Amanda Vincent / The Sports Xchange, Published March 23 2014
Kyle Busch hangs on for Sprint Cup victoryFONTANA, Calif. – Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson took advantage of four fresh tires on a green-white-checkered restart at the end of the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, and it paid off in a victory for Busch.
The move got Busch and Larson out in front of the field on the final lap at the Auto Club Speedway and helped Busch claim his 29th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
“What do you expect when you get a green-white-checker finish and everybody heads down pit road for four (tires)?” Busch asked.
Larson’s runner-up finish was his career best in the series.
Kurt Busch took only two tires during the final caution, which resulted in the two-lap sprint to the finish. Kurt Busch held on for third, Matt Kenseth was fourth and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five.
“Unreal the amount of emotions of running well today, executing on pit road,” Kurt Busch said after claiming his first top-20 finish of the year. “Daniel Knost (crew chief) did a great job, and this Haas Automation Chevy was fast and then to race your boss (Stewart) for the win. Neither one of us came home with the ‘W’ so we are both upset about that, but at the same time, it was a genuine moment for Tony and I to race and to put it all out on the line for Stewart-Haas.”
Tire problems plagued several drivers throughout the race, with at least 20 tire issues causing cautions or, at the very least, bringing cars down pit road prematurely.
“To be honest with you, the back straightaway is very rough, and I think the tire can’t handle the load that it goes through on that back straightaway,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 12th after a couple of tire problems. “And it’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together. There ain’t another race track on the circuit besides Kentucky that has bumps like that. They’re incredible, huge, huge bumps.”
Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 104 laps and was in front with 10 laps to go, gave up the lead to pit for tires with seven laps remaining. Two laps later, Brad Keselowski had a flat tire and so did Marcos Ambrose.
A yellow flag waved with three laps remaining in the scheduled 200-lap distance when a tire issue sent Clint Bowyer into a spin.
During the caution, every driver except for Landon Cassill headed for pit road for at least two tires. The Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Kurt Busch and Stewart took only two tires for track position, as did Paul Menard.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon, among others, took four. Gordon had inherited the lead when Johnson pitted just before the caution, but with Cassill staying out and a few drivers taking two, Gordon wound up in the back of the top 10 for the restart.
“The closing laps were pretty much typical restart for me,” Gordon said. “I got the inside lane, which was absolutely the worst lane for me. I got, actually, a decent restart and it just didn’t go well. I went to the inside of the No. 18 (Kyle Busch). He swerved left; that put him in the middle, me on the bottom three or four wide, and it just went downhill from there.”