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NASCAR Fontana Johnsonville postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, February 22, 2010

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Jimmie Johnson
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR

Before I get some sternly written email from an executive Vice President in charge of mucking fuss at some insurance company, I'm only kidding with that headline. Of course I know that the name of the race track is the Auto Club Speedway and the name of their February 21st NASCAR Sprint Cup race was the Auto Club 500. However, if unexpected circumstances prompted the speedway to consider a name change Johnsonville would probably be a very good choice.

Jimmie Johnson and his Chad Knaus led #48 NASCAR Sprint Cup team put on another stellar performance at the Auto Club Speedway and won their series leading fifth Sprint Cup race in Fontana-California. Johnson led the race eight times for a total of 101 laps.

But he'll be the very first to tell you that it was a piece of extraordinary luck that put his team in victory lane. On lap 224 of the race Johnson came onto pit road for fuel and tires in what was going to be his final pit stop of the race. A mere matter of seconds later the final yellow caution flag of the race came after Brad Keselowski spun out coming off of turn four . At first it appeared that Johnson was going to get caught on pit road by the yellow flag and was going to go a lap down. The saving factor here was the fact that, first, his car was already on the jack and being serviced and, secondly, he managed to get his car back onto the speedway ahead of the lead car.

Johnson lined up 16th on the starting field after rejoining the lead lap pack. One lap later the lead pack came onto pit road because they also needed gas and tires to finish the race. That mass exodus to the pits elevated Johnson to the lead with only ten laps left when the race resumed under the green flag.

However, the win wasn't locked up just yet. Kevin Harvick restarted second and launched a major offensive towards taking the race away from Johnson during the final laps. Johnson turned out to be on the receiving end of a second piece of good luck while fending off Harvick's charge. With three laps left in the race, Harvick brushed the fourth turn wall just enough for him to have to back off his pace a little. That's all Johnson needed to wrap up the win.

Commenting on the aftermath of his final pit stop, Johnson said " I figured that if the field cycled around we were going to be in pretty good shape. There's no doubt that was the situation that gave us the win today. We were just a little off, probably two thirds into the race, and we were trying to get things right. We got the car much better but we lost a lot of track position and there were some really fast cars that we had to deal with. By being on pit road we were able to make that up and take advantage of the situation. I knew the 29, (Harvick) was going to be tough and he certainly caught me before he got into the wall off of turn four and that slowed him down. All in all it was a great deal and a lot of good racing from where I was sitting."

With his good fortune came same impressive race numbers:
The Auto Club 500 marked Johnson's 48th Sprint Cup career win in car #48.
Even the Auto Club 500 trophy was adorned with a replica of an old Chevy Woody car from 1948.
The win places Johnson in a tie for 12th, with NASCAR pioneer Herb Thomas, on the series' all time winners list.
Johnson has also won five of the last 11 Sprint Cup races.
Last Sunday marked his series high fifth win at the Auto Club Speedway in 15 starts.
He's won four of the last six races there.
He gave team owner Rick Hendrick his series high ninth win at the speedway.
The four time NASCAR champion's racing legacy began with his first Sprint Cup win back in 2002 which occurred at the Auto Club Speedway.

All in all it was a very good day in "Johnsonville."

Nationwide Race

Kyle Busch muscled his way around Greg Biffle on the final lap to win the February 20th Stater Brothers 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana-California. The win followed a highly charged green white checker finish that gave Joe Gibbs Racing their fifth, consecutive, Nationwide Series win at the California track.

But it was a trip to victory lane that everyone said belonged to Joey Logano, the race winner's Gibbs Racing team mate. Logano likes to use the word "awesome" a lot. That word is an adequate description of his Nationwide Series performance at the Auto Club Speedway.

He began the day winning the Coors Light Pole during qualifying. The moment the green flag fell on the 43 car starting field it was apparent that NASCAR's "best thing since sliced bread", and his Game Stop Toyota, was going to be the team to beat. Logano led a total of 130 of the 150 laps. The only time he wasn't leading this race was following green flag pit stops. Even then, it took him virtually no time at all to regain the race lead and resume his dominant performance.

But the Auto Club Speedway has a way of turning up late in the race scenarios that no one expects. That little surprise came on lap 145 when Brendan Gaughan brought out the final caution flag of the race due to a spin out. The multi car length lead that Logano was enjoying during the final moments of the race quickly evaporated.

With that came the green white checker finish. Logano opted for the inside line as the field lined up for the double file restart. Team mate Kyle Busch was on the outside, Greg Biffle was lined up third and right on the race leader's bumper. The shoot out was coming and everyone at the speedway knew it.

But in a moment where a good restart was crucial, Logano spun his tires. That allowed Biffle to close up on the race leader going into turn one. The inevitable contact between the two cars sent Logano's Toyota sliding to the high line of turn two. Busch jumped to the high line and was now side by side with Biffle heading into turn three. Making the scenario even more interesting was the presence of Brad Keselowski who made a three wide move, coming out of turn four. Busch won the drag race to the start finish line and stole the win by a mere margin of 0.51 seconds. Biffle, Keselowski and Carl Edwards followed him under the checkers. Logano, who wound up spinning into the infield grass after the race, had to settle for a heartbreaking fifth place finish.

Once his Z Line Design/Gibbs Racing Toyota was safely parked in the speedway's Gatorade victory lane the celebration of his 31st series win began. "I really feel for Joey," the race winner said adding " I've been there and I know how it feels. This is just a testament to this team and that never give up attitude that we have. All teams have that feeling but our team demonstrates it. My guys did a great job on this car. We were way off at the beginning but we made adjustments and got it a lot better for the end of the race. We never really had what the #20 car, (Logano), had today and we'll need to go back to the drawing board to figure out why"

Busch admitted that he had no idea how the shoot out finish was going to turn out. "When it all broke loose in turn one I told myself man, I've got to get to the top because Biffle was on my outside. Then we were three wide on the final lap where I got loose. I don't know how we didn't end up wrecking. It was exciting," Busch added.

When asked if he had some sort of game plan for the final restart, Busch replied "I had no idea. We went off into turn one and Joey got loose and slid way across the race track and I had to turn underneath him while trying not to get boxed in. Then we went down the backstretch and I pulled alongside of Biffle and I said man I wish I was on the outside right now. Then we got into turn three where Keselowski put his nose in there and I thought we were going to wreck. Somehow we held on to it. Then down the frontstretch I was literally up Biffle's butt and it seemed like I had his spoiler all the way up to my front wind shield. I knew I had to let him down before we got to turn one and get out from under him. I was able to do that but he still got a little bit loose and I was able to get on his inside. Man it was exciting coming to the finish."

After climbing out of his Discount Tire/Penske Racing Dodge, Keselowski commented on his third place finish and said "I hope the fans really enjoyed that because that was awesome. This track has really come in for our Nationwide Series. Our car package is just perfect for this style of race track. I hope the fans really enjoyed it, we were strong with our Penske Dodge today and we got a strong third place finish from it."

After climbing out of his Copart/Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Carl Edwards checked for telephone messages. After all, he was still waiting for the arrival of his first child. Commenting on the race finish he said "it just looked crazy but it was a lot of fun and I had the best seat in the house. I'm really glad to see all of these fans here and I'm glad it was a good show for them. I wish we could have come home with a little bit better finish in our Copart Ford Fusion." Edwards, who is running both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup full schedule this year, emerged from the Stater Brothers 300 as the new series points leader.

Simple buzz words like disappointment and anger didn't even come close to describing what Joey Logano felt after the race. It was evident that he felt like Biffle was a little on the aggressive side during that final shoot out of the race. It was also noted that this wasn't a first time situation. These same two drivers tangled in the final moments of the Auto Club Speedway's Nationwide Series event last October.

"We had an awesome race car and we should have won the race," Logano said adding "I don't know, the #27, (Biffle), decided to hit us again. I know we were racing hard there at the end, but I think he could have done it a little cleaner than that."

Biffle, needles to say, had a slightly different version of the wild finish and noted that Logano just simply made a rookie mistake when he spun his tires on the restart. "that #20 car just spun his tires and he couldn't get going. I pushed him a little bit down the straightaway to get him going. I got on the inside of him going into turn one and he tried to close the door on me. I already had my nose in there and I wasn't going to let him close me out on the last lap. When the white flag is out you've got to really race in this series and that's what I was doing, I was going for the win, that's what these guys pay me to do. That's what these green white checker finishes are all about. It's a shoot out for the fans and the fans got to see a good, really hard, race to the finish. It was really exciting and if they didn't enjoy that then I don't know what they would enjoy."

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