Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sprint Cup Pepsi Max 400 Results with Fontana Fortune for Tony Stewart

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Hot fun in the fall time! The fourth race of NASCAR's 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup had the big league stock car series returning to California state for the final time of this season. Having a reputation for holding rather dull stock car events, the Auto Club Speedway hosted the Pepsi Max 400.
Led by Jamie McMurray's #1 Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, 43 cars started the 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup race clean. Because of the wide two-mile configurations, a driver needs to keep their foot on the accelerator on straights and coast through sweeping corners with as little speed loss as possible. With powerplants hovering in sizable RPM ranges, the Auto Club Speedway is known as a race track capable of taking a toll on engines and mechanical components. The first 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, it was thought the shortened distance would part failures. Though logical, a shorter race also means teams in the super competitive division could perhaps chance running lighter components than the early 2010 event. 
The first driver bit by a major mechanical bug was the #16 Ford of Greg Biffle. Compounding what would be a hard luck day for Roush-Fenway Racing's entire four-car team, half of their Ford brigade suffered early at Auto Club Speedway. Greg Biffle's gained momentum at the Kansas Speedway race was lost when the engine of his #16 Roush-Fenway Ford early in the event. Completing only 40 laps in the Pepsi Max 400, Biffle finished 41st resulting in a drop to 10th place in the Chase standings. Deeper into the race, Carl Edwards suffered a power loss inside his #99 Ford. Attributed as a distributor issue, the #99 Roush-Fenway crew were able to return Edwards to the race track but lost 14 laps due to the problem. For the duration of the Pepsi Max 400, Carl Edwards' continuation in the event saw the potential Chase runner making up positions due to competitor's withdrawing. Minimizing damage with a 34th place run Edwards still slipped down the Chase running order to 7th overall.


Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
While the struggles of Biffle and Edwards would amount to costly non-driver related mishaps for the Roush-Fenway Racing Chase contenders (the team's third Chase eligible driver Matt Kenseth would also suffer late race mechanical issues), almost every driver within the top-12 of NASCAR Sprint Cup points were faced with some form of adversity to overcome. Throughout the running of the Pepsi Max 400, the #24 Dupont car of Jeff Gordon, the #31 of Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick's #29 Chevy were all assessed penalties relating to pit road errors. 

As many Chase contenders struggled through at Auto Club Speedway, non-Chase runners found opportunity to spoil the Pepsi Max 400. Leading for the most laps on the day, Hendrick Motorsports' #5 Chevy piloted by Mark Martin also held the top position for the longest sustained period during the race with 23 laps. Rallying from a poor result at Kansas Speedway, Kasey Kahne's #9 Ford climbed into the top-10 after starting 21st. On more noteworthy effort in the Pepsi Max 400 was also logged by Ryan Newman. Narrowly missing the 2010 championship Chase, Newman's #39 Stewart/Haas Racing car would be the second impressive run from the team.
Taking the points lead after the Kansas Speedway race the previous week, Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Chevrolet was a race favourite based on a his prior success at Auto Club Speedway. In 9 previous races since 2006, Johnson's average finish is 2.44 with 4 victories which includes the late winter event of this season. Starting 8th in the Pepsi Max 400, the #48 Chevy stayed inside the top-10 through almost the entire day. However, besides for leading 22 laps before the halfway point of the race, Jimmie Johnson settled into a valuable top-5 place.

As the #48 Lowes Chevrolet was able to hover at the front for another strong event finish in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, another championship-capable racer encountered a second-straight blooper. The #18 Joe Gibbs Racing car of Kyle Busch was running firmly in the top-10 until the Toyota's engine began to gave up after 155 laps. The Pepsi Max 400 ended as another sub-par race as Denny Hamlin  and Joey Logano both finished in the top 11 cars both neither driver was able to lead a lead.

Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/ Getty Images for NASCAR
Shaping up the finish of the Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway, a trio of Chevrolets battled after the 9th and final caution for a wreck between the #6 Ford of David Ragan and the #2 Dodge driven by Kurt Busch. As the green dropped on lap 198, the #14 Chevrolet of Tony Stewart held on to the lead after a brief threat from Jimmie Johnson. Thanks to the fight waged from eventual race runner-up Clint Bowyer piloting the #33 Chevy, Johnson was occupied definitely allowing the #14 of Stewart to storm for victory at the Auto Club Speedway. After 12 seasons in full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, this win marked a long-fought first place result at the Fontana two-mile oval. The rest of the top 5 consisted in the order of Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
Grabbing a 3rd place finish, Jimmie Johnson is able to elongate his point lead to 36 points over Denny Hamlin. Within 100 points of Johnson heading into Charlotte is Kevin Harvick (54 points behind) and Jeff Gordon (85 points behind). Tony Stewart's win gave the #14 car owner/driver a 5 position bounce for his Chase hopes.

Auto Club Speedway provided a more lively than usual event for 2010. Unfortunately, NASCAR has already made the decision this Chase race in sunny California will be vanished for 2011 along with the two-mile track's second date. Selling about 70,000 of the over 91,000 seats, attempts to sell-out the Auto Club Speedway since receiving their second Sprint Cup date were rarely successful. One late March race at the Fontana track remains next year.

The next race for the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup rolls into the Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night.

2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup
Auto Club Speedway
Pepsi Max 400
Race Results

Top 10:
  1. 14 Tony Stewart Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet
  2. 33 Clint Bowyer The Hartford Chevrolet
  3. 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet
  4. 9 Kasey Kahne Budweiser Ford
  5. 39 Ryan Newman Tornados Chevrolet
  6. 5 Mark Martin CARQUEST/ Chevrolet
  7. 29 Kevin Harvick Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet
  8. 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Office Toyota
  9. 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont/Pepsi Max Chevrolet
  10. 00 David Reutimann Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota
Other Notables:
16) 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet
17) 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald's Chevrolet
21) 38 2 Kurt Busch Operation Home Front/Miller Lite Dodge
23) 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet
30) 17 Matt Kenseth Crown Royal Ford
34) 99 Carl Edwards Aflac Ford
35) 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Toyota
41) 16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford

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