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Stewart wins rain shortened Auto Club 400

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Sunday, March 25, 2012

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Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart made all the right moves Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, and the last one proved decisive in taking the three-time champion to Victory Lane in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400.

After raindrops slowed the race on Lap 124, Stewart, the race leader, faked a move toward pit road but stayed on the track and matched the pace car's speed of 65 mph, a far cry from the lightning-fast laps he ran under the green flag.

But that move -- staying out and running slow caution laps before NASCAR stopped the race on Lap 129 -- proved decisive for the defending Sprint Cup champion, who claimed his second victory of the season, his second at Fontana and the 46th of his career, tying him with Buck Baker for 14th on the career victory list.

Kyle Busch, who stayed out with Stewart, finished second, with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards completing the top five.

Greg Biffle ran sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, all of whom gambled on protracted rain and stayed on the track during the initial shower. Jimmie Johnson and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin came to pit road and finished 10th and 11th, respectively.

"I don't think that I faked him out," Stewart said of Hamlin. "I'm sure he had made his decision already -- looked good, though."

In Johnson's case, the top-10 was a godsend, given that the No. 48 Chevrolet developed an oil line problem as the cars circled the 2-mile track under caution. Johnson's car began smoking and he kept it rolling on the apron until NASCAR stopped the race.

The event ran caution-free for 124 laps, until rain in Turns 3 and 4 brought out the first yellow flag of the afternoon. Stewart had retained the lead through a third cycle of green-flag pit stops, with Hamlin chasing him.

Hamlin had made a run at the leader when the rain began to fall, but he and Johnson opted to give up positions in the top five and come to pit road, after Stewart made his feint toward the pits but remained on the racetrack.

Feint or not, Hamlin was committed to the trip to pit road, and he explained the decision.

"We were planning on the race going back to green, and if it doesn't, we'll lose some spots, but if we chose to stay out there, we would have to be behind all the cars that pitted [if the race restarted]," Hamlin said as the rain intensified. "([In that case], your chance of winning decreases greatly.

"So you could give up a few spots if it finishes up here and lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things . . . We had finally gotten to [Stewart's] bumper when the rain came."

That left Busch in second place. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota had led 80 laps to that point, but Busch had rubbed the wall in traffic before the halfway point, and the handling of his car deteriorated thereafter.

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 9 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 47/1 129 In Pit
2 2 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Interstate Batteries 44/2 129 In Pit
3 14 88 D. Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew / Nat. Guard 41/0 129 In Pit
4 7 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Jimmy John's Gourmet Sand. 40/0 129 In Pit
5 12 99 Carl Edwards Ford Subway 39/0 129 In Pit
6 4 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 38/0 129 In Pit
7 6 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 37/0 129 In Pit
8 13 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 36/0 129 In Pit
9 23 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Phoenix Construction Services 35/0 129 In Pit
10 10 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's / Jimmie Johnson Found. 35/1 129 In Pit
11 1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 34/1 129 In Pit
12 3 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 32/0 129 In Pit
13 15 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Ford EcoBoost 31/0 129 Running
14 11 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 30/0 129 In Pit
15 5 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Quaker State 29/0 129 In Pit
16 25 22 AJ Allmendinger Dodge Southern California AAA 28/0 129 In Pit
17 24 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 27/0 129 In Pit
18 17 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 26/0 129 In Pit
19 27 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet CertainTeed / Menards 25/0 129 In Pit
20 22 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / Farm American 24/0 129 In Pit
21 29 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Dewalt 23/0 129 In Pit
22 19 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 22/0 129 In Pit
23 33 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 21/0 129 In Pit
24 8 20 Joey Logano Toyota Dollar General 20/0 129 In Pit
25 28 43 Aric Almirola Ford Medallion Financial 19/0 129 In Pit
26 21 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 19/1 129 In Pit
27 18 10 David Reutimann Chevrolet Accell Construction 17/0 127 In Pit
28 26 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Charter 16/0 127 In Pit
29 40 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 15/0 127 In Pit
30 41 38 David Gilliland Ford 1-800LoanMart 14/0 127 In Pit
31 38 34 David Ragan Ford Front Row Motorsports 13/0 127 In Pit
32 16 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Allstate 12/0 126 In Pit
33 34 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing 11/0 126 In Pit
34 42 32 Ken Schrader Ford U.S. Chrome / 1 Less Than 2 Ltd. 10/0 125 In Pit
35 36 249 J.J. Yeley Toyota America Israel Racing 9/0 125 In Pit
36 31 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 8/0 124 In Pit
37 30 26 Josh Wise * Ford Morristown Driver's Service 7/0 52 In Pit
38 32 98 Michael McDowell Ford Curb Records 6/0 41 In Pit
39 20 30 David Stremme Toyota @TheNASCARFans 5/0 37 In Pit
40 39 119 Mike Bliss Toyota Humphrey Smith Racing 0 19 In Pit
41 35 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 3/0 18 In Pit
42 43 74 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet Turn One Racing 0 7 In Pit
43 37 33 Brendan Gaughan Chevrolet South Point Hotel & Casino 1/0 2 Out of Race

* Denotes Rookie

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