 24th.
Now, I will be the first to say that bad things happen. In the race world there are thousands of components that can fail at any moment, this was just our race. You can yell and scream but parts fail. Nobody wanted a 24th place finish when the day started, but 24th is better than 40th.
The 3 team worked hard all weekend, they ran well every lap. Even stuck in 24th the car had some of the best lap times on track. The first issue with a possible untorqued tire was likely the fault of the air gun failing. It wasn’t caught because it appeared to do its job other than a few lug nuts which could have been human error.
The team can walk away from the weekend thinking about the bad finish or they can look at it like I do, they ran good and were well on their way to the next top 10. Running good and having a bad result is better than running bad and getting a good result. They were able to show speed all weekend. What more could you ask for after a bad luck finish?
Besides, in the end… The hero always gets the girl.