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March 27th, 2012 by Bill Harrington
Photos by Bill Harrington and Andrea Olivas
Although the morning started off with only a hint of clouds on the horizon, the drivers had to race the approaching rain along with each other on Sunday, March 25. The Auto Club 400 made it beyond half way before the rain hit the track. This made it an official race and brought out the only caution of the day. The steady rain forced the 200 lap race to be called by NASCAR at lap 129.
Tony Stewart had a fast car and took the lead from Kyle Bush who dominated the race by leading 80 of the 129 laps. Stewart was in the lead when the rain drops began to fall. He took his car to victory lane and celebrated his second win of the season. His first win this season was in Las Vegas and it seems Stewart has been able to maintain his momentum from last season.
Kyle Bush finished second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third. With this finish, Junior is currently third in points. Although this season seems promising for Junior with two top five finishes and no DNF’s. He really needs to get his #88 Mountain Dew car into Victory Lane. It has been too long since he has had his hands on the checkered flag. His last win came in 2008.
The lack of cautions made it possible to get the race beyond the halfway point before the rain drops started hitting the track. In order for a race to be official, it must reach the half way point. However, there were winners and losers in the race against the rain.
Jimmie Johnson’s car developed an oil leak and he was leaving a trail of smoke shortly after pitting just before the caution came out. Despite the oil leak, crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson to stay out anticipating the red flag. The decision paid off for the team, Johnson finished in tenth place. Johnson was definitely the rain winner.
Polesitter Denny Hamlin however lost nine positions when he and crew chief Darian Grubb decided to pit under the rain caution. Hamlin was running in second position and came out of the pits in eleventh making him the rain loser.
Jeff Gordon finished twenty-sixth after a couple mishaps in the pits. He has only one top ten finish in the first five races of the season and is currently 25th in the point standings. Gordon looked like he was going to get his second top ten before his gas man Brad Pickens was not able to disengage the fuel can as Gordon sped out of his pit. Pickens was dragged through Gordon’s pit and tumbled out of the pit box while still clutching the gas can. This resulted in Gordon having to serve a stop-and-go penalty under the green flag. The penalty put Gordon a lap down. During Gordon’s final pit under caution, his crew lost control of a tire.
Despite the threatening weather conditions the race drew over 90,000 fans, including A&E’s Storage Wars Brandi Passant and Jarrod Schulz. Fans were able to walk the track prior to the race in the Coke Track Walk. The Grand Marshals of the race were The Three Stooges from their upcoming movie. Actress Kristy Swanson was the Honorary Starter waving the green flag. Singing the national anthem was the band Night Ranger who are celebrating their 30 year anniversary. They performed at the DiscoverIE FanZone Entertainment Stage earlier in the day. Tillman the skateboarding dog was also on hand.
NASCAR’s next Sprint Cup Series race will be Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on April 1. The race can be viewed on FOX at 9:30 a.m. pst. For more information visit www.nascar.com.