Busch scrapes into 2nd at Fontana after wall brush

Kyle Busch could relate to Jimmie Johnson’s relief when the red

flag came out with 71 laps left at Auto Club Speedway.

While Johnson’s oil leak would have ruined his race if NASCAR

hadn’t stopped it due to rain Sunday, Busch wasn’t sure he would

have been able to stay in second place much longer.

Busch led for 80 early laps at Fontana, but was passed by

eventual winner Tony Stewart when Busch got caught behind Juan

Pablo Montoya. He then brushed the wall several laps later while

trying to close the gap on Stewart.

”Wish we would have been able to race the whole thing on one

hand, but on the other hand, I’m kind of glad we’re not,” said

Busch, who earned his second top-10 finish of the season. ”We have

a little bit of damage that slowed us down there, about 20 laps to

go.”

Stewart never surrendered the lead in his second victory of the

season. Busch, who led 151 laps at Fontana last year before

finishing third, managed his 10th top-10 finish in 15 races

here.

—-

LOSING GAMBLE: Busch started alongside pole-sitter and Joe Gibbs

Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who finished 11th after taking a risk

that didn’t pay off.

Hamlin gave up second place when he pitted during the rain

caution, and the gamble sent him down nine spots when the race was

scrubbed. Hamlin didn’t regret the move, however.

”We’re planning on the race going back green,” Hamlin said.

”If it doesn’t, then we’ll lose some spots. If we chose to stay

out there, then we were going to have to be behind all the cars

that pitted. Then your chances of winning decrease greatly. You

either give up a few spots if it finishes up here, or you lose a

chance to win in the grand scheme of things.”

After watching the impressive performance by Hamlin’s Toyota in

qualifying and both practice sessions, Stewart realized the

challenge presented by Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb, who

hooked up with Hamlin after getting fired by Stewart last

December.

”I feel bad for Denny and Darian, to have a car that strong,”

said Stewart, who elected to stay on the track during the caution.

”It was a hard call. I know it was hard for Steve (Addington,

Stewart’s new crew chief) and for all the other crew chiefs. We

were kind of sitting on the west edge of the (weather) cell. It

looked like it was all going to go north. We just caught the edge

of it, but you didn’t know if it was going to go away or keep

building.”

—-

KEEP IT OLD-SCHOOL: Don’t expect Auto Club Speedway to get rid

of what makes it unique.

While many NASCAR venues have repaved in recent years, the

Southern California track relishes every bump in its well-aged

asphalt. Speedway President Gillian Zucker thinks the 2-mile oval

is fine just the way it is.

”There’s not a driver in this garage that feels it’s time to

repave this track,” Zucker said. ”The way that this track has

come into its own is amazing. … I don’t think there’s a better

place to watch double-wide restarts.”

Fontana hosted two NASCAR races from 2004-10, but NASCAR cited

declining attendance when it moved the fall race to Kansas last

year. Zucker is among those who think the circuit erred in taking a

race out of the nation’s second-largest media market – the largest

with a NASCAR race.

Zucker pointed to a healthy crowd at Sunday’s race as a sign

auto racing has plenty of fans in the Southland, with improvement

in the economy corresponding with the Speedway’s expansive

marketing efforts from Bakersfield to San Diego.

”We have to market everywhere, and I think it’s definitely made

an impact,” said Zucker, who gets help from Bakersfield’s Kevin

Harvick and El Cajon’s Jimmie Johnson in her efforts.

Although a second NASCAR race probably isn’t returning any time

soon, IndyCar returns to Fontana in on Sept. 15 after a six-year

absence on a track originally built for open-wheel racing.

Count Dale Earnhardt Jr. among the drivers who like the old

track, too.

”I think the asphalt will last a few more years,” Earnhardt

said.

—-

D’OH: Jeff Gordon added two more head-slapping mistakes to a

rough season so far.

Gordon drove away from pit road with the gas can still stuck in

his car – and the gasman hanging on to it. He got a stop-and-go

penalty for removing equipment from his pit box.

A bit later, his crew committed a tire violation, with a tire

actually bouncing down pit road away from the car.

Last week at Bristol, Gordon was off to a good start before

Earnhardt’s tailpipe cut his tire, sending him spinning into the

wall. At the season-opening Daytona 500, Gordon blew an engine.

Although Gordon had one of the weekend’s fastest cars at

Fontana, he ended up in 26th, slipping to 25th in the points

standings.

—-

PIT STOPS: Actor Kristy Swanson was the honorary starter, and

celebrities were all over the closest NASCAR race to Hollywood.

Vince Vaughn attended the drivers’ meeting, while Sean Hayes, Will

Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos showed up dressed in firesuits in

character as the Three Stooges. They’re starring in the Farrelly

Brothers film coming out next month. … Josh Wise, from nearby

Riverside, Calif., was the highest-finishing rookie at 37th. …

After winning Saturday’s Nationwide race, Joey Logano got a

speeding penalty and finished 24th, falling out of the top 10 in

the points standings. … Brad Keselowski, who won at Bristol last

week, also got a speeding penalty and finished 18th.