Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stewart wins at Fontana for first time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career

Tony Stewart won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday. He won the Pepsi Max 400 leading the final 11 laps of the race that included a two-car crash on the frontstretch that took out Kurt Busch and David Ragan.

Stewart posted his 11th top-10 finish in 19 Cup races at Auto Club Speedway.

It was a good day for Stewart in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings as well. He moved from 10th to fifth place and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 107 points after four races in the 10-race Chase playoffs.

“This is what they pay me to do,” Stewart said. “I mean, I’m supposed to do this every week, or at least try. You know, it’s a situation where we were at and as many points as we were out and have been out since day one, we have the flexibility to just look forward and not worry about if we take a gamble and it doesn’t work.”

As good a day as it was for Stewart, it was an even better day for Johnson. He finished third and saw his three-race winning streak in fall races snapped at Auto Club Speedway.

But Johnson was able to extend his lead over Denny Hamlin, who finished eighth, and took another step toward an unprecedented fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in a row.

Johnson entered the race at Auto Club Speedway with an eight-point lead over Hamlin. He has a 36-point edge of Hamlin with six races to go in the Chase.

Seven drivers were within 80 points of Johnson in the Chase standings before the race in Fontana. Three drivers are within 85 points of Johnson after Fontana.

Kevin Harvick maintained his hold on third place in the Chase standings. He finished seventh at Fontana and is 54 points out of first.

Jeff Gordon actually made up some ground. He finished ninth, moved up a spot to fourth place in the Chase standings, and trails Johnson by 85 points.

It was not such a good day for four of the Chase drivers, three of them from Roush Fenway Racing. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle all finished 30th or worse. Kenseth, Edwards and Biffle, the Roush Fenway Racing trio, fell to the bottom of the Chase standings.

Biffle was the first to withdraw after his engine failed early in the race. He pulled off the track on lap 40 and was not able to return to the race. He finished 40th.

Edwards was the next to go with an ignition problem midway through the race. He took his car to the pits for repairs and returned, but he was down 15 laps.

“It’s definitely out of my control, but my guys build great engines,” Edwards said. “Like I said, there are so many moving parts in a race car.  You’ve got to run well enough to absorb these kind of days. We’ve run really well. We’ve got six races left and we’re 162 points back, so over six races that’s not a lot of points per race, so I think we can do it. We just have to keep digging.”

Kenseth was the last car on the lead lap and led the twice for 29 laps, but finished in 29th.

“It was up and down,” Kenseth said. “I felt like we ran really good before the track got rubbered up and, kind of like Kansas, we lost the handle there in the middle pretty bad. Jimmy and Chip made some good adjustments and really brought the car to life two or three runs from the end, but on the second-to-last restart I could feel the engine wasn’t running right. I had something wounded that was getting ready to break, so I just held on to what we could.”

Busch blew his engine on lap 155 and had to withdraw from the race. He finished 35th and dropped from seventh to ninth in the Chase standings.

“Just engine failure, apparently knocked us out of the race,” Busch said. “They guys did a great job there adjusting on the car – getting it a lot better for us. We had something there coming back forward and got to fifth, and it just blew up. Real unfortunate, but it is what it is.”

Clint Bowyer had a bittersweet second-place finish. He finished one spot ahead of Johnson and led four times for 40 laps, but despite the strong finish, he only gained five points in the Chase standings. He entered the race in Fontana in 12th place, 252 points out of first. He leaves Fontana in 12th place, 247 points out of first.

Mark Martin led a race-high 41 laps and finished sixth.

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