Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stewart Beats Hamlin and Rain to Win Auto Club 400

Tony Stewart wins rain shortened Auto Club 400 (Getty)
Tony Stewart didn’t win in the first 26 races last season during his Championship year, but already has two in five 2012 races after taking the rain-shortened Auto Club 400 at California Speedway Sunday. Stewart had no wins in his first 18 California starts dating back to 1999, but has now won two of the last three.

Kyle Busch finished second followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

The best car of the weekend during practice was Denny Hamlin, and he still may have had the best car during the race, but between the rain and pit strategy his day won’t reflect it. When the first and only caution of the day came out, Hamlin, running second at the time, opted to come to pit row on lap 124 thinking they might have an edge if the race ever re-started. The rain never stopped and Hamlin ended up with a 12th-place finish.

Although Hamlin’s team said their pit stop during the caution was a planned, it did look as if Hamlin was baited into a stop by following Stewart’s lead. Stewart had faked the move to the pits and at the last moment, pulled back out to the lead. Busch, sitting in third, was about to follow as well, but left Hamlin and followed Stewart.

"I don't think that I faked him out," Stewart said of Hamlin. "I'm sure he had made his decision already -- looked good, though."

In hindsight, the Hamlin move looks ill-advised, but Hamlin said it was all part of a plan.

"We were planning on the race going back to green, and if it doesn't, we'll lose some spots, but if we chose to stay out there, we would have to be behind all the cars that pitted [if the race restarted]," Hamlin said as the rain intensified. "[In that case], your chance of winning decreases greatly.

"So you could give up a few spots if it finishes up here and lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things ...We had finally gotten to [Stewart's] bumper when the rain came."

This is the first California race not finish every lap. It’s a shame that the one weekend out of the year it seems to rain in Southern California has to happen when NASCAR visits. Weather is the reason the west coast has three of their five Cup races a year mashed into the first five weeks of the season.

Auto Club 400 Results

California Post Race Notes:
• Tony Stewart scored his 46th career win in his 467th career race.
• Tony Stewart posted his second career win at ACS in his 21st start; he has won two of the past three races there.
• Tony Stewart scored his second win of 2012, the first driver to win multiple races this season; he has won seven of the past 15 races, dating to Chicagoland (September 2011).
• Tony Stewart scored his third career win in a rain-shortened event: Michigan (June 2000), New Hampshire (July 2000).
• This is the first race to be rain-shortened since June 2009 at New Hampshire.
• Tony Stwart led twice for 42 laps, including the final 22.
• Stewart-Haas Racing posted its 15th career win.
• Chevrolet scored its 12th win at ACS, most of all makes; it has won the past five races there.
• Kyle Busch (second) scored his best 2012 finish; he led a race high 80 laps.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (third) has finished 15th or better in all five races in 2012.
• Kevin Harvick (fourth) has finished 11th or better in all five races this season.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) matched his best finish in 2012; he also finished fifth at Las Vegas.
• Greg Biffle (sixth) scored his fourth top-10 in five races this season; all five of his finishes are 13th or better.
• Martin Truex Jr.(eighth) posted his best finish and only top-10 in the past seven races at ACS.

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