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Rewind | Commentary, key moments

- dpoole@charlotteobserver.com
Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

Rewinding Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif.:

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

Race was weekend's best, but...

The crowd here Sunday was better than what most had feared. It's a shame that 60,000 or so can be considered a good crowd, but that's about what it was.

You can't blame the fans here, though. If the product hasn't been good and nothing's changed, why come back?

Sunday's race way by far the weekend's best, but this track needs to be resized and reshaped. That's what might bring the fans back - a better product.

Racing in the rain

I shouldn't even have to say it, but I will. A 3:15 p.m. local time start meant that NASCAR absolutely wasted two hours, at least, during which cars could have been racing without rain.

At some point we need a final decision on who runs this sport - NASCAR or television.

Look it up before you trumpet it

Fox announcers kept saying Kyle Busch was going for a weekend trifecta in hopes of adding a Cup win to his victories in the Nationwide and Truck Series.

No. A trifecta bet in horse racing is picking the horses that finish first, second and third in a given race. Picking winners in three straight races is called a "Pick 3."

PIT STOPS

Biffle heaps blame on himself

Greg Biffle said there's only one person to blame for his car not winning, or at least having the chance to win, Sunday's Auto Club 500.

"They should fire me," Biffle said after making a key mistake on his final pit stop. He slid too far forward in his pit stall and drove over the air hose. By the time he backed up, got new tires and pulled out of his pit, he restarted 11th with 35 laps left and had to fight back to finish fourth.

"I just messed up, trying to get too greedy," Biffle said. "It was so hard to pass out there, I has hoping to beat the 24 (Jeff Gordon) out and I was trying to give my guys every advantage I could. ...They didn't do anything wrong. It was my fault."

Biffle said he's thrilled with the way his car ran and thinks he'll be a threat next Sunday at Las Vegas. But still, this week's mistake was hard to take.

"I don't know how I am going to sleep tonight," Biffle said. "I am just sick to my stomach. It almost brings tears to my eyes to know that I let the guys down like I did. When it's your fault, it's really hard."

Busch third in effort for sweep

Kyle Busch led 238 of the 250 laps he ran in winning the Nationwide and Truck series races here on Saturday, but he never got his No. 18 Toyota to the lead in Sunday's Cup race and had to settle for a third-place finish.

Nobody has ever won the Cup, Nationwide and Truck races in one weekend.

"It was less than stellar," Busch said of his Sunday run. "We wish we could have been a little bit better...but we'll take that. They were trying, you know we wanted to win and get the triple, but we ended up just a tick short."

Still, after being wrecked and finishing 41st in the Daytona 500 last week, a third-place finish was something Busch was happy to get. Auto Club Speedway also has a race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time this year, so Busch was glad to have a good result.

"We want to come to these places and run well," he said. "We had to set it in stone right now that we're going to be contenders in the final 10 like we were not last year. We've got a good, strong start here."

Kurt Busch off to good start

Kurt Busch missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, but is off to a good start in 2009, adding a fifth-place finish in Sunday's race to a 10th in the Daytona 500.

That leaves him third in the standings after two races, even with Tony Stewart and just 91 points behind two-time winner Matt Kenseth.

"It was a good night for us," Busch said. "I felt that our car had a great setup in it. We're happy. ...We need to make better adjustments during the race and...we'll be right there.

"...There's a long way to go, but we've had an excellent turnaround in the offseason."

Hamlin just short of a top five

Denny Hamlin was fighting for a top-five finish but fell just short, winding up sixth.

"We were loose the entire race," he said. "We fought it and fought it. ...We made as many changes as we could and got to where we could drive the car at the end.

"It was too bad. We were fourth and ended up sixth. We just couldn't hang on."

Stewart gets another top 10

Tony Stewart finished eight Sunday night at a track that has not been particularly good to him. Stewart has top-10 finishes in his first two races with his new team and joins Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth as the only drivers to have top-10 finishes in the season's first two races.

"I'm not really good here," said Stewart, whose best career Cup finish at Auto Club Speedway is fourth. "I tell you, this car is better than I am probably.

"I thought this week was a truer test than last week was. I am satisfied with the results of it. ...I feel like team-wise we've been solid."

KEY MOMENTS

Lap 196

Jeff Gordon gets the lead with a pass of Matt Kenseth and that puts Gordon in prime position to end a 42-race winless streak. But there was at least one more pit stop left, and that's where Kenseth’s team had been at its best all evening.

Lap 208

Kevin Harvick's engine lets loose and Harvick gets in his own oil and hits the wall. That snaps Harvick's streak of being running at the finish in 81 straight races, and it also sets up the final round of pit stops.

Lap 213

On the final pit stop, Kenseth's crew gets him off pit road just ahead of Gordon. That gives Kenseth clean air for his Ford and that would turn out to be critically important in a late-race battle for victory between the two.

Lap 232

Gordon makes one last effort to catch and pass Kenseth, getting almost to Kenseth's rear bumper. But Kenseth holds on and Gordon's car begins to get a little too tight to do anything to deny Kenseth his second straight victory.

NEXT RACE

Shelby 427

Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nev.

When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

TV: Fox Sports.

Radio: Performance Racing Network.

Last year's winner: Carl Edwards.

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