The Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California has always been on many people’s minds when it comes to where NASCAR should be racing. The speedway isn’t known to hold large crowds on race day, many feel the racing is too freight train, and when racing in the fall in California the weather is almost unbearable.
When the 2009 Sprint Cup Series schedule was unveiled it was announced that the date for the Pepsi 500 had been moved to the second weekend in October, to find better weather and hope the fans come out to the racetrack. California also won big because that meant that they now would host the fourth race in the Chase.
Excited for these new changes the series headed west after Tony Stewart took the checkered flag last weekend in Kansas. Upon arriving at the track the weather forecast was showing sunny skies and temperatures much lower than what the teams and officials are used to, the weekend was finally underway.
Things got started on Friday with practice and qualifying which saw Kyle Busch have to change an engine to go along with the flu and strep throat that he’s battling. He would have to start at the rear of the field for Sunday’s race, and even relinquished his seat to teammate Denny Hamlin in the Nationwide race on Saturday.
Other incidents on Friday included Chaser Juan Pablo Montoya hitting the wall during his qualifying lap although he wouldn’t need to go to a backup car and would start the 500-mile race from the fourth position.
Denny Hamlin, another Chaser, was fastest at the two-mile oval during Friday’s qualifying session to win his first pole of the 2009 season, starting along side Chaser Greg Biffle who slides into the second position after David Reutimann’s time was disallowed following post-qualifying inspection. Reutimann had qualified second but NASCAR officials deemed that he had illegal shocks on his car and was put to the 42nd spot.
As for the rest of the Chase field, Jimmie Johnson would start third, Mark Martin ninth, Jeff Gordon tenth, Carl Edwards 11th, Tony Stewart 20th, Kurt Busch 24th, Kasey Kahne 25th, Brian Vickers 32nd, and Ryan Newman from the 36th position.
After a pre-race concert and the command to start engines from Kelsey Grammer, the Pepsi 500 and 250 laps of racing was underway.
Hamlin led the 43 drivers to the green flag and led the first lap as Biffle and Johnson battled for second. Montoya and Harvick looked on and would see Johnson take that position on lap four.
The racing quickly became strung out and single file and all eyes turn to the No.18 of Kyle Busch that was preparing to get out of his car as soon as he could and hand it over to David Gilliland. In order to do that Gilliland needed to head behind the wall and park his No.71 machine that did not have enough funding to run the entire race.
Back up front as Hamlin lead the first 10 laps, Montoya took third position from Biffle, as Kevin Harvick, Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Edwards, and Joey Logano held their positions in the top ten.
Johnson took the lead on lap 11, as reports surfaced there might be a possible debris caution coming. Some of the big movers after the first few laps were Dale Earnhardt Jr. who moved up to the 21st spot after starting 37th and Brian Vickers who rode 16th after 15 laps.
Back up front Montoya took over the second spot from Hamlin who slid even further back after being passed by Kevin Harvick. Hamlin and Biffle ran fourth and five through 20 laps.
Jeff Gordon took fifth from Biffle a lap later. On lap 29 Juan Pablo Montoya caught and passed Jimmie Johnson for the lead to get five bonus points toward the championship Chase. The rest of the top ten consisted of Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, Gordon, Edwards, Biffle, Truex Jr., Bowyer, and Casey Mears.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 40 with Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson who asked for a track bar adjustment, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne also were in for adjustments and four tires.
Montoya came down on lap 41, as did Tony Stewart, and Denny Hamlin who got a track bar adjustment for a loose car. Ryan Newman got an air pressure adjustment and Kurt Busch came down a lap later after leading a lap, receiving four tires and fuel.
As the pit stops began to complete the cycle it put Johnson back into the lead over Montoya on lap 43 but Montoya took the lead back a lap later and began to drive away.
Not much action took place in the top ten, Mark Martin took the sixth position from Carl Edwards on lap 54, but much passing took place in the back of the pack. Earnhardt Jr. continued to climb, up to 16th, Kurt Busch after leading a lap, ran 14th, and Vickers and Stewart rode in the 17th and 18th positions.
After starting 42nd David Reutimann was up to the 24th spot but just five cars from going a lap down to the lighting fast Montoya.
The first caution came out on lap 59 after Jamie McMurray had a right rear tire go down.
All the leaders came down pit road, Montoya for no adjustments and would win the race off pit road over Harvick, Hamlin, Gordon, Biffle, Martin, Newman, Johnson, and Edwards.
The biggest loser on the pit stop was Jimmie Johnson who lost six spots after his pit crew had a problem with a lug nut.
Kevin Harvick took the lead on the restart as Hamlin went to second and Montoya had to battle with Martin for third, a battle that he lost. Hamlin jumped to the outside to try and take the lead from Harvick, which he did on lap 66.
Harvick lost positions to Martin and Jeff Gordon and on lap 68 Mark Martin took the lead from Denny Hamlin to earn five bonus points.
Montoya went back to the lead off turn two on lap 75 after catching Mark Martin. Jimmie Johnson rebounded to the third spot as Hamlin, Harvick and Gordon battled for the fourth spot.
Earnhardt Jr. cracked the top ten for the first time in the day at lap 80 as the caution came out on lap 81 after Ryan Newman blew a right front tire in turn one.
Martin Truex Jr., Montoya, Martin, Hamlin, Harvick were the first five drivers off pit road. Once again Johnson lost positions on pit road and would restart in the seventh spot.
Truex Jr. led the lap 87 restart but teammate Montoya took the lead from him in turn two, a lap later Denny Hamlin got side-by-side with Truex Jr. and took that position as Martin and Johnson followed.
Montoya led at the 100-lap mark over Johnson, Hamlin, Martin, Gordon, Harvick, Biffle, Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart.
Lap 113 saw Johnson try and take the lead as his teammate Earnhardt Jr., continued to climb through the field. Johnson was able to complete the pass a lap later. The third caution came out on lap 117 for debris as Johnson led.
All the leaders came down pit road as Denny Hamlin, Gordon, Johnson, Biffle and Montoya were the fastest ones of pit road and became the top five. Hamlin led them all to the lap 122 restart.
Lap 125 marked Johnson taking back the lead from Hamlin as Gordon rode third, Martin fourth, Montoya fifth, Biffle, Earnhardt Jr., Busch, Edwards, Harvick. On lap 128 Earnhardt Jr. went to the sixth position.
As the lap 140 mark approached the racing was back to being strung out and single file as Johnson pulled away for a six second lead over Montoya who took second from Hamlin.
Johnson led at the 150-lap mark over Montoya, Gordon, Hamlin, Martin, Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Harvick, and Casey Mears. Chasers on the outside of the top 10 were Biffle in 12th, Tony Stewart 14th, Ryan Newman 18th, and Brian Vickers 23rd position.
David Gilliland had the No. 18 car for Kyle Busch in the 27th spot and David Reutimann ran 21st after 157 laps, as Johnson still led by six seconds.
Joey Logano started green flag pit stops on lap 159 followed by Gilliland, Sorenson, and Greg Biffle. On lap 160 Johnson hit pit road and got an air pressure adjustment as Edwards hit pit road a lap later along with Harvick and others.
Montoya came down to his crew on lap 162 for four tires, as did Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon. Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch came next as Stewart took the lead before pitting on lap 164, which gave the lead back to Johnson.
Stewart however, would have to come back down pit road after he was caught speeding. The top five now were Johnson, Montoya, Gordon, Martin, and Hamlin.
With 70 laps to go Johnson led Montoya by over seven seconds, then came Martin, Gordon, Hamlin, Harvick, Earnhardt Jr., Busch, Edwards, and Casey Mears with only 20 cars on the lead lap.
A debris caution flew with 65 laps to go as the leaders came back down pit road.
Gordon got a track bar and wedge adjustment plus four tires. Montoya got a track bar and air pressure and Johnson got an air pressure adjustment as well. Hamlin also got an air pressure and wedge adjustment.
Hamlin won the race off pit road, them Montoya, Johnson, Martin, Harvick, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Biffle, and Mears.
On the restart the leader Hamlin got spun down into the pit wall after swinging to the left to try and block Juan Pablo Montoya and the caution was back out for the fifth time.
Montoya would now be the leader on the restart with 56 laps to go.
Johnson took the lead with 55 laps to go as Martin held down third with Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon battling behind him.
Johnson again pulled away from the field but Montoya was able to get the second position and begin to close the gap as the final pit stops approached. With 25 laps to go Jeff Gordon pulled his No. 24 Pepsi Chevrolet down pit road for his final stop. He took four tires and fuel.
Next was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who got four tires and fuel as well. Edwards came down pit road, as did the leader Johnson. Edwards got four tires an air pressure adjustment and fuel.
Johnson got an air pressure adjustment and four tires and fuel, as Montoya and Martin pitted with him. Next came Greg Biffle who got an air pressure and wedge adjustment with his four tires and fuel.
Kurt Busch pitted with 22 laps to go and got four tires and fuel with no adjustments. Kasey Kahne pitted that lap too and got four tires with an air pressure adjustment and fuel to go to the end.
Tony Stewart stayed on the track until there were 17 laps to go. Stewart going down pit road gave the lead back to Jimmie Johnson as the sixth caution flag flew with 16 laps to go.
This caution brought Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Regan Smith, and others back down pit road in hopes of getting tires and adjustments for the final laps.
Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lined up side-by-side for the restart with 12 laps to go. Gordon took the lead off turn two as Montoya tried to take second from Johnson but was unable to as the caution came out with 11 laps to go.
Kasey Kahne got spun into Greg Biffle on the front stretch after the loose Kurt Busch car hit Kahne who then went down and made contact with Biffle. They both spun through the infield grass and had to pit for repairs.
Gordon would hold the lead for the restart with seven laps to go. Johnson though took the lead with six laps to go as a huge wreck broke out in turn one.
Earnhardt Jr., Elliott Sadler, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, Reed Sorenson, Jeff Burton all got collected when Elliott Sadler spun Earnhardt Jr. and the rest piled on.
The wreckage brought out the red flag with six laps to go.
After 21 minutes under the red flag the leaders lined back up for the restart with Johnson, Gordon, Martin, Montoya, David Ragan, Stewart, Mears, Busch, Newman, and Edwards as the top ten.
Johnson pulled away on the restart and would take the checkered flag for his second win in the Chase and his fourth win at California and his fifth of the 2009 season.
Jeff Gordon finished second, Juan Pablo Montoya third, Mark Martin fourth, Tony Stewart fifth, Carl Edwards sixth, David Ragan seventh, Kurt Busch eight, Clint Bowyer ninth, and Kevin Harvick finished 10th.
Johnson took over the points lead by 12 over Martin, 58 over Montoya, 84 over Stewart, 105 over Gordon, 121 over Kurt Busch, 188 over Greg Biffle, 192 over Carl Edwards, 219 over Denny Hamlin, 223 over Ryan Newman, 306 over Kasey Kahne, and 351 over Brian Vickers.