Week four in the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup led NASCAR out to Hollywood, more noted for glitz and glamor than horsepower and asphalt. However, it gave the 12 drivers going after the title another chance to make their mark on the season.
On the schedule this week was the Pepsi Max 400 at the Auto Club Speedway.
On the pole, just like in the spring, was Jamie McMurray who brought the field to the green flag for the final time during the fall season. McMurray would be able to pull out to a bit of a lead, but ever so slowly the guy that was able to reel him in was Roush-Fenway driver Matt Kenseth. He would make the pass on lap 15 and would hold the spot all the way until it was time for the first round of green-flag pit stops.
Kenseth yielded the lead on lap 37 to come in for his service, but got it back on lap 39 once the field cycled through.
The first caution came out on lap 41, but it also gave a bit of concern for Kenseth. Mainly due to the fact it involved his teammate. Greg Biffle, who one week ago celebrated his second win of the season, was being pushed to the garage after his engine decided to blow up entering the third turn.
This gave some concern to Kenseth, but he had to put it outside his mind as the race was set to restart on lap 45. Right then, the lead switched as Jeff Gordon made his way to the front, and a lap later Jimmie Johnson took the spot.
Right when Johnson took the lead, the second caution flew as Marcos Ambrose spun out in the second turn. Having just pitted, majority of the teams decided to come in and top off, with the exception of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who stayed on track to get the lead. Not exactly the smartest move as Junior and his team would find out.
On the restart, Junior immediately lost the lead to Kyle Busch, and just as quickly the race went back under yellow. Roush-Fenway now had a second driver having a bad day as suddenly Carl Edwards, also in the Chase, came to a stop on the track.
After getting a push to the garage, the team thought it was a fuel problem. Turned out the ignition system had gone bad as the distributor was not emitting power. This clearly hurt them and Edwards would never recover, eventually finishing 34th.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch led the race on the restart, but quickly gave it up to Johnson. But, another driver out of the Hendrick stable was making his run to the front after having a very poor season. It was not the No. 88 Junior, but instead it was the No. 5 CarQuest Chevrolet of Mark Martin. He would make his way to the front on lap 74 and actually began driving away from the field.
On the radio he said, “God it feels good. Been a long time.”
Martin would lead as the next round of green flag pit stops would ensue, but once again his team got the job done as he would be back out in front. And just like the last time a round of green-flag stops was completed, a short time later the caution flag came out. This time, it was for debris on the race track.
The field came in for service, and coming out of the pits it was Gordon getting the lead with a fast stop, while Martin got hung up on a lug nut and fell to sixth.
Gordon led the field to the restart, and held the spot till lap 126 when Clint Bowyer decided to take his turn at the front. He would hold the lead even through the race’s fifth caution for Ambrose’s spin in the second turn, for the second time no less. Bowyer brought the field back to green on lap 148, but one lap later a new driver was on the move to the front in Tony Stewart.
He would get the advantage and hold it until lap 156 when Bowyer just barely got by him at the line, while at the same time another driver had bad luck hit his run.
That driver, also in the Chase, was Busch, as the engine in his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota decided to let go. Once that engine let go, Busch keyed the radio and said, “It blew up, take it to the garage. Any hopes you had for a title, it’s over now.”
The blown motor left Busch with a 35th-place finish, and dropped him to ninth in the standings.
The field came to the restart with Juan Pablo Montoya at the point as he elected for just two tires on the ensuing round of pit stops. At the same time, the driver who had the biggest loss was Gordon as he was caught speeding on pit road.
He would go from the fourth spot all the way back to 26th, ultimately taking him out of a chance to win the race.
Meanwhile, Montoya didn’t spend much time out front as Stewart made his pass on lap 160 and he really looked to be cruising until Bowyer made another run to the front. Bowyer went to the lead on lap 168 and held it until lap 184 when a debris caution came out for some metal on the backstretch.
The final pit stops would set up a shootout with just over 10 laps to go, and out front because of a two-tire stop was Paul Menard. He would lose the lead for one lap to Regan Smith, and then Smith would be passed by Stewart.
The race’s final caution came on lap 195 as the only accident would take place as David Ragan, also of Roush-Fenway Racing, would get into Kurt Busch coming out of turn 4 and both had a meeting with the outside wall. At the same time, the fourth Roush driver, Kenseth, began losing an engine in his No. 17 Ford. Eventually, the engine gave way as on the final restart, his car was slow and he would limp around the track to a 30th-place finish.
Meanwhile, out front, a smoke show would ensue as Stewart was cruising ahead of Bowyer to take his second checkered flag of the season, winning the Pepsi Max 400.
The win would be Stewart’s first at the Auto Club Speedway, and his second of the season. It also gives him a huge gain in the standings as he improved five positions to fifth. Meanwhile, Johnson brought home a third-place run and increased his lead to 36 points.
That could be beneficial as the next race is a track that Johnson has owned since he entered Cup competition. Next on the list, the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
There will not be much turn-around time as the race at Charlotte will be run under the lights this coming Saturday night. The Bank of America 400 will go green at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Coverage will be on ABC.
RESULTS: 1-Stewart 2-Bowyer 3-Johnson 4-Kahne 5-Newman 6-Martin 7-Harvick 8-Hamlin 9-Gordon 10-Reutimann
NOTABLE FINISHES: 16-Earnhardt Jr. 21-Kurt Busch 23-Burton 30-Kenseth 34-Edwards 35-Kyle Busch 41-Biffle
CAUTIONS: 9 for 36 laps. Lap 41-45 (Fluid on track), 54-57 (No. 47 spin-T2), 59-61 (No. 99 stalled on track), 115-118 (debris), 137-141 (No. 47 spin-T2), 145-147 (debris), 156-159 (Fluid on track), 184-187 (debris), 195-198 (No. 2, 6 accident-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 23 among 14 drivers. McMurray 1-14, Kenseth 15-36, Johnson 37-38, Kenseth 39-45, Gordon 46, Johnson 47-54, Earnhardt Jr 55-57, Kyle Busch 58-61, Johnson 62-73, Martin 74-96, Gilliland 97, Martin 98-115, Gordon 116-125, Bowyer 126-137, Kvapil 138, Bowyer 139-148, Stewart 149-155, Bowyer 156, Montoya 157-159, Stewart 160-167, Bowyer 168-184, Menard 185-187, Smith 188, Stewart 189-200.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 1 Min, 58 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 131.953 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.466 Seconds
2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Johnson, 5673 points; 2. Hamlin, -36; 3. Harvick, -54; 4. Gordon, -85; 5. Stewart, -107; 6. Kurt Busch, -140; 7. Edward, -162; 8. Burton, -177; 9. Kyle Busch, -187; 10. Biffle, -215; 11. Kenseth, -241; 12. Bowyer, -247