Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I got to watch those guys battle up there. It was just an amazing finish. - Carl Edwards
FONTANA, CA – The guy who said “it never rains in Southern California” obviously didn’t live in California. The start of the California 500 was threatened by rain on Sunday. Luckily, the rain stopped at 10:30 allowing the Fontana crew to dry out the track – a two-hour ordeal. Starting from the pole, F1 champion Juan Pablo Montoya led the first 7 laps of the race. Denny Hamlin, also starting on the front row, placed his FedEx Toyota in the lead until lap 22 when teammate Kyle Busch took over. The race saw 10 leaders with Kyle Busch in front for 151 laps. But there is one lap that is most important to lead, and Kevin Harvick claimed the position with only half a lap to go, passing Jimmy Johnson in turn 3 of the last lap.
Harvick performed a video-perfect move bump-drafting Johnson, pushing him deep into turn 3. Harvick drifting high went around Johnson and crossed the finish line 0.144sec ahead of Johnson. Commenting on his “cone-from-behind-at-the-end” style, “I think, you know, for me, I always was taught to race, just go fast enough to put yourself in position to be around at the end and make sure your car still has all the fenders and tires and everything still underneath it,” said Harvick. “When it's time to go, you have a little something left; your car is hopefully fresher than the guys around you. Probably somewhat of a bad habit that I have, but I guess it works out.” The win propelled Harvick from 15th to 9th in the championship points. This was the native-Californians first win at Fontana, and is Richard Childress Racing’s first win at the California Oval.
After dominating for much of the race, Kyle Busch could not manage better than 3rd followed by Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. The most disappointing performance was had by Tony Stewart who could manage no better than 13th. Leading 11 laps of the race, Stewart had one of the best cars at Fontana and was running in second place for much of closing laps of the day. But in the final 10-lap melee, Stewart got a bad restart on Lap 190 and just fell out of contention. Tony’s Crew Chief Darian Grubb commented, “We’re not really sure what happened, obviously, we’re pleased with the way the car ran for the majority of the race, but it’s pretty disappointing that we ended up where we did. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get going in the laps after the final restart, and it cost us a ton of positions.” Stewart is winless in 2011 and is in 6th place in the points.
A 17th place finish by point leader Kurt Busch allowed Carl Edwards to claim the points lead. Edwards leads fellow Ford-driver Ryan Newman by 9 points moving into Martinsville. Edwards appeared to have a good time at Fontana commenting, “I am really excited for these great fans to be able to see that wild of a finish at this race track, which is one of the best race tracks we go to… For our AFLAC team to come out of here leading the points is big, considering how we ran all day. We really weren’t that good. I’m glad I had a cushion. I got to watch those guys battle up there. It was just an amazing finish. That last run, for me, with no [new] tires, was the best run we had.”