Interstate Batteries Team Leads Race-High 80 Laps, Gains Two Spots in the Standings
Kyle Busch dominated the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., leading twice for a race-high 80 laps. Despite the strong effort, Busch couldn’t hold off the hard charges of eventual race-winner Tony Stewart and brought home a solid second-place finish in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in the rain-shortened event.
“We had a great race car with our Interstate Batteries Camry right from the beginning of the race,” said Busch, who has 10 top-10 finishes in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana. “I got the lead from Denny (Hamlin) after the first lap, led a lot of laps. I just wish we led 30 more, and we'd be in a different position right now. The Interstate Batteries Camry was fast.
“I can’t say enough about those guys, Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and everybody, for putting together a really good car this weekend. Wish we would have been able to race the whole thing on one hand, but on the other hand I'm kind of glad we're not because we kind of have a little bit of damage that slowed us down there about 20 laps before the end. All in all, it was a really good day. Glad we were able to run that way and up front like we're supposed to and to our potential, that we had a day where we didn't have something else out of our control get in our way.”
After qualifying second in the 43-car field, Busch showed his strength from the start, grabbing the lead from pole sitter and teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 2. Busch then set the pace for much of the remaining laps. Crew chief Dave Rogers still made small tweaks on each pit stop to help the handling of Busch’s Interstate Batteries Toyota, using air pressure and wedge adjustments to help correct a slight tight-handling condition in the center of the track’s corners.
During a race that saw no cautions until the race-ending rain, the Interstate Batteries over-the-wall crew helped lengthen Busch’s lead as it outpaced the competition on pit road during the team’s three pit stops. Despite leading the most laps, Busch’s car started faster after each pit stop than Stewart. But over the course of each segment between pit stops, Stewart proved to have the superior car, especially in traffic.
Stewart’s strong car on long runs finally caught up to Busch, as Stewart slipped under Busch’s Interstate Batteries Toyota on lap 85. To make matters worse, just one lap later, Busch made light contact with the outside SAFER Barrier exiting turn 2, which caused slight damage to the right side of Busch’s Toyota. Fortunately for Busch, when rain drops began to fall on lap 124 and the caution waved on lap 125, the rain was too heavy for the race to resume. The Interstate Batteries team didn’t need to make lengthy repairs under caution.
“We were racing hard with some lap cars and got bottled up, and Stewart got by me for the lead,” said Busch, who recorded his first top-five finish of the season and his sixth at Fontana. “I was trying too hard to catch back up to him and see if I couldn't run him back up and figure out what kind of racecar we had. I slipped and got in the fence. We just were super-tight since then.
“We have to rebalance our car and try to figure out how to do that with the aerodynamics the way they are. We tore up a couple things on the back half of the car that are important to make it turn. So with that happening, I’ll take the second and move on to Martinsville with a good points day.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished 11th and 24th, respectively. Hamlin was running second when the rain began to fall. But he gambled that the race would resume and pitted under caution on lap 126, resulting in a disappointing finish during a strong day for the No. 11 team.
The race ran caution-free until rain brought out the yellow flag for the first time on lap 125, with the red flag flying on lap 129. NASCAR officials called the race shortly thereafter.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, with Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards rounding out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Seven drivers failed to finish the 129-lap race.
With round five of 36 complete, Hamlin continues to lead the JGR trio in the championship standings. He lost two spots and dropped to seventh with 171 points, 24 behind series leader Biffle.
Logano lost four spots and sits 13th in the standings with 146 points, 49 behind Biffle. Busch gained two spots and jumped to 14th with 143 points, 52 out of the lead.