Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson made their ways to the front of the field after a green-white-checker restart in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to battle for the win, much the way they did the previous day in the Nationwide Series race at the track. Larson won on Saturday, but come Sunday, Busch was in victory lane, celebrating his 29th-career Sprint Cup win and his third at ACS.
“Man oh man,” Busch said. “The first thing that comes to mind when the caution came out with just a few laps to go. That was a total Rowdy Burns ‘Days of Thunder’ right there.”
Larson finished second, Kurt Busch was third, Matt Kenseth fourth, and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five. For Kurt Busch, it was his first top-20 finish of 2014.
“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 upsset 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 were aplenty throughout the race, including in the late going. A spin for Clint Bowyer, that was a product of a flat tire, brought out the ninth and final caution of the race with three laps to go. Landon Cassill stayed out, despite the history of tire problems throughout the race, to restart with the lead. Kurt Busch, Stewart and Paul Menard took two tires, while everyone behind them took four.
Cassill dropped back through the field as soon as the race returned to green. Busch, who restarted fifth, and Larson, who restarted ninth, made their way up to the top-two spots on the final lap to battle for the win.
“I thought I wanted to start eighth and then the No. 40 (Cassill) stayed out and we started ninth,” Larson said. “I thought we were in trouble, there, or at least not going to be able to get up to the front. I don’t know where eveerybody went, but I somehow ended up in second, there, and I was right on Kyle down the backstretch.”
Just a few laps prior to the final caution, the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were showing the way. But on lap 193, Johnson gave up the lead to make an unscheduled stop because of a flat tire, handing the lead over to Gordon.
“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.”
Gordon had raced his way up through the field twice. He was caught speeding on pit road during the first caution of the race just before lap 20 and restarted in the back. During a caution on lap 58, Gordon, Bowyer and Brad Keselowski failed to hit pit road with the other lead lap cars, claiming that the lights at the beginning of pit road were still red. Gordon and Bowyer opted to pit the next time by, while Keselowski stayed out.
Keselowski was a mainstay up front early in the race, leading 38 laps before the issue with the caution lights. He restarted the race with the lead, but dropped outside the top-30 quickly. In the end, he wound up finishing 26th. Gordon finished 13th and Johnson 24th.
Johnson took over after the lap-58 caution and went on to lead 104 laps of the 206 that made up the race.
Jamie McMurray finished sixth, Brian Vickers was seventh, A.J. Allmendinger eighth, Menard ninth, and Carl Edwards finished 10th.
Sam Hornish Jr. drove the No. 11 car to a 17th-place finish as a substitute driver for Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was taken to a local hospital shortly before the start of the race when a sinus infection affected his vision.
Here’s a photo gallery from Sunday’s action at Auto Club Speedway (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR):