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Kenseth wins as Manteca’s Speed struggles through engine problems

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POSTED February 23, 2009 4:03 a.m.
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Carhartt Ford for Roush/Fenway Racing, powered to his second consecutive victory of the young 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season by capturing the Auto Club 500 from Auto Club Speedway (formally California Speedway) on Sunday.
Like his win in the Daytona 500 last Sunday, the race was run under threatening skies, but unlike the race last week, which was shortened by rain, officials were able to complete the full 250 scheduled laps of the race although four separate cautions were thrown due to light rain.
In doing so, Kenseth became only the fifth driver since 1959 to win the first two races of the season. The last driver to accomplish that feat was Jeff Gordon in 1997.
“This is s great win for us. You need everything to go just right to win,” exclaimed Kenseth, who was winless last season. “In a way it was better than Daytona. There are no restrictor plates and really have to earn it here.”
Kevin Harvick, who blew a tire and hit the wall on lap 207, caused the only on track caution of the race. The wreck ended Harvick’s streak of 81 consecutive race finishes.
The race quickly developed into a four-car battle between Kenseth, Hendrick Racing teammates Jeff Gordon (#24 Dupont Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowes Chevrolet) and Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M Ford, that lasted almost the entire distance.
After Johnson gradually faded to ninth in the late going with an overheating engine and Biffle knocked himself out of contention when he slid just out of his pitbox on his final stop, the race eventually came down to a two car shootout between Kenseth and Gordon.
“I should be fired,” said Biffle, who ended up fourth place. “I can’t believe I had a car that fast and finished fourth. I promise I won’t let them (his team) down again this season.”
Unlike Biffle, Kenseth made a picture perfect final pit stop to get out just ahead of Gordon. Despite Gordon’s best efforts in the final laps, Kenseth was able to keep the four-time series champion behind him to take the checkered flag by a slim 1.463-second margin.
“Our pit stops were great. I seemed to gain spots on every stop,” exclaimed Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion. “I really have to thank my guys for that quick stop at the end. It put us in clean air and enabled me to hold off Gordon.”
Gordon was also excited about the race despite his runner up finish.
“It was a lot of fun tonight. We still have a little work to do, but we are miles ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “It is a little bittersweet because I am so excited about this team right now, but I thought we could have won it tonight.”
Biffle’s and Johnson’s late race problems allowed Kyle Busch to finish the race in third
On Saturday, Busch put his name into the history books by becoming the first driver to ever win two NASCAR touring events in the same day. Busch captured the win in the San Bernardino County 200 Camping World Truck race in the afternoon and followed it up later that evening with a victory in the Stater Brothers 300 Nationwide Series race.
Busch’s performance on Saturday was one of total domination. He held the lead for 243 out of a total of 250 laps in the two races.
Despite just missing out on perfect three wins in three tries for the weekend, Busch was please with the result on Sunday.
“It was a good run for us, especially to rebound from our wreck at Daytona. I kept getting a little better as the night went on, but we just didn’t have enough to challenge those guys at the end.”
It was a frustrating race for Manteca native Scott Speed. Despite starting from the eighth spot, Speed was never on the pace. He continuously fell back in the field from the opening green flag before retiring from the race with engine problems on lap 172. He was officially credited with 41st place finish in the 43-car field.
“Although a broken exhaust that ultimately did us in, we had brake problems from about the fifth lap of the race. It was pretty miserable out there,” said a discouraged Speed. “It is disappointing, but you have to keep things in perspective though, sometimes you just can’t control this stuff.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season will continue next Sunday with the Shelby 427 from Las Vegas. The series will make its only Northern California stop of the season on June 21 for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 from Infineon Raceway near Sonoma.

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