Auto Club 400: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon Highlight 5 Good, 5 Bad

Ben Montedonico@@NASCARBRBenContributor IIIMarch 26, 2012

Auto Club 400: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon Highlight 5 Good, 5 Bad

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    The boys of NASCAR were California dreamin' this weekend as the circuit made its way to Fontana for Sunday's Auto Club 400.

    Rain washed out the race after 129 of 200 laps were completed, but the sun shown bright on Tony Stewart as he walked away as the beneficiary, collecting his second win of the season.

    Other drivers were not so fortunate. The rain washed away all hopes for a good finish for drivers like Jeff Gordon, while others simply had good runs wiped out when their luck ran dry.

    So who was good and who was bad Sunday at Fontana? We've got you covered!

Good: Tony Stewart

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    "Some say, 'It's better to be lucky than good.' I say, 'Is it too much to ask for both?" ~Tony Stark (a.k.a. Ironman)

    Tony Stewart, who ironically shares the same first name as Mr. Stark, showed on Sunday that it is better to be lucky than good, but it makes things a whole lot easier when you're both.

    Stewart was one of the three best cars on Sunday and had the dominant car during the portion of the race leading up to the downpour which marked the end of the race.

    When the first and only caution came out for rain, it was up to Stewart to decide whether to pit or not. He faked left, then juked right, staying out on the track and maintaining the lead.

    It has yet to be determined whether Stewart's "fake" actually fooled Denny Hamlin, who was running second at the time and chose to pit.

    Either way, Stewart's decision marked his second victory of the season as he became the first driver to score multiple wins in 2012.

Bad: Jamie McMurray

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    Jamie McMurray's day was doomed from the beginning.

    After scoring two consecutive Top 10 finishes in the last two races, McMurray struggled at Auto Club Speedway en route to a 32nd-place finish.

    On a day where there would be no cautions until the rains that ended the race, McMurray was plagued by two pit road penalties.

    A pair of violations is hard to overcome on a day riddled with caution flags. But when the ability to make up free time just isn't there, penalties will bury you deep, as they did with McMurray on Sunday.

Good: Kyle Busch

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    The man they call "Rowdy" is back.

    Coming off of a disappointing race a week ago at Bristol, where he was expected to return to his dominant form for the first time in 2012, Kyle Busch showed up at Auto Club Speedway with a chip on his shoulder and ready to make up for lost time.

    He didn't disappoint.

    Busch led the most laps on Sunday at the sight of his very first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, and might have had something for Stewart had the race gone back green.

    Whether he would have won the race or not is irrelevant now, but after scoring his first Top 5 of 2012, Busch showed on Sunday that he is out of hibernation and ready to contend for his first title.

Bad: Joey Logano

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    If Nationwide wins counted towards Sprint Cup points, this would be a very different discussion. But they don't, so it isn't.

    Saturday's winner just wasn't very good on Sunday. Logano started eighth but quickly fell back after an early pit road penalty which, like McMurray, he could never recover from.

    While Logano's teammates, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, possessed two of the three fastest cars on the race track Sunday, Logano was stuck mid-pack, racing with the likes of Casey Mears and Aric Almirola.

    Logano's 24th-place finish on Sunday also marked his third-straight finish outside the Top 15, a trend that has become all too common over the course of Logano's career.

    Logano started 2012 as a potential sleeper candidate for the Chase. But should this downward spiral continue, Logano may be lucky to find himself as a candidate for the No. 20 car in 2013.

Good: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Maybe, just maybe, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back to his prime form.

    Driver No. 88 ran in the Top 10 throughout most of Sunday's Auto Club 400, and as the race wore on Junior's car got better and better.

    To the point where it was...gasp...a Top 5 car.

    Junior's struggles on intermediate tracks over the last few years have been well-documented, but through two races on such tracks in 2012 Earnhardt has a pair of Top 10s and has proven to be quite competitive.

    That's something to keep an eye on in three weeks when the circuit heads to Texas, the track where Earnhardt earned his first career victory.

Bad: Brendan Gaughan

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    Brendan Gaughan's four-race stint with Richard Childress Racing did not go as planned.

    The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year runner-up had a best finish of 22nd in his second-chance ride with RCR, but perhaps his final race was the most disappointing.

    Gaughan rolled off the grid in 37th-place, but only made one lap around Auto Club Speedway before his engine erupted, resulting in a 43rd-place finish in his final ride.

    Gaughan has a few Camping World Truck Series races planned for 2012, but no more Sprint Cup rides as of right now.

    Hopefully for Gaughan, that will change. Because his last ride in the four-race deal with RCR was not a good one.

Good: Jimmie Johnson's Luck

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    If we had a sick-nasty category, Jimmie Johnson's luck would totally be in it.

    Just days after his 25-point penalty and six-race suspension of crew chief Chad Knaus was overturned out of nowhere, Johnson saw good luck rear his luscious head again on Sunday.

    Johnson was running tenth under the first and only caution when smoke(no, not Tony Stewart) suddenly began billowing out of the No. 48 car.

    What seemed to be a broken oil line was sure to send Johnson to the garage for an extended period of time and would have resulted in a finish outside the Top 30.

    As it were, the rains would come with Johnson still running tenth. The race was called, and Johnson was granted his fourth-consecutive Top 10 finish.

    Ironically, this all came at the same track where Kevin Harvick claimed two years ago that Johnson has a horseshoe hidden up an undesirable portion of his body. 

Bad: Jeff Gordon's Luck

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    Gordon fans have long complained that Jimmie Johnson has taken all of Jeff's good equipment.

    J.J. may have taken Jeff's luck too.

    While Johnson was off smoking his way to a Top 10 finish, Gordon's Top 5 day came crashing down and into the next pit stall on the final green flag stop of the race.

    During the last stop, the gas can for Gordon's car got stuck in the fuel slot. When Gordon took off from his stall, the can, as well as the man it was attached to, went for a ride and landed in the adjacent pit stall.

    Gordon had to come in for a stop-and-go penalty, resulting in a lost lap he would not have a chance to make up, as well as a 26th-place finish.

Good: Denny Hamlin

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    He may not have done the "Dougie" again, but Denny Hamlin sure looked good Sunday at Fontana.

    Hamlin started the day on Pole and proved to be one of the fastest cars in the race. Despite leading just two laps on Sunday, Hamlin ran with Tony Stewart and teammate Kyle Busch in the Top 3 all race long.

    Hamlin would go on to finish an unimpressive 11th after the rain, in conjunction with unfortunate pit strategy, beat him out of a sure Top 5.

    But Hamlin's finish is not the primary focus.

    The fact of the matter is Hamlin was competitive enough to win on an intermediate track for the first time in over a year.

    And after a pair of 20th-place finishes, that is a very good sign.

Bad: The Auto Club 400

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    Nobody ever watches a race in hopes of anxiously anticipating green flag pit stops.

    But unless you are a fan of Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin or Kyle Busch, that's often what you probably looked forward to throughout most of Sunday's Auto Club 400.

    Auto Club Speedway is often considered a track where long green-flag runs prevail. But there is a difference between long green-flag runs and flat-out boring, and what we saw Sunday was flat-out boring.

    Three-wide passes, which is what Auto Club is known for, were few and far between. Heck, any passes for position at all were few and far between.

    When one can take a 30-minute power nap and wake up to the same running order as they went to sleep with, that's a problem.

    But when one hopes and prays for the rain to come and wash out the remainder of the race just so he can be put out of his misery, that's downright sad.

    Especially for a track that has already lost one race date in the past two years.