Kyle Busch Wins at Fontana!
The day started on a tough note for Joe Gibbs Racing when doctor’s determined that Denny Hamlin would not be cleared to race because of a sinus infection that was causing some issues with his vision. Fortunately Sam Hornish, Jr. was on-hand and was able to fill-in for Hamlin for today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
The day would end on a higher note with Kyle Busch capturing JGR’s first victory of the 2014 season in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota.
Hamlin was taken to a local hospital for additional evaluation and released. He will undergo further evaluation this week in Charlotte. Meanwhile Hornish managed to bring the No. 11 FedEx Camry home in 17th, while teammate Matt Kenseth started from the pole in his No. 20 Dollar General Camry and went on to earn a strong fourth-place finish.
Busch started his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota from the 14th position and quickly jumped into the top 10 and was running seventh before the day’s first caution came out. A tremendous stop by the Interstate Batteries crew allowed Busch to restart second on lap 25 and he used a great restart to take his first lead of the day. The handling on his Camry would fall off a bit a few laps into the run however and he would settle into the fifth position on the next run. Busch would continue to run just inside the top five as the race reached its midpoint. The Interstate Batteries Camry’s handling would move to the loose side later in the race especially on the high lane of the racetrack. Busch would make slight contact with the wall with 49 laps to go which dropped him back into eighth. He was still running eighth on a restart with 27 to go. Busch was fast and made an impressive run to the front of the field and was up to second and gaining on leader Jeff Gordon when a final caution came out to set up a green white checker finish. Crew chief Dave Rogers had Busch bring the car down pit road for four fresh tires and he lined up fifth for the final two-lap run to the finish as several cars either chose no tires or only two. Busch took advantage and made a last lap pass to the finish to claim the checkered flag.
Although Hamlin had qualified the No. 11 FedEx Express Camry in 13th on Friday, Hornish was forced to take the car to the back of the field for the start of the 400-mile race due to the driver change. Hornish, who only learned that he would be taking the wheel of the No. 11 Camry less than an hour before the drop of the green flag, used the opening run to try and get comfortable behind the wheel having not had the opportunity obviously to practice the car. Hornish was able to gain several spots over those opening 20 laps and then restarted in 33rd on lap 25 following the afternoon’s first caution. Crew chief Darian Grubb would make adjustments in hopes of making the FedEx Camry handle a bit more to Hornish’s liking and it appeared to work as he was able to drive his way into the top 30 over the next several laps following the restart. He would climb inside the top 25 by lap 50 and continued to hold that spot through the halfway point of the race. He would break into the top 20 at lap 115. With the help of tremendous pit stops by the FedEx crew and patient driving by Hornish he continued to move up in the field and entered the top 15 with just over 50 laps remaining. He would line up 14th with 27 laps to go and used a tremendous restart to take the 11th position. The 27 car would make contact with Hornish from behind causing him to slide up the track. Although he was able to save the car from contact with the wall and those around him, he would lose momentum and fell back outside the top 20. Although his opportunity at a top ten finish was gone, he would manage to pick up several spots over the final laps and finish 17th.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota on the pole after winning Friday afternoon’s knockout qualifying session. He found his Camry loose through the early going however and drifted back outside the top five during the day’s opening run. Kenseth settled in to run sixth on the next run before a caution came out on lap 43. He would run seventh as the race went past the 50-lap mark. A great stop under caution by his Dollar General pit crew allowed Kenseth to restart third and then make a strong move to the top spot on lap 75. He would eventually relinquish the spot to the 48 car but remained strong and was running second at the halfway mark. The pit crew continued to deliver tremendous stops each time pit road and Kenseth would return to the front again, but his No. 20 Camry was unable to hold the top spot for more than a few laps following each restart. He would run second with 50 laps remaining and lined up in the third position for a restart with 27 to go. Kenseth would not get a great restart however and dropped back outside the top five before a final caution came out to set up a green white checker finish. Kenseth lined up sixth for that final restart and drove back into the top five to finish fourth.
Busch won the race, followed by Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Kenseth, and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions for a total of 42 laps and 35 lead changes among 15 different drivers.