Winners and Losers: Pepsi 500

Patti RodischAnalyst IOctober 12, 2009

FONTANA, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway on October 11, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

For the first time in the Chase the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Auto Club Speedway, for a date in the Chase. With the standings the closest they have ever been in this Chase format California takes center stage with storylines abound for Chaser and racers alike.

Check out the winners and losers for the Pepsi 500.


Winners

Jimmie Johnson

Mark Martin called Jimmie Johnson superman a few weeks back and he is just that. Johnson dominated once again on Sunday, leading the most laps.

Johnson had a fast car in practice and had an even faster car for the race.They did struggle on pit road, losing multiple positions on multiple stops. Crew chief Chad Knaus though rallied the team and on the final stops they had no issues.

It came down to a battle of the teammates between Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Johnson had a better final restart, after the long red flag for a multi-car wreck. Johnson was able to pull away.

Once again Johnson wins at California and takes over the championship lead by just 12 points over teammate Martin.

Johnson heads to what use to be his house. Can he regain his dominance in Charlotte and pad the point lead?

Points:First

Jeff Gordon

You know the saying always the bridesmaid never the bride. For second consecutive week and the eighth time this year,  Jeff Gordon comes home in second place. Once again though they took a tough handling race car and were able to work on it and were there when it counted.

Gordon started in 10th position but quickly moved forward, he was battling in the top five early in the race. The team had solid pit stops and never dropped outside the top 10 on Sunday.

Gordon got the lead late in the race but multiple cautions and a red flag had Gordon on the defensive against his teammate Johnson. Unable to take the lead Gordon came home with another solid finish in the Chase.

After finishing in 14th at New Hampshire the team has steadily climbed back into the championship picture.

Gordon and his team are running like they did earlier in the year, but are still without a victory to complete the charge for the championship.

Points: Fifth

Juan Pablo Montoya

This week I am adding one more additional winner to my list. I have to give credit to Juan Pablo Montoya. He is the only Chase driver to finish in the top five in every race so far. It’s because of that they are in the hunt for a championship.

Montoya had a strong car all day long, leading laps and staying up front battling Johnson and Gordon for the lead late. But on the final restarts they struggled and were unable to make a charge for lead.

Montoya though is thinking big picture and another strong run.Montoya is doing everything he has to, to win the championship, except the problem is all the drivers around him are Chase drivers.

Even so Montoya’s third place finish is impressive for this dark horse.

Points: Third

Casey Mears

In recent weeks Casey Mears has had some strong runs and some good finishes. He seems to really heat up late in the year. There are so many questions about his future next year,  so he needs to run well. It couldn’t have happened at a better track than his home track this weekend.

Mears had a solid qualifying lap and ran no worse than 16thall day long. They were as high as sixth late in the race. Mears was giving great feedback and compared to other drivers, Mears was pretty happy with his car on Sunday.

Mears was sitting in seventh after a long red flag stop; Mears was in prime position for his best finish of the year. On the final restart though Mears slipped back and finished 11th on Sunday.

I am impressed with Mears, he once again does not get the TV coverage but has a great run. RCR as a whole ran well this weekend, which is a good sign for this organization.

Now Mears needs to hope that a sponsor were impressed and signs on for this team for 2010.

Points: 19th


Losers

David Gilliland

It’s not easy for a driver to get into a car after not practicing in all weekend. The communication between the team and the driver is different. With Kyle Busch sick, Gilliland was on standby to get into the car after he parked his ride in the No. 71.

Gilliland was able to stay on the lead lap with the driver change and charge up to 23rd before the caution for Ryan Newman's tire going down. They pitted and were able to gain three spots on the stop.

The team really struggled with the handling of the car, and Gilliland was never able to get to the front of the pack. After a green flag stop they got caught a lap down and with long green runs they could not get the lap back.

They finished 24th.

What hurt Gilliland was not having any seat time this weekend.  Unlike in the Nationwide race on Saturday, Hamlin was able to practice in the car. For Gilliland, maybe not getting him in the car at some point on Saturday hurt them on Sunday.

Points: 13th

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin had a fast car all weekend long. He won the pole and was hoping to continue his climb up the standings with a win today.

Hamlin had a great car early and ran in the top five all race long. On multiple pit stops he won the race off of pit road and was swapping the lead throughout the day. 

On the restart on lap 191 Hamlin tried to block a run from the inside line lead by Montoya, but got clipped and he went spinning through the grass. He was almost able to avoid major damage but hit the pit road retaining wall causing severe nose damage to his car.

Hamlin admitted that the accident was his fault and the team was able to make some repairs but the damaged Toyota was unable to reach NASCAR minimum speed they were black flagged and went to the garage.

They finished 37th.

This was not what they needed with the Chase so close; Hamlin mistake might have just cost him a shot at the championship.

Points: 10th

Kasey Kahne

After a rough start to the Chase in New Hampshire, Kahne had been putting together some strong runs trying to get back into the Chase picture. On Sunday he was doing just that.

Kahne struggled early in the race, with the handling of his car. The sun came out the handling on the car improved. The team got to work and steadily moved forward through the field. Kahne was running in the top ten late in the race when troubled happened.

Kurt Busch got loose and smacked the wall and then came down on Kahne. Kahne spun down on Greg Biffle both went into the infield.

The worst was yet to come when a late race chain reaction crash sent Kahne hard into Jeff Burton. Kahne day was over and so are his Chase hopes.

Kahne used his mulligan at New Hampshire and now they have to focus not on the Chase but the transition for next year.

Points: 11th


Lucky Dog…

Tony Stewart

It was an interesting day for Tony Stewart. After starting mid pack, Stewart struggled with traffic and a ill handling race car. They were never able to get track position.  To make matters worse Stewart was caught speeding on pit road and force to serve a penalty under green.

One lap down the team gambled when caution came out after those green flag stops, for a quick caution. After taking the wave around, they got that quick caution and were back on the lead lap.  Through all the gambling they were in the top five battling for the win late in the race.

Stewart did not have a good car but was able to take advantage of the breaks and get a solid finish on Sunday in fifth.

Points: Fourth


Final lap…

Well we know what the story will be about the race on Sunday empty stands and the single file racing. I want to give a heads up to the fans that did show up to cheer on their favorite drivers. California fans take a lot from the media and also other fans, for when they don’t show up.  

But an estimated 60,000 fans were there, spending a Sunday afternoon at the track. Any football, baseball or basketball team would love 60,000 fans in the stands every event.

 If you saw the race today there was long green runs and the cars were spread out, so the racing wasn't the best we have seen this year.

The day nobody shows up in the stands then NASCAR needs to worry.

The series heads to Charlotte for a Saturday night race, under the lights.

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