NASCAR – Pepsi 500, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana – Sun Aug 31

It really is pointless to try and maintain any sense of suspense about the outcome of this race report. There simply wasn’t any doubt about the winner of this year’s Pepsi 500 at Fontana: Jimmie Johnson was in a different league from start to finish.

Only the cruellest of misfortunes could have intervened to stop Johnson taking the win. And while we’ve seen such cruel blows at other races this year, it didn’t materialise this weekend. Johnson became the first driver ever to win the race from pole position.

The only driver to really come close to Johnson all day long was Greg Biffle, who worked his way up to second after pit stops on lap 44, and who managed to snatch the lead momentarily the lead after a green flag restart on lap 74. But Johnson quickly reclaimed the top spot and went on to set leads of up to eight seconds.

This happened two more times, until Biffle’s final chance came after the final pit stops, under yellow, on lap 220 when he got out on track ahead of Johnson and was in a position to control the restart. Again, the lead was short lived and after one lap of green flag racing, Johnson was in front again – and this time, nothing came between him and the win.

“This race car was unbelievable,” said Johnson. “We clinched (a spot in the Chase) and certainly got ten more bonus points that are going to be really important. We’re just happy to be doing the right things right now and this is a big relief for us to get a victory here on a big track.

“There are seven of this type of tracks in the Chase, and that’s where we’ve been off a little bit, so it looks like we’re on a par right now.”

Johnson’s persistent dominance of the race was especially striking considering it straddled the sunset, so that the first half of the race was held in the hot California sunshine, and the latter half in the rapidly cooling conditions of night. Many cars struggled with the transition: cars that were good in the first phase of the race went right off in the second, and vice verse.

Kyle Busch, for example, had a dreadful (by his standards) first half, complaining about bad handling and a complete lack of pace. Starting from 11th, he rose to 6th and then slowly sank down the running order, but he rallied again after dark when the team were able to change the handling more to his liking. A good final pit stop helped him finish 8th, but this was a mediocre performance for the championship leader and the first time in ages that we haven’t seen him lead even a single lap in a race. he did however win a thrilling last lap battle with Kasey Kahne to finish 7th. Carl Edwards did have a good race, however, starting 26th and ultimately finishing ahead of Kyle in 6th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr wasn’t having a great day either, with his car struggling badly in the daytime conditions, running loose and at times coming within inches of ending the evening in the wall. But he held onto it, and the cooling conditions helped sort out some of the handling problems so that he too rose from the tail end of the top 20 to a more respectable position – 11th.

Their troubled running left the way for others to secure valuable points in the race for the chase. Johnson himself secured his place in the final 12 with this run, while Biffle needs only start next week’s race at Chicago to get through.

Denny Hamlin finished third for the second week in a row, but despite his strong result he stays ‘on the bubble’ as far as his Chase hopes go, ranking eleventh, 76 points ahead of twelfth-placed Clint Bowyer.

Kevin Harvick had a solid race running in the top-five for most of the night and finished 4th; while it doesn’t mathematically secure his place in the Chase, his good result allowed him to move up in the points one spot and feel just that bit more comfortable, while Matt Kenseth also did himself a power of good by rounding out the top 5.

Ryan Newman only finished 16th, but considering he went a lap down in the early stages of the race and had to rely on a free pass to get him back on the lead lap, and at one stage hit the top five thanks to a fast pit stop on lap 162, he more than justified Tony Stewart’s faith in him for next year.

There were eight yellow flags in total – two of them bizarrely caused by the caution lights themselves. A set of lights at turn 1 suddenly broke free from their mounting and collapsd onto the track on lap 19, forming a seriously heavy obstacle that fortunately all drivers managed to miss. The high winds at Fontana coupled with the turbulence from the cars was to blame; later in the race more debris fell from the mounting and brought out a second caution.

The first yellow was as early as lap 4 when Jamie McMurray’s left right tyre blew. Kurt Busch also had his tire explode in Turn 1 on lap 43 forcing him into a spin which brought out the yellows, but he didn’t hit anything.

Joe Nemechek slammed the wall hard in the backstraightaway bringing out the caution on lap 68, and on lap 168 Robby Gordon spun and hits the wall. Debris from an encounter with the wall by Marcos Ambrose on lap 218 was the cause for the final yellow of the race.

Patrick Carpentier was the best rookie finisher in 18th place, although he still remains outside the top-35 in the owners’ standing.

Race result:

Pos  Driver               Make        Laps
 1.  Jimmie Johnson       Chevrolet    250
 2.  Greg Biffle          Ford         250
 3.  Denny Hamlin         Toyota       250
 4.  Kevin Harvick        Chevrolet    250
 5.  Matt Kenseth         Ford         250
 6.  Carl Edwards         Ford         250
 7.  Kyle Busch           Toyota       250
 8.  Kasey Kahne          Dodge        250
 9.  David Reutimann      Toyota       250
10.  Clint Bowyer         Chevrolet    250
11.  Dale Earnhardt Jr    Chevrolet    250
12.  Brian Vickers        Toyota       250
13.  David Ragan          Ford         250
14.  A.J. Allmendinger    Toyota       250
15.  Jeff Gordon          Chevrolet    250
16.  Ryan Newman          Dodge        250
17.  Jeff Burton          Chevrolet    250
18.  Patrick Carpentier   Dodge        250
19.  Martin Truex Jr      Chevrolet    250
20.  Juan Montoya         Dodge        250
21.  Bobby Labonte        Dodge        250
22.  Tony Stewart         Toyota       250
23.  David Gilliland      Ford         248
24.  Jamie McMurray       Ford         248
25.  Scott Riggs          Chevrolet    248
26.  Casey Mears          Chevrolet    248
27.  Reed Sorenson        Dodge        248
28.  Travis Kvapil        Ford         248
29.  Sam Hornish Jr       Dodge        248
30.  Dave Blaney          Toyota       248
31.  Aric Almirola        Chevrolet    248
32.  Marcos Ambrose       Ford         248
33.  Michael Waltrip      Toyota       248
34.  Elliott Sadler       Dodge        248
35.  Mike Skinner         Toyota       248
36.  Regan Smith          Chevrolet    248
37.  Paul Menard          Chevrolet    248
38.  Kyle Petty           Dodge        248
39.  Kurt Busch           Dodge        247
40.  Robby Gordon         Dodge        247
41.  Ken Schrader         Toyota       246
42.  Johnny Sauter        Dodge        161
43.  Joe Nemechek         Chevrolet     67

Championship standings – top 40:

Pos Driver  Points
1   Kyle Busch          3755
2   Carl Edwards        3547
3   Jimmie Johnson      3386
4   Dale Earnhardt Jr.  3323
5   Jeff Burton         3234
6   Greg Biffle         3159
7   Kevin Harvick       3132
8   Tony Stewart        3110
9   Matt Kenseth        3081
10  Jeff Gordon         3074
11  Denny Hamlin        3065
12  Clint Bowyer        2989
--- Race for the Chase -----
13  David Ragan         2972
14  Kasey Kahne         2941
15  Brian Vickers       2799
16  Ryan Newman         2789
17  Martin Truex Jr.    2698
18  Jamie McMurray      2583
19  Kurt Busch          2488
20  Elliott Sadler      2425
21  Juan Pablo Montoya  2414
22  Bobby Labonte       2397
23  Travis Kvapil       2365
24  Casey Mears         2304
25  David Reutimann     2279
26  David Gilliland     2255
27  Paul Menard         2141
28  Mark Martin         2115
29  Reed Sorenson       1937
30  Michael Waltrip     1930
31  Robby Gordon        1911
32  Dave Blaney         1901
33  Sam Hornish Jr.     1893
34  Scott Riggs         1842
35  Regan Smith         1836
36  Patrick Carpentier  1515
37  A.J. Allmendinger   1492
38  Joe Nemechek        1443
39  J.J. Yeley          1263
40  Michael McDowell    1200

  1. Where did you get your blog layout from? I’d like to get one like it for my blog.

  2. andrewlewin

    Thanks, nice to know it’s working.

    The blog theme is 2813 from Eli Foner and is one of’s supplied by templates. It’s the one I liked best, plus it has a lot of scope for configuring with widgets – a lot of RSS feeds in my case.

    Thanks for reading.

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