Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart. Photo by Anne Profitt
TONY STEWART/No.14 Chevrolet won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 race Sunday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway. The cars were running five wide coming out of Turn Two, positions swapping, and it was a wild last two laps after the late race caution/restart. The average race speed was 131.953 mph

This was Stewart’s first Auto Club win, and the thirty-ninth of 422 Cup races. He lived up to his nickname, Smoke, with a spectacular wide-flying victory doughnut.

Stewart heaped praise on his Stewart-Haas team, which he co-owns with MARGARET and GENE HAAS, as well as Hendrick Engines and Chassis. “They refuse to give up, they refuse to back down. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing here. When I woke up this morning, I thought if we had a top ten day, that was going to be good, and if we ran in the top five today, that was going to be an outstanding day.”

Stewart was short and to the point with his “No” answer to the question about worrying about points while racing.

CLINT BOWYER/No.33 Chevrolet passed four-time Sprint Cup champion JIMMIE JOHNSON on the last lap to finish runner-up, and their gap was only 0.0045 seconds at the checkered flag.

Fourth was KASEY KAHNE/No.9 Ford, followed by Stewart’s teammate, RYAN NEWMAN/No.39 Chevrolet.

MARK MARTIN/No.5 Chevrolet let the most laps-41, and finished sixth, followed by Hard Luck HARVICK, as in Kevin/No.29 Chevrolet.

Harvick had a long pitstop, which must have just piled on his frustration from Saturday afternoon’s Nationwide Series race when at least one bad pitstop cost him the race. Harvick was not a happy camper and gossip whirled in Pit Lane and elsewhere regarding the future of that pit crew. The speeding ticket Harvick got in the Cup race which dropped him from sixth to twenty-eighth, didn’t add to his humor. But he persevered and finished seventh.

Eighth through tenth were DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota-who started at the back due to a transmission change; JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet, and DAVID REUTIMANN/No.00 Toyota.

Gordon the driver is fourth in the points, while Gordon the owner is first in the points with his driver, Johnson.

Pole sitter JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet led the first fourteen laps, before dropping back to finish seventeenth. He turned the fastest race lap of 179.699 mph on Lap Two.

Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer. Photo by Anne Profitt
Bowyer’s spoke to the question regarding his close/good finish without his Crew Chief-SHANE WILSON, who has been suspended for four races. “I’ve never been without a crew chief before, and Steve filled in well. That speaks volumes about Shane’s preparation back at the shop.

“I passed Jimmie and that felt good. Other than that, I’m ready to go home after two weeks on the road.”

Bowyer said it was a good question when asked about it “seeming like every week his cars get taken back to Concord (NASCAR R&D Center), a debris flag being thrown while he’s leading and is there a point being made there?” Johnson joked “Have fun with that one.” Bower was succinct and slow to answer “No.”

Later NASCAR announced Bowyer’s Chevrolet engine as well as four others were going to Concord, plus two cars. Winner Stewart’s Chevrolet car and engine were on the list, as well as that of PAUL MENARD’s No.16 Ford. The other engines on the NASCAR list belong to LANDON CASSILL/No.64 Toyota, who DNF for a P40; and JASON LEFFLER/No.66 Toyota, who retired for a last place finish.

Stewart’s victory clinched the thirty-fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturer’s Championship for Chevrolet. Seven Chevys won 16 Cup races this year. Half the 12 Chase drivers race the red bowtie.

Several Chase drivers had hopes dashed at Fontana, added to the already dashed Bowyer, who recently lost 150 Driver points for a technical difference of opinion between NASCAR, his team and the R&D Center.

Three Sunday drivers didn’t have good luck. GREG BIFFLE/No.16 has his Roush Yates engine fail and he retired, dropping two Chase positions. Then CARL EDWARDS/No.60 had issues with his and lost 14 laps getting resolution – losing three Chase positions. In the last few laps DAVID RAGAN/No.6 Ford and KURT BUSCH/No.2 Dodge came together putting out another caution, and Ragan was listed as DNF; but Busch recovered to finish twenty-first. Busch said Ragan “washed up the track and pushed us into the wall.”

Busch’s brother, KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota had a long pit stop mid-race and then retired in the garage with an apparent engine failure. When asked could he put this disappointment in perspective, blunt as ever Rowdy simply said “No. Not really. On to another year.” Regarding championship chances, he said “Over.” He dropped two positions, to ninth.

Fourteen drivers swapped the lead 23 times. Winner Stewart led three times for 29 laps.

Next year Auto Club Speedway will only run one Sprint Cup race – 29 March 2011. It won’t run a Chase race in the fall, and at least one driver, Johnson, said he was sorry. “I hate that it’s leaving and I wish I could have ended on a victory. There’s a lot of factors involved and it’s not just one thing.”

When asked if Sunday’s exciting finish would help attendance problems at the track, Johnson said “I really don’t know how to comment.” He did say “Ideally you want to take your ten best tracks to The Chase; and if you look at the numbers, this is one of our good numbers.”

The weather was in the mid nineties with a stiff breeze to take off the edge and keep the air quality clean and clear, so the San Gabriel Mountains were still very visible.

The crowd count was reported at 70,000.

Points Standings
1 – JIMMIE JOHNSON/Chevrolet 5673
2 – DENNY HAMLIN/Toyota 5637
3 – KEVIN HARVICK/Chevrolet 5619
4 – JEFF GORDON/Chevrolet 5588
5 – TONY STEWART/Chevrolet 5566
6 – KURT BUSCH/Dodge 5533
7 – CARL EDWARDS/Ford 5511
8 – JEFF BURTON/Chevrolet 5496
9 – KYLE BUSCH/Toyota 5486
10 – GREG BIFFLE/Ford 5458
11 – MATT KENSETH/Ford 5432
12 – CLINT BOWYER/Chevrolet 5426