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Kenseth outduels Gordon to go 2-for-2

NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Fontana
Sunday, February 22, 2009

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Jeff Gordon (L) and Matt Kenseth (R) battle late in the going
CIA Stock Photo
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth made it two victories in a row Sunday, holding off a late challenge from Jeff Gordon to win the Auto Club 500.

Kenseth took the lead from Gordon in the pits with 38 laps to go in the 250-lap race and stayed ahead of the runner-up in the battle of former Cup champions, pulling away over the last 20 laps.

It is the first time a Cup driver has won the first two races of the season since Gordon did it in 1997 on the way to the second of his four championships.

"It's such a great team," Kenseth said. "I just thank these guys [on the crew]. They gave me a great stop and got me in clean air and that's just a huge difference.

Kenseth and Gordon were much faster than the rest of the field at the end, both of them pulling away from the pack. But Gordon, like Kenseth winless last year, was unable to get to Kenseth's rear bumper and get a real run on the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford.

"It was a lot of fun," Gordon said. "This is a new team and they showed it tonight. We've still got a little bit of work to do. I'm so excited on one side because we ran so well and we started out the season so great, but I'm still mad on the other side because I felt like we had what it took to win tonight."

It was Kenseth's third victory on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval and the fifth consecutive February victory for team co-owner Jack Roush.

Kyle Busch, who made NASCAR history by winning both the Truck and Nationwide races on Saturday, came up short of the weekend sweep.

"It's never been done before, so you know it's a challenge," Busch said after finishing third. "The last one's always the hard one to get. It's on Sunday and it's the biggest show. Maybe one day."

With a lightning-fast pit stop, Kenseth’s crew made sure his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was first off pit road for a restart on Lap 216, after Kevin Harvick slammed the Turn 1 wall to cause the fifth and final caution of the 250-lap race.

Kenseth, who won for the 18th time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, stayed in front the rest of the way and beat Gordon to the finish line by 1.463 seconds to become the fifth driver in Cup history to win the first two races of a season. The last to do so? Gordon in 1997, at Daytona and Rockingham.

Kyle Busch finished third and fell short in his bid to sweep all three races in NASCAR’s top series at the same track in the same weekend. On Saturday, Busch won both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series races at the 2.0-mile racetrack.

Greg Biffle recovered from a pit-road mistake to come home fourth, followed by Kurt Busch. Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers completed the top 10.

Because Gordon had caught and passed him on the previous green-flag run, Kenseth wasn’t confident he could hold him off.

“I thought he was going to pass us,” Kenseth said. “Some people call me a pessimist—I think I’m more of a realist—but when we took off the run before, we got the lead and ran some real fast laps and we left Jeff 15 or 20 car-lengths (behind), something like that.

“In the middle of that run, he ran me right down, drove by me and took off. Greg drove by me, took off. ... I don’t even know what they (the pit crew) adjusted, but they got us in front again, which is obviously a big key to it. We took off, and right away I could feel that it was better. But I didn’t think it was that much better.

“As many laps as were left, I honestly thought we were going to be too loose at the end, and he was going to catch us.”

Gordon was ambivalent about the result, which showed marked improvement over last year but left him winless since October 2007.

“I think we’re head-and-shoulders above where we were,” Gordon said. “I know we’re just a couple races in, and this is one race, but I just loved the way the car was driving. To be able to battle and go to the front like that and have solid pit stops, I’m just really excited—and also really bummed out we didn’t win the race tonight.

“I felt like we had the car. Matt was awful good in the pits as well as on the track. That last run we made one little adjustment. I didn’t mind that he got out there on us. When I started running him down, I was like, ‘We’ve got him, we’ve got him,’ and then my car started getting tighter and tighter and tighter.

“I went to every groove that I could possibly find, and the car just wouldn’t turn, and I knew that, with about 20 (laps) to go, that if he didn’t make a mistake, we weren’t going to get him.”

Notes: The engine and right front tire blew on Harvick’s Chevrolet on Lap 208, and he retired from the race, ending a modern-era record streak of 81 races without a DNF. ... Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin suffered rare engine failures; they finished 39th and 40th, respectively. ... Drew Blickensderfer, who graduated from the Nationwide to the Cup series this year, is 2-for-2 as Kenseth’s crew chief. ... Kenseth opened an 81-point lead over second-place Gordon in the Cup standings. Kurt Busch and Stewart are tied for third, 91 points behind Kenseth. ... NASCAR called four of the five cautions because of light rain.

Results

FIN

ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 24 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Carhartt 195/10 250 Running
2 6 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont 175/5 250 Running
3 10 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Interstate Batteries 165/0 250 Running
4 5 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 165/5 250 Running
5 4 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 160/5 250 Running
6 23 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Freight 150/0 250 Running
7 25 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 151/5 250 Running
8 11 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Old Spice / Office Depot 147/5 250 Running
9 2 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's / Kobalt Tools 143/5 250 Running
10 1 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 134/0 250 Running
11 15 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 135/5 250 Running
12 22 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 127/0 250 Running
13 38 12 David Stremme Dodge Penske Racing 129/5 250 Running
14 7 00 David Reutimann Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 121/0 250 Running
15 42 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA 118/0 250 Running
16 3 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 115/0 250 Running
17 13 6 David Ragan Ford UPS 112/0 250 Running
18 37 28 Travis Kvapil Ford Farmers Insurance 109/0 250 Running
19 21 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Cheerios / Hamburger Helper 106/0 248 Running
20 16 96 Bobby Labonte Ford Ask.com 103/0 248 Running
21 14 47 Marcos Ambrose Toyota Little Debbie / Kingsford / Clorox 100/0 248 Running
22 17 43 Reed Sorenson Dodge Charter Comm. 97/0 248 Running
23 26 77 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Auto Club 94/0 248 Running
24 29 07 Casey Mears Chevrolet Jack Daniel's 91/0 248 Running
25 20 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Best Buy 88/0 248 Running
26 34 20 Joey Logano * Toyota The Home Depot 85/0 248 Running
27 33 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 82/0 248 Running
28 28 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Haas Automation 79/0 248 Running
29 8 44 A.J. Allmendinger Dodge Charter Comm. 76/0 247 Running
30 12 7 Robby Gordon Toyota Jim Beam 73/0 247 Running
31 40 34 John Andretti Chevrolet WindowWorld.com 75/5 247 Running
32 41 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 67/0 247 Running
33 32 171 David Gilliland Chevrolet TRG Motorsports 64/0 246 Running
34 39 41 Jeremy Mayfield Toyota All Sport 61/0 245 Running
35 31 8 Aric Almirola Chevrolet Guitar Hero 58/0 242 In Pit
36 36 36 Scott Riggs Toyota Red Bank Outfitters 55/0 240 Running
37 27 98 Paul Menard Ford Quaker State / Menards 52/0 221 Running
38 19 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 49/0 207 Running
39 35 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Amp Energy / National Guard 46/0 205 Out of Race
40 18 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet Carquest / Kellogg's 48/5 179 Out of Race
41 9 82 Scott Speed * Toyota Red Bull 40/0 172 Out of Race
42 30 66 Dave Blaney Toyota Prism Motorsports 37/0 50 In Pit
43 43 187 Joe Nemechek Toyota NEMCO Motorsports 34/0 36 In Pit

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