Kyle Busch holds off Kyle Larson in Fontana G-W-C finish

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For the second consecutive day, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson dueled for victory at Auto Club Speedway. But this time, it was Busch who emerged with the win in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway after a green-white-checkered finish.

Lining up sixth for the final restart but armed with four fresh tires, Busch quickly charged to third by the white flag and then got past Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch for the lead.

But Larson, who had lined up ninth on the restart, followed Busch past the two Stewart-Haas Racing teammates as well and tried to reel in “Rowdy” in the final two corners.

It was not to be however, as Busch held on to claim his first Cup win of the season and effectively earned his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup later this fall. He also became the fifth different winner in as many races so far in 2014.

“What do you expect when you have a green-white-checkered finish and everybody’s gotta come down pit road and get four tires on,” Busch told Fox Sports in Victory Lane. “That right there, that’s a ‘Days of Thunder’ thing right there – ‘What do you mean? There’s two laps to go! Everybody’s gonna pit, Cole.’ Unbelievable day.”

The lead-up to the G-W-C finish started with seven laps to go. Jimmie Johnson had held off a charge from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and appeared set for his sixth career win at Fontana.

But he then suffered a left-front tire failure on his car, and his misfortune was the start of multiple tire failures in the final laps that impacted Brad Keselowski (left rear), Marcos Ambrose (left rear), and finally, Clint Bowyer, whose tire issue caused him to spin out and trigger the caution with two laps left.

Gordon subsequently brought the leaders to the pits for fresh tires, but Kurt Busch was able to win the race off pit road with a two-tire stop. He lined up second behind Landon Cassill, who stayed out on old tires to inherit the lead.

Busch, Paul Menard and Tony Stewart were second, third and fourth for the restart, all of them having taken two tires. But fifth and sixth place in line – Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch – took four tires. Larson lined up in ninth.

Cassill quickly fell into the pack and Busch and Stewart were able to keep the top two spots at the start of the final lap – only for the two Kyles to take control and battle for the win themselves.

“I don’t know where everybody went but I ended up in second there and was right on [Busch] down the backstretch,” Larson said. “It went through my mind – ‘I might sweep the weekend here!'”

Nonetheless, it’s been a great two days for the 21-year-old phenom, who won yesterday’s Nationwide Series race by defeating both Busch and Kevin Harvick.

Kurt Busch wound up third at the stripe, followed by Kenseth in fourth, and Stewart in fifth. Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Carl Edwards rounded out the Top 10 finishers.

As for Johnson, he finished 24th after leading a race-high 104 laps.

“We did an awesome job as a race team,” Johnson said. “We did everything we could to win the race today. Unfortunately, something out of our control let us down.

“But I had that feeling, I thought I was going to win at my home track once again, and it’s just a bummer it didn’t work out.”

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Auto Club 400 – Unofficial Results

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.