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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Great Work in the Pits Guides Matt Kenseth to His 2nd Straight Victory in 2009 Auto Club 500 at Fontana

For years, it seems, Matt Kenseth’s pit crew, affectionately known as the “Killer Bees,” has been considered to be the best pit crew in the Sprint Cup Series. Tonight, they proved it.

Kenseth greatly benefitted from the speed of the Killer Bees on pit road to gain the lead back on the final round of pit stops under the caution at lap 210. From there, Kenseth held off the advances of Jeff Gordon to win the Auto Club 500.

The win marks the second consecutive victory to start the season for Kenseth. This is the first time that it’s been done since Gordon pulled off the feat in 1997. That season, Gordon went on to win his second Winston Cup championship. Once he reached victory lane, Kenseth was very pleased with his performance.

Gordon, who finished second to Kenseth, was happy with his position but disappointed at the same time.

“We were awesome in every way tonight with our DuPont Chevrolet. I’m really excited on one side and I’m really upset on the other because I felt we had an opportunity to win this race,” the four-time champion said after the race. “We were a little loose off [the corner] and it was just too much.”

Kyle Busch, who won both the Stater Brothers 300 Nationwide Series race and the San Bernardino County 200 Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday, finished a distant third. Although third is a great finish, Busch was not all that pleased with it. In post-race comments, Busch referred to his run as being “substandard,” especially in comparison to the other two races that he drove in this weekend.

Greg Biffle, who had a serious chance to win before running over the air hose on the final pit stop, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five.

Denny Hamlin had a very quiet run to sixth, followed by Carl Edwards. Tony Stewart finished eighth and three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson ninth. Brian Vickers, who sat on the pole for the race before dropping back to the rear following an engine change, came back through the field to match the 10th-place finish he earned in this race in 2007.

This race, like the Daytona 500, was plagued by rain. Four out of the five cautions thrown during the race were for rain showers coming over the speedway. The jet dryers went out onto the track and kept the track dry enough so that the red flag was never displayed. This happened despite the fact that the radar during the race showed precipitation over the track for most of the race. Despite the rain showers, the race was more competitive than the Daytona 500 was, with 19 lead changes between 11 drivers.

2009 AUTO CLUB 500 RACE RESULTS

Points Standings

Kenseth’s second consecutive win to start the season has increased his lead up to 81 points over new second-place man Gordon, who is up from 12th after Daytona. Behind those two is a tie for third place between Stewart and Kurt Busch, 10 points behind Gordon. Busch officially gets the third position because of a top-five finish tonight at Fontana.

In fifth position is Biffle, already 117 points out of the lead. Biffle is followed up by Clint Bowyer in sixth. Bowyer, down two positions this week, finished a lap down in 19th on Sunday. Michael Waltrip is up a position to seventh after hanging onto the coattails of the lead lap all day on his way to a 15th-place finish. David Ragan is now eighth after finishing 17th on Sunday.

Edwards is up to ninth in the standings after a seventh-place finish at Fontana, while Juan Pablo Montoya is up to a career-best 10th in the standings following an 11th-place finish on Sunday. Elliott Sadler and David Reutimann round out the top 12.

Around the Top-35 Cutoff

The first two races of the season have shown that Stewart’s No. 14 is by far the strongest of the cars that have to time their way into the field. Barring an utter calamity, Stewart will definitely be able to lock the No. 14 into the field after Bristol. Stewart is currently tied for third in points after finishing eighth on Sunday.

The other teams that are currently in position to potentially lock in after Bristol are the No. 44 for Richard Petty Motorsports (driven by AJ Allmendinger) and the No. 28 Yates Racing Ford of Travis Kvapil.

Kvapil put in a very conservative lap on Friday (37th quickest) in order to make sure the Farmers Insurance Group Ford made the race. This was because the splitter broke, causing the car not to handle well. On race day, Kvapil drove up through the field and eventually finished 18th, one lap down. As for Allmendinger, he impressed with an eighth-place qualifying effort, but a lug nut mistake on a green-flag pit stop necessitated an extra pit stop, dropping him out of the Top 35. Allmendinger eventually fought back to finish 29th. This dropped Allmendinger all the way back to 14th in the points, but it’s still early.

Of the teams that are already locked in, the ones that may be in trouble after the first two races are both of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates, Joey Logano and Scott Speed, whose teams are in 38th and 42nd in owner points respectively. The No. 98 of Paul Menard is also down in 40th in owner points after two races. The No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., after two straight bad races, is down in 35th in owner points, only two points ahead of the No. 8 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Aric Almirola.