Joshua Wilkinson won the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, his fifth career victory in the Corvega Cup Series, one that has been much anticipated after going winless for two and a half seasons.
The last time Joshua Wilkinson visited victory lane for a points paying race was back in the League’s third season (2013B) at Dover during that season’s Chase for the Championship, in which he would later fall short after a crash at Texas in his bid for the Championship. Since then, the former Roush-Fenway driver struggled to find victory lane, if not for crashes or mechanical issues, the team just lacked speed.
That was 66 races ago. Fast forward to the current season, and things are looking up. After departing Roush-Fenway Racing to join ND Racing at the start of the season, Wilkinson opened the season with a victory in the Corvega Clash, his second victory in that event. Outside of a 32nd place effort in the Daytona 500, Wilkinson has gone on to collect Top-10’s in each race since, with a 2nd at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
That was his best finish this season until the series went to Auto Club Speedway where the #85 team qualified second, missing the Pole by just three thousandths of a second. Wilkinson would lead the race nine separate times for 108 laps, the most of any other driver, and took the lead away from Matthew Adams with five laps to go en-route to victory lane.
The final 60 laps were a thrilling back and forth between Wilkinson, 2nd place finisher Matthew Adams, and their teammates Trent Varner and Brendan Wolkowicz, respectively. The four would swap the lead nearly ten times after the final round of pit stops, and lapped traffic played a significant role. When the leaders caught the lapped car of Tyler Itell with 5 to go, Wilkinson was able to use the #38 as a pick to take the lead away from Adams. Itell also held up Wolkowicz and Varner, who otherwise would have made the finish a four car duel in the closing laps.
The race wasn’t without incident. Pole winner Alexi Alejandra led the opening 10 laps, but on lap 14 got into an incident with Josh Snyder entering turn 1. The pair remained locked together against the outside wall, but with minimal damage both drivers would continue. Snyder was able to rebound to a 17th place effort, but Alejandra wasn’t so lucky, finishing 38th after being swept up in a wreck during the second caution.
The second and final caution period of the race came at lap 66, when Philip von Borries returned to the track after a pit stop, and tagged Tyler Itell’s #38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford. In doing so, Itell spun, and hit the turn 3 wall. Since the caution came during a round of green flag pit stops, many teams stayed out during the caution, opting to take the wave around to gain at least one of their laps back. While drivers were taking the wave around, John Williams was ran into by Britton Baker, and also collected Alexi Alejandra.
Philip von Borries was another comeback story for the weekend. After causing the second caution, he found himself a lap down, but was able to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap. After restarting in 22nd, and without the aid of additional cautions, von Borries found himself in the fifth position when the checkered flag flew on lap 200. Von Borries maintains the series points lead over new second place driver Trent Varner. Race winner Wilkinson is now third, with Brendan Wolkowicz and Hunter Richardson holding onto the Top-5. John Williams, who entered the race in second, falls seven spots to the 9th position, while Las Vegas winner, and last place finisher, Joe Reynolds, falls 9 spots to 24th.
The Corvega Cup Series has an off week next week, but heads to the infamous Eight Bowl Superspeedway for it’s sixth race of the season, where, as we’ve seen in the past, anything can and will happen. How will it shake up the points? Will we see our sixth different winner this season? Find out in two weeks!