Stewart Strikes Gold in California

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Tony Stewart climbed back into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship race when he scored his first career victory at Auto Club Speedway in Sunday’s Pepsi Max 400.

Stewart held off Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson on a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag to pick up his second victory of the 2010 season.

The win helped Stewart erase some of his deficit in the series point standings and he leaves Fontana 107 behind leader Johnson, with six races left in this year’s Chase.

“We have never given up all year and we won’t start now,” Stewart said. “This team is so committed and I really need to thank them all for the effort they gave today to get us to victory lane.”

Bowyer edged Johnson for second but the defending series champion stretched his points lead to 36 over Denny Hamlin.

“Great day overall,” said Johnson. “We certainly wanted to be in victory lane, but if we can finish in the top three week in and week out you’re going to have a shot come Homestead and that’s all we’re after.”

Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.

Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and David Reutimann completed the first 10 finishers.

The closing stages of Sunday’s first 400-mile race at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway provided its share of drama.

Paul Menard and Regan Smith, after a two-tire stop gained positions on a caution flag pit stop, led the field to green on a restart with 13 laps remaining. But Stewart was able to sweep around in short order to take over the point.

But when David Ragan and Kurt Busch crashed racing out of turn four it set up a two-lap shootout to the finish.

When the green flag reappeared, Stewart got the jump on Johnson and pulled away for the win leaving Bowyer to get around the No. 48 Chevrolet for the runner-up spot.

“I think more worried than anything because Jimmie was coming,” said Stewart. “I just knew the restart was going to be critical and if I could get through one and two and still have the lead off of two, then I would have a shot at it. We got a good restart picking the top there, Good thing Clint Bowyer was there to keep Jimmie honest and keep him busy and that just let us do our own thing the last lap and run our lines.”

The day was punctuated with problems for several drivers in the Chase.

Last week’s Kansas winner Greg Biffle suffered a blown engine early Sunday afternoon and the momentum of last week’s victory evaporated with his 41st-place finish.

“The engine just let go at the end of the backstretch. I let up on the throttle going in the corner and it broke. It probably broke a rod. That’s typically what happens at the end of the backstretch when you lift on the throttle like that,” Biffle said.

“We were trying hard to win the title and it isn’t gonna happen this year.”

Kyle Busch, coming off of last week’s controversial David Reutimann incident in Kansas, also suffered an engine issue and was sidelined on lap 154.

“I knew it was coming,” said Busch on his in-car radio.

Carl Edwards was the victim of a fuel pick-up problem that plagued his effort early on Sunday and was saddled with a 34th-place finish.

And another Roush driver Matt Kenseth led early in Sunday’s race but was also felled by an engine problem that relegated him to a 30th-place finish.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for next Saturday night’s Bank of America 500.

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