Cross Fontana off the List for Stewart Office Depot/Old Spice Driver a Runaway Winner at Auto Club Speedway Coming into the weekend, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., was one of only three venues the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits where ...
Cross Fontana off the List for Stewart
Office Depot/Old Spice Driver a Runaway Winner at Auto Club Speedway
Coming into the weekend, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., was one of only three venues the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits where Tony Stewart had yet to score a Sprint Cup victory in his 12-year career -- Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway being the others. But the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) led three times for 27 laps over the final 51 tours around the 2-mile oval to win Sunday's Pepsi Max 400 and check the Southern California facility off his "to-do" list.
More importantly, the victory -- where Stewart was able to keep the hard-charging Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson behind him on a restart with just two laps remaining -- vaulted Stewart from 10th to fifth in the Chase for the Championship, 107 points behind Chase leader Johnson with six races remaining.
Stewart held off runner-up Bowyer by .466 of a second while Johnson, the four-time and reigning series champion, finished third to maintain a 39-point lead over second-place Denny Hamlin, who finished eighth.
"I knew we were going to have our hands full with Jimmie (Johnson), and thank goodness Clint Bowyer got up there and mixed it up and broke his momentum," said Stewart, who scored the 39th victory of his Sprint Cup career, his second of the season and his 16th top-10 finish of 2010. "I didn't think we were good enough to do it. But man, this Office Depot/Old Spice team did an awesome job. They did an unbelievable job in the pits that got us an opportunity again. Both races we won, we've won because the pit crew gave us a chance, and that is all you can ask for."
The successful weekend was even more special as Haas Automation, which SHR co-owner Gene Haas founded, is located just 108 miles west of Fontana in Oxnard, Calif.
"To finally win here for Gene and Margaret Haas at their home track is special," Stewart said. "Man, I'm just glad to finally win one at California. I can knock this off the list of tracks I haven't won at now."
Having qualified 22nd for the 200-lap race, Stewart had his doubts about whether he had a race-winning car. A top-10, he said, would've been a solid finish. A top-five: reason to celebrate.
But after crew chief Darian Grubb orchestrated major setup changes to the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet after Saturday's final practice session, Stewart and Grubb were hopeful they could make some major headway after the green flag fell on Sunday.
Sure enough, Stewart made a gradual climb up the leaderboard at the start, making his way from 22nd and into the top-15 before the race was six laps old.
A tight handling condition while running the high line on both ends of the track prevented him from making more headway, however, so Grubb brought Stewart in for a green-flag pit stop on lap 35, as the rest of the field was filing onto and off of pit road for service. Wholesale track bar, wedge and tire pressure adjustments corrected the tight condition -- perhaps a little too much, as Stewart radioed to Grubb just two laps after rejoining the race in 25th place. Fortunately, the race's first caution flag flew for the blown engine of Chase contender Greg Biffle on lap 40, which allowed Stewart to come down pit lane for further adjustments. His second pit stop of the day came on lap 42 under caution, and Grubb tightened the car up to what turned out to be Stewart's liking from that point forward.
Stewart restarted in 21st on lap 47, and by lap 49, having found a faster way around the track running a lower line, leapfrogged past several competitors and back into the top-15.
Little by little, with a well-handling and consistent racecar at his disposal, Stewart made his way into the top-10 by lap 61, and into the top --five by lap 91. From there, Stewart stayed in or near the top-five through three more rounds of pit stops as he and Grubb did their best to keep up with track conditions that were changing as the temperatures kept climbing higher and higher into the 90s.
"I think we're really good here," Stewart told his crew over the radio shortly after a fuel-and-tire stop on lap 137 that put Stewart back on the track in fourth place. On a lap-147 restart, he was running his fastest laps of the afternoon as he began his pursuit of leader Bowyer and second-place Jeff Gordon. On lap 148, Stewart picked off Gordon for second, and on the very next lap, he took the lead for the first time when he drove past Bowyer on the frontstretch.
Stewart held off Bowyer for seven laps before yielding the point to Juan Pablo Montoya during a pit stop under caution on lap 156. Stewart restarted behind Montoya on lap 159, and by the time they next crossed the start-finish line, Stewart was back in the lead, this time for the next eight laps before yielding the point to an increasingly faster Bowyer on lap 168.
A caution on lap 182, with Stewart running in third place behind Bowyer and Mark Martin, allowed the field, including Stewart, one final pit stop to make adjustments for the run to the checkered flag. Stewart restarted in fourth behind Paul Menard and Regan Smith, who opted for two-tire changes, and Bowyer who, like Stewart, went back out on four fresh tires. Bowyer and Stewart got past Menard and Smith by the next time the field crossed the start-finish line on lap 188, and Stewart was in the lead for the third and final time on lap 189.
Stewart was able to maintain a comfortable cushion over second-place Johnson down the closing stretch, including the final restart of the race on lap 198. Bowyer, then, was able to steal second place from Johnson on the final lap.
"I wasn't sure whether I was happy about it when I saw the caution, or worried about it," Stewart said. "I think I was more worried than anything because Jimmie (Johnson) was coming. I just knew the restart was going to be critical and, if I could get through (turns) one and two and still have the lead off two, then I would have a shot at it. We got a good restart, picking the top there. Good thing Clint Bowyer was there to keep Jimmie honest and keep him busy and that just let us do our own thing the last lap and run our lines."
Stewart's win secured the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturers' Cup for Chevrolet for the 34th time since the inception of the award in 1950. Chevrolet won its first Manufacturers' Cup in 1958, and this year's win marked the eighth consecutive season that Chevrolet has captured the title (2003-2010).
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet Impala for SHR, finished fifth. It was his third top-five finish this season and his third top-five in 16 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana. Newman remained 13th in the standings and is 60 points ahead of 14th-place Jamie McMurray.
The last time both SHR cars finished in the top-five was in June 2009 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, where Stewart was victorious and Newman was fifth. And just as Stewart's run was timely for his co-car-owner and team sponsor Haas Automation, Newman's effort was similarly good. Ruiz Foods, maker of Tornados, is located 244 miles northwest of Fontana in Dinuba, Calif.
Stewart, Bowyer, Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Newman rounded-out the top-five, while Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, Gordon and David Reutimann comprised the remainder of the top-10.There were nine caution periods for 36 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.