Tony Stewart scored his second win in the first five races of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Sunday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Dating to the start of last year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, Stewart has now reeled off seven wins in the last 15 races.
“I turned 40 last year and I don't think I'm losing anything with age,” Stewart said. “Really, it starts with all of our guys, and especially here they were great.”
Stewart was referring to his pit crew on his Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet, who had to complete perfect pit stops all under green in the 129 laps of running before the race was called due to rain. The first 122 laps ran caution-free before the rain began to fall.
When the rain did hit, several drivers did peel off, including Denny Hamlin from right behind Stewart. Stewart faked out some of his competitors with a dive to the inside, and then a swing back on track as others peeled into the pits. Hamlin, the polesitter, fell to 11th.
Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 80 laps, finished second. The top two drivers led 122 of the 129 laps, although Busch admitted he had nothing for Stewart and reckoned his finish flattered his car, which lost some of his early speed following a brush with the wall. His JGR teammate Hamlin was classified 11th after his stop.
"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," said Busch. "Overall, I'm glad that the rains came when they did.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his strong start to the season with third, again best of the Hendrick Motorsports contingent.
“Tony had an awesome car,” Earnhardt said. “A couple others were pulling away from me. We prepared for a tightened-up track.”
Earnhardt also stayed out while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson pitted ahead of him. The five-time champion emerged in 10th place after his stop and was lucky the race was halted as his car developed a suspected oil leak while running behind the pace car.
Their teammate Jeff Gordon was a top-five contender as well but had to serve a pit road penalty under green after motoring from his box while the refueling can was still attached to his car, during his third stop of the day.
Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick finished fourth after enjoying an interesting battle with Stewart early on, as the eventual winner made his way through the field.
Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards seemed to be gaining momentum as the race progressed but was only able to move up to fifth place by the time it rained. Kurt Busch stayed out during the caution as well and got his first top-10 finish for Phoenix Racing.
Roush's Matt Kenseth finished the race in 13th but was put back to 16th as the last car on the lead lap, due to a pit road penalty caused by an uncontrolled tire from his crew during his last stop under caution.
The series goes back to the shortest track on the circuit, the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway, next week. Harvick edged past Earnhardt at the end of last year's spring race there.
Results - 129 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 1h36m39.000s
2. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 3.556s
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 5.767s
4. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 6.951s
5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 9.307s
6. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 9.664s
7. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 11.001s
8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 11.579s
9. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 14.285s
10. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 14.930s
11. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 15.311s
12. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 15.713s
13. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 16.302s
14. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 17.412s
15. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 18.244s
16. AJ Allmendinger Penske Dodge + 24.558s
17. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
18. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1 lap
19. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
20. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 1 lap
21. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap
22. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
23. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 1 lap
24. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
25. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1 lap
26. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
27. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 2 laps
28. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 2 laps
29. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 2 laps
30. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 2 laps
31. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 2 laps
32. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet + 3 laps
33. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps
34. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 4 laps
35. JJ Yeley Robinson-Blakeney Toyota + 4 laps
36. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 5 laps
Did not finish:
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 52 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 41 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 37 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey-Smith Toyota 19 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 18 laps
Reed Sorenson Turn One Chevrolet 7 laps
Brendan Gaughan Childress Chevrolet 2 laps