Kenseth Bounces Back With California Win

Sunday, February 25th 2007, 7:14 pm
By: News On 6

FONTANA, Calif. (AP) -- Matt Kenseth put the disappointment of Daytona well behind him Sunday, driving away with his second victory of the weekend and second NASCAR Nextel Cup win at California Speedway.

Kenseth, who got caught up in the last-lap melee the previous week at the Daytona 500 and wound up 27th after starting that lap in third, stayed away from trouble Sunday in the Auto Club 500. He got the lead for good with a fast pit stop during a caution period just 23 laps from the finish.

The victory, his 15th in Cup, came with engineer Chip Bolin sitting in for suspended crew chief Robbie Reiser, sent home for four races after the team was caught cheating at the beginning of Daytona's Speedweeks. And it came less than 24 hours after the 2003 Cup champion won the Busch Series races on the same 2-mile oval.

"It's a special one," said Kenseth, who broke the transmission on his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford as he spun his tires in a postrace celebration. "It's not without Robbie though. He spent the week at home while we were at Daytona building this car. Robbie built this team."

Kevin Harvick, who swept the Busch and Cup races at Daytona, came out of the final pit stop in second and was making up ground up Kenseth until rookie David Reutimann and former series champion Bobby Labonte crashed on lap 243 of the 250-lap event.

NASCAR red-flagged the race to give safety officials time to clean up the debris from the wreck. Once the cars were restarted, Harvick found he had a deflating left front tire and had to pit.

Three-time California winner Jeff Gordon, the only other multiple Cup race winner here, jumped past Jeff Burton into second on the restart with four laps to go, but couldn't get close enough to challenge Kenseth the rest of the way.

Defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished 39th at Daytona, also bounced back with a third-place finish Sunday, followed by Burton, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.

Johnson's Chevrolet was in the lead, with Kenseth's Ford close behind, when debris on the backstretch brought out a caution flag on lap 226 -- the first yellow flag since the track went green on lap 126.

All the leaders pitted on the next lap and Johnson agonized through a slow stop, falling all the way to fifth.

Kenseth looked in his mirrors at that point and saw Harvick looming as his top competition.

"I thought I was going to have a problem because I really thought the 29 (Harvick) was going to run me down," he said. "Then, he had his problem and Jeff moved up to second and I thought he might run me down. But we got a real good restart and, after that, we were OK.

"It's really nice to get some of our points back from the Daytona deal," added Kenseth, referring to the 50 points he and the team were docked in the cheating incident.

Gordon said he was just lucky to finish second.

"If Kevin hadn't had that flat tire, we would have probably finished third or fourth," he said. "It's crazy the way things happen. Last week, he wins the Daytona 500 and, this week, he has that flat tire. It's too bad."

Martin, who lost to Harvick at Daytona by the length of a hood, had another good race and put himself and his new team, Ginn Racing

-- Formerly MB2 Motorsports -- into the series points lead. It's the first time leading the points for the team, now in its 11th year.

It also was a good day for Brian Vickers, who gave Team Red Bull its first top 10 finish in the first race the new Toyota team has been able to qualify for.

The race was the debut for unleaded fuel in NASCAR's premier series. Several entries blew engines, including DEI teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. and Evernham Motorsports' Kasey Kahne, but the teams said they would need to examine the engines closely to determine if the fuel had anything to do with the problems.

"We were happy to bring the car home with that new unleaded fuel and now we're all anxious to see what the inside of that engine looks like," Gordon said.