Tony Stewart got a win that he desperately needed on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, beating a resurgent Clint Bowyer and the clear cut favorite, Jimmie Johnson. But the big story of the hard-fought race may not be who won the race, but who lost the most and least points, as Chase contenders dropped like flies throughout the 400 mile event.
Last week’s race winner Greg Biffle was the first Chaser to experience misfortune, losing an engine in the early laps. Roush Fenway racing’s other two Chase contenders also had engine related issues, first Carl Edwards with a broken ignition rotor, then later Matt Kenseth with a terminal engine failure that appeared to be similar to Biffle’s. Kyle Busch also blew his engine late in the race, leaving him all but out of contention for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Jeff Gordon appeared to be a threat to win the race, but he killed his chance with the self-inflicted wound of a pit road speeding penalty. While Gordon and the Hendrick Motorsports Dupont Chevrolet team rallied to a ninth-place finish, it was clearly a disappointment for one of the prerace favorites. Kurt Busch also saw his Chase fortunes take a tumble as he crashed hard with David Ragan late in the race.
The racing was probably the best ever at Fontana, ironic given that there will be no Chase race there next season. The decision to shorten the race from 500 miles to 400 made for much closer competition, with five wide and nose to tail battles the order of the day. The final restart saw Stewart pulling away slightly, and Bowyer diving under Johnson to claim second. In a rare recent show of strength, Mark Martin led early before finishing sixth, behind Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
Saturday’s Nationwide race also saw good close racing, but in the end Kyle Busch once again overcame a penalty to win. Kevin Harvick appeared to have the best car, but slow pit stops cost him a shot at the win, and left him furious with his crew. Danica Patrick saw her best run ever in a NASCAR race come to a bitter end, as she wrecked hard while running 14th on the lead lap late in the race.
Patrick has said openly that she needs help to set up her race car. Last week, she sought out veteran Mark Martin and asked his advice. What she needs is a mentor, an experience stock car driver who can help her with chassis setup and offer advice. Buddy Baker has been an invaluable asset to drivers such as Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, and Ryan Newman. Danica Patrick needs help, and JR Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. should invest in her if they are serious about her career as a NASCAR driver.