In the 500, reigning Nextel Cup champ Jimmie Johnson held the lead heading into the last set of pit stops, with twenty or so laps remaining. His Lowe's Chevy was running two seconds in front, and the field found itself having to play a strategy game for the final green-flag stop. Then the ugly debris monster reared its head, bringing out the caution and bunching up the field behind Johnson's No. 48.
On the restart, Kenseth pulled away from RCR teammates Harvick and Jeff Burton. Harvick lost valuable time trying to get around Burton, leaving him almost two seconds behind Kenseth with fewer than 20 laps remaining. The Daytona winner didn't give up, though, and chipped away at the No. 17's lead until he was threatening the lead with eight laps to go.
Then a three-car wreck in turn three sent David Reutimann into the wall, and NASCAR choose to red flag (stop) the race with only six laps remaining. The rookie Reutimann was momentarily stunned, but would emerge from his crumpled Domino's Pizza Camry under his own power. Fortunately, the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier absorbed most of the impact—though Reutimann's on-board telemetry system registered the highest G-force impact in the short history of the devices.
The field bunched up again for the restart with only four laps remaining—but Harvick wasn't part of the show. His Shell/Pennzoil Chevy cut down a left-front tire, costing him second place and forcing him to pit. He would eventually finish 17th overall.
If there's one thing NASCAR fans have come to learn, though, it's that just because Mark Martin says something doesn't mean he means it. And you can bet that plenty of folks are hoping the old man changes his mind one more time. I would speculate that the U.S. Army is hoping the same thing—because it makes for great marketing to have the gold and black up front week-in and week-out.
Other notable finishes from Sunday's Auto Club 500 were Tony Stewart in eighth, Brian Vickers in tenth, and rookie David Ragan in 16th—following up his strong Daytona 500 finish to take the early lead in rookie points. Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. both suffered engine failures and came in 38th and 40th, respectively.
Nextel Cup teams will have the weekend off after Car of Tomorrow testing this week at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Busch Series will pair up with the Rolex Sports Car Series for a road race in Mexico City.