Tony Stewart Wins Rain-Shortened 16th Annual Auto Club 400
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. (March 25, 2012) – Last year’s Sprint Cup series champion Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) continued his fast start to 2012 as the 40-year-old won his second race of the year capturing the rain-shortened 16th annual Auto Club 400 after 129 laps were completed on Sunday.
It was the first Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway to be shortened by weather. The last NSCS race to be stopped short of its scheduled distance was in 2009 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, won by Joey Logano.
The race was called with 71 laps to go just before 2:30 p.m. local time, two and a half hours from the start of the race, as a massive storm rolled through Southern California.
“I’m just real excited,” said Stewart, typically a slow starter who produces better results during the warmer
summer months and toward the end of the season. “You never want to win that way (with the race ending early). We decided to stay out and the drops just kept getting bigger and bigger. You never knew if the rain was going to go away or stay.”
It was the second Sprint Cup win for Stewart out of the last three Auto Club Speedway races as he won the Pepsi Max 400 in October of 2010.
“We knew we had a good enough car to finish in the top three at least,” said Stewart, who has won his last 15 races and his second of the year following his victory at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago. “All the guys back in the shop deserve this win. They’ve all been busting their butts.”
“This Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy is bad fast,” Stewart told the nationally televised Fox audience during the delay. “Whether we get more rain or go back green, I'm happy with my car.”
Kyle Busch (No. 2 Interstate Batteries Toyota) finished in second place. “It was really good for us,” Busch said. “We had a great race car from the start of the race. We got the lead from Denny (Hamlin) there after the first lap and led a lot of laps. I just wished we ran 30 more and then we’d be in a different position now.”
Busch would have liked to have finished the race, but was happy it ended when it did. “On one hand it would have been good, but on the other hand I’m kind of glad we didn’t finish because we kind of had a little bit of damage that slowed us down a little bit there with about 20 laps to go. I’m glad we were able to run that way and run up front like we’re supposed to and to our potential.”
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin was in second when the rains hit, but decided to come to pit road during the caution and ended up finishing 12th. It was a move that surprised Dale Earnhardt Jr., (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard Chevrolet) who benefitted from the move and finished in third place.
“Yeah, I was surprised that everyone didn’t stay out,” Earnhardt said. “I was pretty certain by watching the weather and studying the weather all night long and day today that once it began to rain, it wasn’t going to stop. I was surprised some guys came down pit road and gave up track position since once it started raining I knew it wasn’t going to stop. I’m happy with the start to the season so far.”
Last year’s winner Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet) was fourth and Carl Edwards (No. 99 Subway Ford) fifth when the rains hit. Points leader Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) was sixth, followed by Ryan Newman (No. 39 US ARMY Chevrolet), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota), Kurt Busch (No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Inc. Chevrolet) and five-time winner Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s / Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet).
Josh Wise (No. 26 MDS Ford) was the highest finishing rookie.