SB Nation Atlanta
Stay connected for news and updates Follow @sbnatlanta
Like us to subscribe
For the second time this season, it was a Smoke Show in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as Tony Stewart won the rain-shortend Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. It is Stewart's 46th-career win and second at the 2-mile oval in Fontana, California.
Kyle Busch, who led most of the race before Stewart took control shortly before halfway, finished second ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards. Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson - who blew up under the caution flag but coasted to pit road - rounded out the top-10.
Polesitter Denny Hamlin tracked Stewart down under the last green flag run before Stewart pulled away until the rain. Crew chief Darian Grubb, who worked with Stewart in his 2011 championship season, called Hamlin to pit road anticipating the race restarting. It did not, and Hamin wound up with a twelfth-place finish. Johnson likewise pitted but when his engine failed, he was saved by the rain instead of beaten by it.
For the full unofficial results, visit NASCAR.com.
The red flag is out at Auto Club Speedway of Southern California after 128 of 200 laps in the Auto Club 400, with Tony Stewart leading the race. Denny Hamlin was second, about a second behind Stewart when the rain hit, but he pitted under the caution and relinquished his runner up spot.
Kyle Busch, who dominated the race before giving way to Stewart, sits second ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards. Greg Biffle is sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson's engine appeared to blow under the caution flag, but his Chevy was able to coast around to the pit road without losing positions. Hamlin is scored in the 12th position.
One driver who went from a contender to afterthought in a hurry was Jeff Gordon. His Chevrolet was in the top-five and running lap times comparable to Stewart when he hit pit road for his last green flag pit stop. Gordon's fueler was unable to get the gas can disengaged before Gordon pulled away and fell outside the pit box, bringing on a penalty for taking equipment out of the pit box. He sits 26th and is looking at yet another mediocre finish to open the 2012 season.
If the race does not resume, it will be Stewart's 46th-career win and his second of the season after he won at Las Vegas earlier this month. He previously won at Fontana in October 2010, which stood as his last victory until he took the checkered flag at Chicago to open the Chase last fall. He proceeded to win five of the last ten races and will have won seven of the last fifteen.
Kyle Busch has led all but four of the opening 75 laps at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, all of which have been run under the green flag. Tony Stewart runs second, followed by polesitter Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, and defending race winner Kevin Harvick complete the top-10.
Rain is within ten miles of the race track, and the race's midpoint is less than 25 laps away. Once the rain hits the track, it will likely end on-track activity for the day. If Busch - or a fast-closing Stewart - reaches lap 100 before it rains, the race will be official and the event will end if NASCAR cannot get the track dried. If the rain hits before halfway, the race will resume tomorrow.
The race has run caution free thus far, allowing the field to close in on the race's mid point. Busch is trying to give team owner Joe Gibbs his first win at Auto Club Speedway, as well as the first for Toyota at the home track for their US headquarters. Busch did win in 2005 for Rick Hendrick, his first victory in the Cup Series.
Rain likely will play a role at some point in today's Auto Club 400 at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, but the 200 lapper will at least see its scheduled green flag shortly after 3 p.m. Eastern time on FOX.
The last two years, this race has come down to a duel between California natives Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson claimed the 2010 race, his track-record fifth win at Fontana, but Harvick got revenge last year with a last-turn pass. Each season, Fontana was the first victory for both drivers, and with neither having claimed the first four races of the season, they could be primed for yet another duel.
Here are some more stories to watch in today's race.
Can Joe Gibbs Racing finally end their Cup drought at Auto Club Speedway? Saturday, Joey Logano scored the eighth-consecutive Nationwide Series win for the team owned by the former football coaching legend, but they have never won a Cup race. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch share the front row for today's event and have been quick in practice, while Logano also starts within the top-10. This is certainly their best shot yet to get a Sunday victory in Southern California.
Can Kasey Kahne stop the bleeding? Anything resembling a decent day would have to be considered a success for Kahne, who has had a nightmare start to the 2012 campaign. He has wrecked in each of his first four starts for Hendrick Motorsports, his worst start to a season since 2005. Kahne has proven he has the talent to contend for victories and Hendrick is sitting on 199 victories, a testament to their ability to provide race-winning vehicles, so it is more a matter of when - not if - he turns things around. The winner of the September 2006 race at Auto Club could very well do that today.
Can Tony Stewart continue his recent dominance on intermediate tracks? Since the 2011 Chase opened at Chicagoland, Stewart has claimed four wins on 1.5-mile race tracks. Fontana is a half-mile longer but along with its big brother in Michigan races very similarly to those venues. Fontana can get slick, and Stewart is notorious for his prowess on tracks lacking grip. He has one Cup win at the track, in October 2010, and also won a Nationwide race there in 2008.
If Harvick or Johnson don't win, does another Californian step up? Nine times in 22 races, a California-born racer has claimed the checkered flag in Fontana. Jeff Gordon has three victories and could use a rebound performance after a so-so start to the year with terrible results in Daytona and Bristol. Los Gatos native A.J. Allmendinger, meanwhile, has never recorded a Sprint Cup win. Much like Kahne, he has struggled for results in his opening races with the legendary Roger Penske and a great run Sunday - or even a victory - in his home state could go a long way towards jumpstarting his season.
There will be plenty of other stories to follow in today's race, and SB Nation Atlanta will have them all covered, so strap in, hold on, and let's go racing!
The green flag for the Auto Club 400 is scheduled to drop at 3:16 pm ET on Sunday but that is highly unlikely given the weather forecast for Sunday in Fontana.
The race is all but certain to face delays or being rescheduled. Due to the 2-mile size of the track, drying could take a significant amount of time. To make matters worse, once the rain arrives, conditions are expected to worsen moving into the evening hours.
Denny Hamlin is on the pole for today's race and will start alongside Kyle Busch. Mark Martin, Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne round out the top five. Kevin Harvick beat Jimmie Johnson in one of the 2011 season's most exciting finishes in last year's running of the race.
Race Date/Time: Sunday, March 25, 2:30 p.m. ET
Location: Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, California
Radio: Motor Racing Network
For more news and notes on NASCAR head on over to SB Nation's NASCAR racing page.
Joe Gibbs Racing has been shut out of victory lane in the previous 22 races at the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California, but that streak could end in Sunday's Auto Club 400 - if Friday's qualifying is any indication.
Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch swept the front row in their Gibbs-prepared Toyota Camrys, Hamlin, who sat on the pole in October 2009 but crashed after a brain-fade on a mid-race restart, toured the 2-mile track in 36.626 seconds, more than two tenths of a second quicker than the .807 that Busch and Mark Martin (in another Toyota) ran. Busch beat Martin via the tie-breaker (owners points) to get the outside front row spot. Point leader Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne likewise tied at a .812 and round out the top-five in the starting grid.
Ryan Newman was sixth, with defending race-winner Kevin Harvick seventh. Joey Logano was eighth in the third Joe Gibbs Racing entry, while Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson round out the top-10.
Three drivers missed the show, with Timmy Hill failing to make his fourth race in five attempts and Robby Gordon and Joe Nemechek also going home early. Nemechek, who won the pole for the inaugural event at Fontana in 1997 and has long been known for qualifying prowess, is a bit of a surprise.
Among the drivers making the show on time were Mike Bliss, in the inaugural appearance for Randy Humphries' self-owned effort, and Peachtree City's Reed Sorenson in Stacy Compton's No. 74 Chevrolet.
For the entire starting grid, visit Jayski.com.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual trip to the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California this weekend. Can Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson recreate their epic duels of the last two seasons?