Matt Kenseth: California Dreaming after Back-to-Back Wins To Start 2009

Samuel SicaAnalyst IFebruary 22, 2009

Well race fans, after a great weekend to start the 2009 season at Daytona last week, the Sprint Cup Series headed west to California for the Auto Club 500.

Brian Vickers was scheduled to start on the front row with Jimmie Johnson, but after changing engines following practice, Vickers was forced to go to the tail end of the field.

The move allowed third-place starter Jamie McMurray the opportunity to start from the pole position when the green flag waved.

McMurray was given a gift, but he did not take advantage as Johnson took the lead shortly after the green flag flew. Johnson remained at the front of the field until lap 42, when rain brought out the second caution.

Kurt Busch beat Johnson to the line and took over the lead.

Busch restarted as the race leader, but was quickly passed by Johnson on lap 47. Johnson held the lead for a good chunk of the green flag run until his teammate, Jeff Gordon, took command on lap 78.

Gordon remained the leader just before the first set of green flag pit stops began around lap 85. When Gordon made his green flag stop, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards both took advantage by staying out to lead a lap and gain five crucial bonus points.

After green flag stops cycled through, Gordon was back on point and continued to lead until the next set of green flag stops began to take place around lap 120.

During that round of pit stops, Biffle’s crew got the job done and got him out in front of Gordon to overtake the lead.

Shortly after the pit stops had cycled back through, the caution flag waved once again for rain on lap 141. The leaders hit pit road again, with Matt Kenseth getting out in first.

Kenseth led a short green flag run that was halted by another caution for rain on lap 169. The leaders came to pit road once more, with Kenseth’s crew helping its driver keep the lead.

The race stayed green for a while, with Kenseth remaining at the head of the field. Kenseth’s lead soon changed hands though, as Gordon was hungry to get the lead back on lap 195.

Gordon continued to lead until the fifth—and final—caution flag waved over the field for a hard crash involving Kevin Harvick on lap 207. Harvick pounded the Turn One wall after blowing an engine—ending NASCAR's longest streak of finishing a race running at 81 starts for Harvick.

This set up for the last round of pit stops, with Kenseth’s crew rising to the occasion once again to take back the lead from Gordon. This proved to be the move of the race, as Kenseth led the remaining laps under green to earn his second straight victory to start the 2009 season.

The win was Kenseth’s third at California, and he became the first driver since Gordon in 1997 to win the first two races to start a season.

The top 10 finishers were Kenseth, Gordon, Kyle Busch, Biffle, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Johnson, and Vickers.

Some notable finishers were Kasey Kahne in 12th, Michael Waltrip in 15th, Jamie McMurray in 16th, Clint Bowyer in 19th, Bobby Labonte in 20th, Joey Logano in 26th, Kevin Harvick in 38th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 39th, and Mark Martin in 40th position.

2009 Top-12 Driver Standings (after California)

1. Matt Kenseth
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Tony Stewart
4. Kurt Busch
5. Greg Biffle
6. Clint Bowyer
7. Michael Waltrip
8. David Ragan
9. Carl Edwards
10. Juan Pablo Montoya
11. Elliott Sadler
12. David Reutimann