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Smoke And The Water: Stewart Wins In Fontana

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 25 2012

Thanks to rain in Fontana, Tony Stewart and Steve Addington have won two of five races together in 2012. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)


Defending series champion Tony Stewart, with an assist from a rain storm in normally sunny Southern California, got the victory in the Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

The victory was the second of the year for owner/driver Stewart, coming just two week after he won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was Stewart’s 46th career victory and second at the 2-mile flat  Auto Club oval.

Kyle Busch, who led a race-best 80 laps, finished second in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, finished third while Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick finished fourth in a Chevy.

Fifth was Carl Edwards in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

Denny Hamlin started from the pole but lost the lead to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch a lap into the race.

Busch held his lead on the track until he was caught and passed by Stewart on lap 85.  Stewart kept the lead on the track and had it when rain brought out the caution flag on lap 123.

Six laps later, the red flag was waved and the field was ordered into the pits.

“I mean,” Stewart said, “you hate to have them end with rain like that. But I’ve lost some that way. The good thing is we didn’t back into the lead because we stayed out, the leaders came in. I mean, we were leading the thing and had earned that spot. Proud of that.”

“Stewart was better in traffic,” Busch said. “He had to deal with that most of the day. Wasn’t the time in the race to push the issue. Let Stewart go, he got by. Montoya gave me the spot. Trying to run back with Stewart’s lap times, that’s when I was trying too hard, too close to the fence, got myself in trouble there, caught the right side a little bit.

“Overall glad that the rains came when they did, as heavy as they were, we were able to go home with a second-place finish.

Points leader Greg Biffle finished sixth while Stewart’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Ryan Newman was seventh.

Behind him were Ryan Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who got a major break when the rains came as his car had engine problems just before the race went red.

Hamlin came out on the wrong end of a decision to pit when the race went yellow for the rain. He was running second at the time. He would end up with a 12th-place finish.

He insisted he made the right move by pitting.

“I feel we took the safe move,” Hamlin said. “The risky move was to stay out. If this goes back green, Tony (Stewart) is going to have to restart way in the back. It’s going to really hurt your chances of winning the race. For us to give up some positions, it looks like we’ll give up about nine positions and finish 11th, or we’ll have a good chance to win it if it goes back green.”

Others, like Earnhardt, thought staying out was the safe move.

“I was surprised that everyone didn’t stay out,” Earnhardt said. “I was pretty certain by watching the weather and studying the weather all night long and all day today that once it began to rain, it wasn’t going to stop. I was surprised that some guys came down pit road and gave up track position.”

Biffle heads to Martinsville for the next race seven points ahead of Harvick. Earnhardt is third in points, 17 behind Biffle.

“I like this track but the last few times here we’ve been off just a tick,” Biffle said. “Today, I didn’t keep up with the track. I was a little bit too tight. I thought we were getting closer at the end because we started closing in on the 29, and then he got his car going. If they would have gotten the track cleaned off and going again, I think we would have had a chance because we’re good on a cold, green track. When it gets hot and slick, we’re not as good as they are.”

Brad Keselowski, the winner of last weekend’s race at Bristol, finished 17th.

“We had a good car to start the race,” Keselowski said, “but it just kept getting looser as we ran. The track kept getting slicker and I lost time on entry and exit because of it. We were in position for a decent finish and I sped down pit road. That put us a lap down and the rain kept us from racing for the Lucky Dog.”

Complete results of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup Series race:

1. (9) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 129, $323,450.

2. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129, $259,698.

3. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 129, $170,165.

4. (7) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 129, $181,551.

5. (12) Carl Edwards, Ford, 129, $161,056.

6. (4) Greg Biffle, Ford, 129, $119,590.

7. (6) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 129, $146,448.

8. (13) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 129, $131,504.

9. (23) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 129, $138,898.

10. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 129, $142,201.

11. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 129, $149,771.

12. (3) Mark Martin, Toyota, 129, $96,355.

13. (11) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 129, $122,469.

14. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 129, $102,105.

15. (25) AJ Allmendinger, Dodge, 129, $134,330.

16. (15) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 129, $138,866.

17. (24) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 128, $122,096.

18. (17) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 128, $125,250.

19. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 128, $98,705.

20. (22) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 128, $114,163.

21. (29) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 128, $118,388.

22. (19) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 128, $127,180.

23. (33) Casey Mears, Ford, 128, $102,163.

24. (8) Joey Logano, Toyota, 128, $95,280.

25. (28) Aric Almirola, Ford, 128, $124,016.

26. (21) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 128, $130,566.

27. (18) David Reutimann, Chevrolet, 127, $85,230.

28. (26) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 127, $104,188.

29. (40) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 127, $101,777.

30. (41) David Gilliland, Ford, 127, $85,480.

31. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 127, $83,280.

32. (16) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 126, $111,613.

33. (34) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 126, $80,355.

34. (42) Ken Schrader, Ford, 125, $88,155.

35. (36) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 125, $79,930.

36. (31) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 124, $106,125.

37. (30) Josh Wise, Ford, Vibration, 51, $79,555.

38. (32) Michael McDowell, Ford, Vibration, 40, $79,307.

39. (20) David Stremme, Toyota, Rear Gear, 36, $75,855.

40. (39) Mike Bliss, Toyota, Transmission, 18, $75,675.

41. (35) Scott Riggs, Chevrolet, Vibration, 17, $75,505.

42. (43) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Vibration, 6, $75,415.

43. (37) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, Engine, 1, $83,769.

Race Statistics

Average Speed: 160.166 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 36 minutes, 39 seconds.

Margin of Victory: Caution.

Caution Flags: 1 for 5 laps.

Lead Changes: 9 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin 1; Kyle Busch 2-67; D. Hamlin 68; J. Gordon 69; J. Johnson 70; Kyle Busch 71-84; T. Stewart 85-104; J. Johnson 105; J. Gordon 106-107; T. Stewart 108-129.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 2 times for 80 laps; T. Stewart 2 times for 42 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 3 laps; J. Johnson 2 times for 2 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 2 laps.

Top 12 in Points: G. Biffle – 195; K. Harvick – 188; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 178; T. Stewart – 177; M. Truex Jr. – 175; M. Kenseth – 173; D. Hamlin – 171; C. Bowyer – 157; J. Johnson – 156; R. Newman – 155; P. Menard – 148; C. Edwards – 146.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 25 2012
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