FONTANA, Calif. - The memory of basketball legend Kobe Bryant was prominent at the Auto Club Speedway Sunday for the running of the Auto Club 400. This was the 31st race since 1997 at the 2-mile speedway about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.
Fans including many from the Central Coast were in attendance. They saw the Bryant connection on the cars, in what the drivers wore and in the fan zone.
It was all to remember the loss of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. It is still very fresh in the minds of Southern California sports fans.
During driver introductions, Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 95 Toyota was wearing a No. 24 jersey in honor of Bryant. He pointed to the sky as he appeared before the massive crowd of fans loaded up on the track and in the stands prior to the beginning of the race. Earlier in the week Suarez tweeted out a picture of his gloves ad shoes with Bryant's picture on them.
The No. 24 William Byron Chevy had a purple and gold Laker color scheme as did the No. 12 BODYARMOR Ford driven by Ryan Blaney . On the back was painted words for the web site "MambaonThree.org. and the numbers 2 and 24.
No. 2 was Gianna's basketball number.
Around the window of the No. 43 Bubba Wallace Chevy were the numbers 2, 24 and 8.
In the fan zone a giant picture of Bryant with outstretched arms in a Lakers jersey was put up and below it a special board where personal comments could be written. By the middle of the Auto Club 400 race Sunday the board was solid with handwritten messages.
Bryant was also mentioned in the pre-race invocation.
AUTO CLUB 400 NOTES:
26-year old Alex Bowman wins the Auto Club 400, his second win at the NASCAR cup level. He has had 156 starts. This was his first in 2020. Hendrick Motor Sports finding success with the new Chevy design.
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson finished 6th. In his last appearance as a full time cup driver at the Auto Club Speedway he was up front all day, starting second.
Pole sitter No. 41 Clint Bowyer from Stewart-Haas racing (Oxnard ) came in 23rd. Late in the race he had to pit on a green flag run when a tire went down. Other SHR drivers finished in this order: Aric Almirola 7th, Kevin Harvick 9th and Cole Custer 18th.
It was an early ending for No. 95 Christopher Bell from Levine Family Racing (Procore - Carpinteria) who had engine issues and did not complete the race.
The next stop for NASCAR cup series will be Phoenix this weekend.
This was the 31st race at the track beginning in 1997. Previously a 500 mile race, it changed to a 400 mile race in October 2010.