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.

NASCAR winless streaks

As hard as it is to believe, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards each have some pretty long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winless streaks.
Gordon has gone 58 Cup races without a win. He is a three-time winner at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, site of today's Pepsi Max 400. His last win in Fontana came in 2004.
When asked if he knew what it takes to win at Auto Club Speedway, he said, "I don't know. Ask me after Sunday because it's been a while since we've won one anywhere and this track is a tricky one."
Tricky is a relative term. It seems the driver who can get out front at Auto Club Speedway can break away from he rest of the field. The drivers left behind have to work to get to the front.
Still Gordon insists track conditions can present some challenges.
"It's slick. The grooves move around during the race and we haven't had the success here recently that we've had in the past," Gordon said. "Sometimes it takes fuel mileage. Sometimes it takes having a good car on the restarts. Sometimes pit strategy, but a lot of different things. I'll take a fast car anywhere we go, that always help."
Edwards hasn't won a Cup race in his past 65 starts. He is also a former winner at Fontana, coming in the February race in 2008. He is coming off a sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway last weekend.
"I believe last week was a good test for us," Edwards said. "That Kansas race track is a lot like the Auto Club Speedway. It's going to be a really hot, slippery race on Sunday. It looks like the temperatures are going to be pretty high. I feel like our team has been marching towards this points lead just little bits at a time and I think is an opportunity for us to do that again."

Photo: California native Jeff Gordon is fifth in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup standings after three races. He starts 17th in today's Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Tanner Foust wins Formula Drift season finale at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale

Tanner Foust, a driver from Laguna Beach, beat Vaughn Gittin to win the Formula Drift season finale at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night.
Foust entered the Formula Drift competition dubbed Title Fight as the fifth-seeded driver in the 32-car field.
He beat Jodin LeJeune in the first round, Conrad Grunewald in the second round, Justin Pawlak from Long Beach in the quarterfinals, Darren McNamara in the semifinals before taking out Gittin in the final.
McNamara was the top qualifier. He raced against Michihiro Takatori in the third-place race. McNamara crashed and ended up in fourth place. Takatori completed his run through the course and was awarded third place.
Foust and Gittin raced four times to determine the champion of the seventh and final race of the 2010 Formula Drift season.
Gittin wrapped up the Formula Drift championship earlier in the day when he won his first-round race against Nikolay Konstantinov. Gittin beat Taka Aono, Matt Powers and Takatori to reach the final against Foust.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Formula Drift season finale at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale

Vaughn Gittin won his first Formula Drift championship at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night.
Gittin beat Nikolay Konstantinov in the first round of the Title Fight Formula Drift competition, the final round of the Formula Drift season.
It was the first Formula Drift championship for Gittin, who started his professional career in 2004. He was fifth last year and eighth in 2008 in the Formula Drift standings.
Daijiro Yoshihara entered the final round of the Formula Drift season in second place in the series standings. He earned the third seed in the round of 32 field, but lost to Matt Field, the No. 30 seed, in the first round.
Tanner Foust was the fifth seed and beat Jodin LeJeune in the first round.
More from Irwindale later....

Jimmie Johnson reaches dynasty status

Jimmie Johnson has won four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in a row. He has the lead in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship after three races.
Heading into Sunday's Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Johnson has an eight-point lead over Denny Hamlin.
Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, has already broken the NASCAR record for most consecutive championships. One more and his team will join the likes of the New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens. Perhaps one day his team might surpass the UCLA Bruins and their seven straight NCAA men's basketball titles or the Boston Celtics and their eight NBA championships in a row.
Go to and read what other drivers and owners are saying about Johnson's championship streak.
Photo: No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus, left, directs his team in the garage as four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series defending champion and five-time Auto Club Speedway race winner Jimmie Johnson looks on during practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers take different paths to success

NASCAR owner Joe Gibbs knows his two drivers, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship have completely different styles.
Hamlin is the calculated one, Gibbs said. Busch is more aggressive.
Each has his strengths and both styles have produced wins.
Hamlin has six Cup wins this year and enters the fourth race in the Chase at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday in second place in the Chase standings, only eight points behind Jimmie Johnson, the four-time Cup champion.
Busch is seventh in the Cup standings, 80 points out of first, and has won three Cup races this season.
“We worked extremely hard to get ourselves in position where we could challenge,” Gibbs said. “The 48’s (Jimmie Johnson) the favorite and everybody knows that. Somebody’s going to have to catch them at some point. We have two guys who come at it a little different ways."
Busch won a Cup race in Fontana in 2005. Johnson has the most Cup wins at Fontana with five and has won the past three fall races at Auto Club Speedway.
Not many, not even Gibbs, will admit anyone other than Johnson is the favorite at Auto Club Speedway or the favorite to win the Chase. After four Cup championships in a row, it’s hard to pick against him.Gibbs said he wants both his drivers to come out of Fontana within striking distance of Johnson.
“I think it’s a big race, I think it’s a big race obviously in the Chase,” said Gibbs “I would say for us, when we get past L.A. is where we think we’re going to start hitting some tracks that we’ll run extremely well and have a great history. I think Jimmie Johnson won three out of four. It’s one thing to say that we’re pretty good, I think when you look at it, they’re going to be stout here. I think you got to try and put yourself in the best position you can to try and be up front, have a chance to win it, but also you don’t want them to get another big jump here.”
Gibbs said he thinks the tracks on the second half of the Chase schedule are better suited for his drivers. Hamlin won races at Martinsville Speedway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year.
Johnson won races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway in last year’s Chase.
“I think if you would ask our guys, I think most of them feel like the first part of this Chase was going to be the toughest for us because there are places in there where we have not run well,” Gibbs said. “They were going to be our biggest challenges. For us, we aren’t going to be the favorite this weekend, but I think if we can get ourselves up front, and have a chance to be there at the end, I think it’s a huge deal for us. What you don’t want to have is a points drop to give them a big lead heading in to some of these other races where we think we’re going to be able to do real well.”
When the Chase started, Gibbs said Hamlin was the driver who had the edge over Busch because of Hamlin’s six wins. He’s already won at Martinsville and Texas Motor Speedway, two tracks the Cup Series will visit in the remaining six races of the Chase. But Busch has a tendency to win unexpectedly and win races in bunches.
“The way I describe them is Denny is really calculated and probably from a points standpoint is the guy that if his car’s a 12th he’s willing to take a 12th. Kyle, his general temperament is: I want to try to win, I don’t care what the car is,” Gibbs said. “From that standpoint, that’s kind of the difference in the two. One is more aggressive, the other one is more calculated.”
Which type of driving style will produce a championship has yet to be seen. Gibbs said he won’t know which style is more productive until both their careers are over. While Hamlin has shown he can win races and has put himself in position to challenge for the Cup championship, Busch has one advantage.
“Both of them are focused. I don’t think we’ll know until their careers are over who’s going to have a better chance at winning championships, what driving style helps,” Gibbs said. “I will say this, I think Kyle last year, winning the Nationwide championship, I think when he won that Nationwide championship I think it really helped him toward his Cup effort. He had to take a third, he had to take a fourth, he had to take a fifth on occasion and not get in trouble. I think that process over there really helped him over here.”

Photo: Denny Hamlin (11) and Jimmie Johnson (48) swapped spots in the Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup as Johnson took the points lead by eight (5,503 to 5,495) after finishing second in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400. Hamlin finished 12th. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)