by Amanda Vincent, NASCAR reporter
- Harvick takes lead on final lap
- Johnson finishes second
- Kyle Busch settles for third
Harvick takes lead on the final lap for the win in California
“Today we had a fast car, and the circumstances played in our favor,” Harvick said.
Harvick, a Bakersfield, Calif., native passed another California native, El Cajon’s Jimmie Johnson, on the final lap to create sort of a déjà vu moment in reverse from this race a year ago. In 2010, it was Jimmie Johnson celebrating in the track’s victory lane for the fifth time after Harvick finished second.
“We had them all beat last year here, and then we gave it away,” Harvick said of his second-place finish to Johnson in 2010.
After going to a backup car on Friday, following a crash on lap one of practice, Kyle Busch dominated Sunday’s race, leading 151 laps of the 200-lap race. Busch worked his way toward the front to battle Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin for the second spot by the end of lap one. By lap 23, he was in the lead.
Busch led much of the remainder of the race, with the exception green flag pit stop cycles, during which other drivers spent time up front as others pitted. But at the end of each cycle, Busch was always right back up front.
Things didn’t go quite as well for teammate Hamlin, though. Hamlin started sliding back through the field on lap 83 and reported to his No. 11 crew over the radio that he thought he was “blowing up.” the team later concluded the problem was an electrical one and the No. 11 car headed to the garage for repairs. Instead, there was an issue with the valve train and Hamlin’s day ended prematurely. He ended up 39th.
Tony Stewart did take the lead from Busch when a debris caution came out on lap 76. As everyone else pitted, Stewart opted to stay out for pit position, since he had just pitted six laps prior. Busch actually fell to third during that particular caution, as Stewart’s Haas-Stewart teammate, Ryan Newman, beat him off pit road to restart in the second spot.
Busch made his way back to the lead on lap 92.
The fourth and final caution of the day came out with 15 laps to go when Bobby Labonte cut down a right-front tire and hit the wall. The top-seven cars, which at that point included the top-three of Busch, Johnson and Stewart, stayed out.
Today we had a fast car, and the circumstances played in our favor.
“We gave the race away today, unfortunately,” Busch said. “I didn’t have what it took there at the end.”
Johnson was second, and Busch finished third. Matt Kenseth, who was among the drivers who pitted during the final caution, was able to take advantage of his fresh tires to drive his No. 17 car into the top-five and to a fourth-place finish. Newman finished fifth.
“It is a good day for us,” Kenseth said. “You are always greedy and want more. I was the first guy on tires, and I didn’t do probably as good a job as I needed to on the restart. It just took a while to get there.”
While Harvick, Johnson and Busch fought it out for the top-three spots, Stewart slid back through the race field to wind up finishing 13th.