Kevin Harvick Runs Flat, Passes the Broom to Matt Kenseth at Fontana

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Kevin Harvick Runs Flat, Passes the Broom to Matt Kenseth at Fontana
Two weekends into the 2007 racing season, "sweep" is the word in NASCAR. 
 
After Kevin Harvick pulled the Busch/Cup double at Daytona, he was the only driver in position to keep Matt Kenseth from doing the same in Fontana. But Harvick had tire trouble in the closing laps of the Auto Club 500, and Kenseth busted out the broom.
 
Sunday marked the second time in his career that Kenseth won both the Busch and Cup races at a track on the same weekend.  Not that his success was a big surprise: Roush/Fenway Fords have dominated the two-mile California Speedway in recent years, with Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Kenseth netting victories for "The Cat in The Hat"—better known as team co-owner Jack Roush.

 

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.

 
There's an old cliché that says races are won or lost in the pits. On Sunday,  Jimmie came in to the pits first, had a slow stop, and left fifth. Kenseth's "Killer Bees" pit crew, on the other hand, were characteristically flawless in getting the No. 17 car out ahead of the pack—and that was where he'd stay.

 

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.

 
Harvick's troubles left Jeff Burton in second place—until Burton spun his tires out of the restart and was passed by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. They couldn't catch Kenseth, though, and had to settle for the place and show positions.
 
It was Gordon's second top-10 finish, moving him up to third in the point standings.
 
Burton wound up fourth and moved to second in the points, while Mark Martin vaulted to first in the Nextel Cup hunt with an "Army Strong" fifth-place finish.
 
Not bad for a guy who was going to retire two years ago, and who left his full-time ride with Jack Roush for a part-time schedule with Ginn Racing in the 01 U.S. Army car.
  
Speaking of Martin, how's this for a soap opera: The veteran is off to his best career start.  Ginn has offered him the ride for the full season, if he wants it. Martin says he doesn't.  He says he won't know that he can walk away from the track until he watches the race at Bristol on March 25th from his rocking chair.

 

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.

 
Final results of the Auto Club 500 at Fontana, California, can be viewed here:
 
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