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Kyle Busch Keeps Tires On Car, Wins Fontana

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 23 2014

Kyle Busch charged to victory at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kyle Busch held off rookie Kyle Larson to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Busch, who took the lead by passing brother Kurt Busch and Kurt’s boss Tony Stewart on the final lap after a green/white/checkered restart, became the fifth winner in five Cup races in 2014.

It was the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s 29th career Cup victory.

Second was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Larson, who won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Auto Club.

Kurt Busch finished third while Matt Kenseth was fourth and Stewart fifth.

Rounding out the top 10 were Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Carl Edwards.

Larson, looking nothing like a rookie, earned Busch’s admiration.

“Man, what a shoe that boy is,” Busch said. “If he would have gotten alongside of me, it would have been a whale of a race. I drove off into Turn 3, but I heard ‘Car inside’ on my left.”

Tires – specifically their wear and deflating – was the story of the day. They were blowing like crazy. And in the end, they would determine the winner of the race.

Jimmie Johnson was being pushed for the lead by teammate Jeff Gordon with 33 laps to go when a the caution flag waved. That tightened up the field and set up a key restart with 26 laps to go.

Gordon jumped ahead of Johnson when the race went green but Johnson moved back to the lead coming out of Turn 2.

Three laps later, Johnson extended his lead on Gordon to over a second.

But Gordon, whose car was fast on extended runs for most of the day, began moving back in on Johnson. With 20 to go, the difference was .33 seconds. Nobody else was within 4 seconds of Johnson.

But that is where Gordon’s charge stalled. Johnson began pulling away with 17 to go and with 12 laps to go, his lead was 1.7 seconds. With 10 to go, the lead was over 2 seconds and Johnson apparently could breath easy.

Or not.

With seven laps to go, Johnson blew a tire.

“We did everything we could to win the race today,” Johnson said, “unfortunately something out of our control let us down. I had that feeling I thought we were going to win here at my home track once again and just a bummer it didn’t work out.”

It was then Gordon’s turn to breath easy. Or not. With just over two laps to go, Clint Bowyer blew a tire to bring out a caution.

Gordon and most of the contenders pitted for, yes, tires.

“They gave me the most incredible race car today and it is just so disappointing for it to end like that,” he said. “I hate the caution came out. I hate Goodyear was not prepared today for what happened. They are so good at what they do and that is just uncalled for. We were having a tire issue there on that last long run and I just backed off. When I saw the No. 48 had issues I was just hoping we would make it to the end and I was just going as slow as I possibly could trying to maintain the lead and cars were just blowing tires left and right all around me. It’s unfortunate that was happening. But most importantly that the caution came out because we did not need that restart.”

Landon Cassill stayed out and took the lead but with old tires, but was doomed.

Kurt Busch took just two tires and came out of the pits first and restarted on the low side.

But he was passed by Stewart and then both were passed by Kyle Busch and Larson to set up the final finishing order.

Kyle Busch said taking four tires on the final stop was key.

“I knew four tires was going to win the race,” Kyle Busch said, “so I’m glad (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) called that,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “There was some great racing up front between Tony and Kurt there. It was really interesting to watch that.

“I went into Turn 1 thinking I’m going to run the middle and then Tony started sliding off the bottom and I’m like, ‘Nope, not having it.’ I had to get some brake and cut my car to the left and drove underneath him and got him cleared off Turn 2, and I was able to keep Kyle Larson behind me.”

(This story will be updated shortly)

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 23 2014
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