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They call Kevin Harvick "Mr. 'Where Did He Come From?!'" for a reason.
The Richard Childress Racing driver took the lead from Jimmie Johnson in the final corner to win the Auto Club 400. It is his first win of the 2011 season, his first since last August at Michigan, and his first in his home state of California. In addition, it is the first ever win for Richard Childress Racing at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.
It was a role-reversal, as Johnson held off Harvick last year to win last February's event. This time around, Harvick kept his Chevrolet out of the wall and made the outside pass in turn four to steal the win.
Johnson had passed a dominant Kyle Busch with three laps to go, but their battle allowed Harvick to move into position to snag the victory. Busch was third at the finish, followed by Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. Pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya came home 10th.
Harvick has made it his trademark to win exciting late-race battles. His very first win came at Atlanta in 2001, in his third career Sprint Cup start, by just .006 seconds over Jeff Gordon. He passed Kyle Busch with two laps to go at Richmond in 2006. In one of the best finishes in Daytona 500 history, he edged out Mark Martin to win the 2007 edition of the Great American Race. Last year, he got his first win since that Daytona 500 triumph by passing Jamie McMurray exiting the tri-oval to win at Talladega.
Kyle Busch has less than 30 laps to go to record his second-straight Sprint Cup victory and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.
Tony Stewart runs second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, and Brian Vickers.
Point leader entering the day Kurt Busch has fallen off the lead lap and is all but assured of losing the point lead after a miserable day for his No. 22 team.
There has been no sign of of engine problems for Kyle Busch's Toyota, which has dominated throughout the day. Teammate Denny Hamlin lost an engine earlier in the race and Joey Logano had to change engines this morning.
Polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya has had a less-than-stellar day, never contending for the lead after giving it up to Hamlin in the race's early laps. His hopes of recording his first victory on an oval will have to hold off for another week, at least.
Kyle Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has been flawless so far in today's Auto Club 400, giving him a great shot to sweep the weekend for the second week in a row. There may be cause for concern, however.
After teammate Joey Logano was forced to change engines this morning, outside polesitter Denny Hamlin's day has come to an end due to an engine failure. There have been engine failures across the three Gibbs cars every race of this season.
The JGR engine drama started pre-season, when an engine on a dynometer exploded and caused a fire in the engine shop. Logano blew a motor in the second race of the year, while Kyle Busch blew up at Las Vegas after Hamlin had changed motors.
As Busch leads, Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman run second and third. Stewart won here last fall.
Kurt Busch, the point leader entering today's race, brushed the wall and runs well outside the top-20. It appears that for the sixth consecutive race, dating back to last November at Homestead, the point lead will change hands once again. Jimmie Johnson overtook Hamlin to win the title in that race before crashing in the Daytona 500. Carl Edwards was second in the 500 to take the lead, but he crashed after contact with Kyle Busch at Phoenix. Busch's runner-up effort gave him the point lead, but his aforementioned engine failure gave joint custody of the point lead to Stewart and Kurt, with the tiebreaker going to Stewart based on best finishes of the season. Stewart finished 19th last week in Bristol to give Busch sole possession of first.
The first caution of the Auto Club 400 has just ended, following a Fontana-record 75 laps under green to start the race.
Kyle Busch's Toyota has been out front for most of the event since he overhauled teammate Denny Hamlin to grab the top spot. Hamlin had slipped back as Martin Truex Jr. and Tony Stewart both moved around him.
Jeff Burton, who ran in the top-ten, was caught speeding on his second green-flag pit stop and forced to make a pass through penalty. Busch had caught him to put him a lap down when the caution flag waved.
Defending race and series champion Jimmie Johnson has been a non-factor to this point, getting as high as tenth place during the first run of the race but langushing outside the top-ten otherwise.
Stewart did not stop under the caution flag, so he has assumed the lead for the second time today, after holding it briefly during the last cycle of green-flag pit stops.
Kyle Busch has his sights set on another Nationwide-Sprint Cup sweep, leading after 30 circuits at the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.
Busch overhauled Denny Hamlin, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, to grab the top spot. Hamlin, who started second, took over the lead from polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya.
Brian Vickers is the man on the move. He has driven his Team Red Bull Toyota into the top five and is running lap-times faster than Busch. Vickers of course is making his return to Sprint Cup racing this year after being forced to miss most of 2010 due to blood clots.
Jeff Burton, who has finished 20th or worse in the first four races this season, started seventh but quickly worked into the top-five, just ahead of his Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer.
The race has been green so far, though Tony Raines' Ford erupted in a plume of smoke near the rear of the field.
The engines have fired and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is ready to kick off it's 22nd event at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin occupy the front row. Joey Logano was due to start third, but he'll drop to the rear of the field after an engine change, so Tony Stewart will move up from fifth to share the second row with Regan Smith.
Jimmie Johnson starts 16th. Carl Edwards, who has finished first or second in five of the last six Sprint Cup races, rolls off 18th, while point leader Kurt Busch will start 21st after Logano moves to the rear.
Hendrick Motorsports and Roush-Fenway Racing look to continue their domination of Fontana - they've won ten of the last twelve races between them - while two other powerhouses, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing, each seek their first-ever victory on the 2-mile oval.
It's time to go racing in Fontana!
Despite light rains throughout the morning, today's activites at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California are still on schedule. With the green flag due to come out around 3:16 p.m. Eastern time, here are some of the potential storylines for the Auto Club 400. The race can be seen on FOX 5 Atlanta and other FOX Affiliates, starting with the NASCAR on FOX Pre-Race show at 2:30.
JGR tries to end their drought. Joe Gibbs Racing has won at every venue on the Sprint Cup circuit, with the exception of the Auto Club Speedway. Bobby Labonte came closest, finishing second to Jeremy Mayfield in 2000 and Kurt Busch in 2003. They have prime starting positions to end their Southern California winless streak today: Denny Hamlin occupies the outside of the front row while Kyle Busch - who gave JGR it's seventh-straight Nationwide victory at Fontana yesterday - rolls off eighth. Joey Logano, who was due to start third, will start from the rear of the field after an engine change.
Juan Pablo Montoya goes for his first NASCAR win on an oval. Since Montoya and team owner Chip Ganassi announced in July 2006 that he was returning to the United States to race in the Sprint Cup Series, the question has been, "When (or) will the Formula 1 ace win on an oval?" His two Cup victories have come on the road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, the latter of which was last August, but he has performed well on ovals as well. The pole-sitter for today's event, Montoya very well could stand in victory lane at an oval for the first time since September 17, 2000. That day, he drove one of Ganassi's CART entries to victory at the now-defunct Gateway International Raceway.
Can "The California Kid" win at home? Kevin Harvick turns 36 this December, but that moniker still pops up now and then. The Bakersfield native has never won a Sprint Cup race in his home state - in fact, Fontana is one of four tracks that RCR has never won at - but he had the fastest car late in last year's event. He chased down Jimmie Johnson before tagging the wall with two laps to go.
Is the Dale Earnhardt Jr./Steve LeTarte pairing for real? Fontana will be a great test of just how this season is going to go for the No. 88 team. Since crashing out of the Daytona 500, Junior and company have three-straight finishes of 11th or better. This is one of Earnhardt's worst tracks, if not his worst. A great run today could confirm that NASCAR's favorite son is truly on the rebound.
Read this and weep(er). Fontana is notorious for issues with weepers. Denny Hamlin and Casey Mears both hit water early in the 2008 race and crashed. Kyle Busch had the same issue Friday, wrecking his primary car in the early moments of practice. With today's rains, there is concern for weepers playing havoc with the field.
SB Nation Atlanta will be following these and all the other storylines, so stay tuned! Today's starting grid can, as always, be found at Jayski.com.
Juan Pablo Montoya grabbed his sixth-career Sprint Cup pole Friday, nabbing the top spot for Sunday's Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. The driver of the No. 42 Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet toured the 2-mile oval in 38.99 seconds, for an average speed of 184.653 MPH.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano were second and third. Regan Smith and October Auto Club Speedway winner Tony Stewart rounded out the top five. The top-ten positions were filled out by Unadilla's David Ragan, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, and Mark Martin.
Sprint Cup point leader Kurt Busch was 23rd. Defending race champion and five-time Auto Club winner Jimmie Johnson was 16th.
With only 43 cars attempting the race, there were no DNQs. Casey Mears led the "qualify on speed" contingent with a 25th-placed run in his No. 13 Toyota. Landon Cassill, taking over the No. 09 Chevrolet for Bill Elliott, was next quickest in 28th. The slowest car to complete a lap was Tony Raines, the first driver to take a time, but will start 42nd as J.J. Yeley's No. 46 Chevrolet was unable to fire up for a qualifying run.
Some notes of (possible) interest on the Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California.
With the boys out West, us Easterners get later times than usual for practice, qualifying, and the race. Here are times and networks for all of the televised sessions and events for the weekend activities at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. Races in bold. All times Eastern.
Friday, March 25:
3 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
4:30 p.m NASCAR Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
7:00 p.m NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
Saturday, March 26:
1 p.m. NASCAR Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
2:30 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
4 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice SPEED
5 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
5:30 p.m. NASCAR Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 ESPN
Sunday, March 27:
2:30 p.m. NASCAR on FOX Pre-Race Show FOX
3 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 FOX
The Sprint Cup Series makes its lone 2011 trek to the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California this weekend for the Auto Club 400.
This marks the first year since 2003 that the 2-mile Fontana, California race track is only hosting one event. After five rather maligned years holding the Labor Day Weekend spot, where it succeeded the legendary Southern 500 at Darlington to the chagrin of most NASCAR fans, and two as the fourth event of the Chase, the track's late-summer event is no more.
It also marks the first time that a spring event at Fontana will be 400 miles. Since the facility hosted it's first Cup race in 1997, it's 500-milers have been criticized for being boring, drawn-out affairs that left casual fans plenty of time to knock one or two activities off their weekend to-do list but had diehards fighting from nodding off.
Though the track sits in the shadow of Los Angeles, it has mostly failed to catch on with the locals. A handful of Hollywood stars have attended races at the track and are an annual fixture of pre-race ceremonies, but NASCAR's goal of tapping it's largest race-market has been largely unfulfilled.
The racing at Fontana has gradually improved over recent years, however, and hopes are high amongst track administrators and NASCAR that the shorter distance will promote a more compact, exciting event, as was seen with last October's 400-miler.
When predicting a winner at Auto Club Speedway, two organizations stand above the rest. Hendrick Motorsports and Roush-Fenway Racing each have their own inner-team Fontana favorite, however.
Jimmie Johnson, a native of El Cajon, California, just outside San Diego, has always been right at home at Auto Club Speedway. He is the defending champion of this race and won the track's second event three consecutive times, dominating each race from 2007-2009. In addition, his very first Cup win came at the then-titled California Speedway in April 2002. His five victories account for more than half of owner Rick Hendrick's track-record nine wins. Jeff Gordon has three wins there, including the inaugural race in 1997, while current Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch scored his first-career win at Fontana in September 2005 as driver of Hendrick's No. 5 Chevy.
Just as Johnson dominated the late-summer race, Matt Kenseth had a similar stranglehold on the track's spring event, winning in 2006, '07, and '09. Jack Roush has seven wins at the track, with Mark Martin (1998), Kurt Busch (2003), Greg Biffle (February 2005), and Carl Edwards (February 2008) all visiting victory lane once in addition to Kenseth's three triumph.
Auto Club Speedway is one of only four current tracks that Richard Childress Racing has never won on. Kevin Harvick nearly broke that drought last year, pulling to Johnson's rear bumper before brushing the wall exiting the fourth turn with just a couple of laps remaining. He held on to finish second. After an up-and-down start for Harvick and a miserable open to the season for Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, only one RCR driver - Paul Menard, in his first year with the team - is currently in the top-ten in Sprint Cup points. If one of the four - particularly Burton or Bowyer - could take Childress to Fontana's victory lane for the first time, it could jump-start the organization.
Tony Stewart is the most-recent winner at Auto Club Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver recorded his first Cup win at the track last October, edging out Bowyer and Johnson for the victory.
Only 43 teams are attempting this weekend's race, meaining that no one will fail to qualify. One notable change is that Dawsonville's Bill Elliott, who had driven the No. 09 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, will step aside in favor of Landon Cassill beginning this weekend. Elliott completed his goal of locking the James Finch-owned machine in the top-35 in 2011 owner points, which go into effect after this weekend. The car is currently 26th in points, 31 points ahead of the 36th-placed Tommy Baldwin Racing entry. With NASCAR's new point system, where the margin between each position from second through 43rd is just one point, the 09 likely safe for the remainder of the 2011 season.
See the entire entry list at Jayski.com.
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