Tony Stewart wins rain-shortened race in Fontana

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Amanda Vincent, NASCAR correspondent

Rain shortened the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race by 71 laps on Sunday, as Tony Stewart drove his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., under the yellow flag that preceded the red flag which ultimately ended the race at the completion of lap 129 of the event that was scheduled for 200 laps.

I'm definitely not losing anything with age.

Tony Stewart

"I'm definitely not losing anything with age," the recently-turned-40 Stewart said of his performance so far in 2012. "I've had some really great race cars."

Kyle Busch finished second in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after JGR teammate Denny Hamlin gave up second to head down pit road when the caution came out for rain with 77 laps to go, assuming the race would eventually go back to green.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, also gained positions when some drivers elected to pit under caution. Earnhardt was credited with a third-place finish.

"We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came," Earnhardt said. "We had been watching the weather all day. We felt certain if it started to rain, it wasn't going to stop."

As a result of pitting just before the red flag that ended the race, Hamlin finished just outside the top-10 in 11th spot.

Hamlin started on the pole and led only the first lap before being overtaken for the lead by Busch on lap two. Busch then set sail, pulling way until Stewart made his way toward the front.

"It was really good for us," Busch said. "We had a great race car there from the beginning of the race. Got the lead from Denny 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."

Stewart got by Hamlin for the second position on lap 28 and set his sights on Busch. He did lose the runner-up position to Hamlin a couple of times before making his way back up to second on lap 48. Stewart then took the lead from Busch on lap 85 as the two drivers fought their ways around the lapped No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet of Juan Montoya. It was the first time Busch found himself out of the lead since taking the top spot from Hamlin on the second lap.

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Stewart led the rest of the way, with Busch and Hamlin swapping the second spot, with the exception of other drivers briefly assuming the lead during two cycles of green-flag pit stops.

"With the rain coming on, we all knew it was just going to be a matter of time," Busch said. "Probably lap 60 or 70 we were all thinking, 'Okay, we're going to race to lap 100 here, because that's halfway.'"

The race ran caution-free until the yellow flag for rain with 77 laps remaining. After the caution came out, Stewart faked heading down pit road, but several drivers, including Hamlin, committed to making pit stops, thinking the race would go back green.

The No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Carl Edwards also stayed out to finish fourth and fifth. The early end to the race was a blessing for Jimmie Johnson, as his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet began to smoke, just as the yellow flag waved. Johnson nursed his car around the track under caution and limped to a 10th-place finish after running in the top-five for much of the race.

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, featured, stewart, vincent