Tony Stewart fought off Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson for his first Auto Club Speedway win on Sunday, taking the checkered flag at the Pepsi MAX 400 for his 39th career Sprint Cup win and second in 2010.
In a race that had 14 lead changes, Stewart (No. 14, Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet) took the lead coming off a caution on lap 189 while Bowyer (No. 33, The Hartford Chevrolet) and Johnson (Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet) battled behind him finishing second and third in one of the most exciting Auto Club Speedway races in years.
“I’m glad to finally win one in California,” Stewart said. “I can now check it off the list of tracks I’ve never won at.”
Following the victory, Stewart jumped five positions in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings and now sits in fifth place, only 107 points back of leader Johnson.
Added Stewart, “We’re doing everything we can do (to win the Chase). We’re going to need some help but we’re doing everything we can do. I’m just so happy with these guys. They refused to give up and refused to back down.”
Bowyer managed to take the lead earlier in the race leading with 16 laps to go until caution was called for debris on the track.
“The cautions had a lot do with so many guys having a chance today,” Bowyer said. “The more you have the more you get bunched up it’s going to breed more cautions. The tire/grid track combination whatever it may be made for a good race up high and down low. Mark Martin was the class of the field for awhile running from the bottom and then from the top. And then everyone was running all over. And when you can do that on a track this size, I think it’s going to make for some good racing.
“I was frustrated I didn’t get a win. I really wanted to get a win. We’re capable of winning races and if we keep doing what we’re doing we’re going to win again.”
Johnson was seeking his fourth straight victory at Auto Club Speedway. He maintained his Chase Cup lead by 36 points over Denny Hamlin. Three drivers are within 85 points of Johnson.
“I think if it would have stayed green you would have seen the No. 48 car in victory lane,” Johnson said. “We were really catching Tony fast on the top side. I just didn’t have anything on the bottom down on three and four. And on that restart that’s where I let Clint get on the inside of me and get by me. Wish we could have finished in victory lane but if you’re going to finish in the top three week in and week out you’re going to have a shot and that’s all we’re after.”
Story & Interview: Joann Young & ACS.