26 February 2006
Kenseth wins at the 'House of Roush.'
Roger Penske may have been behind the building of the two-mile California Speedway in Fontana but Jack Roush can certainly call the invitingly wide D shaped oval 'home' as Matt Kenseth sealed Roush's fourth Nextel Cup victory in twelve races at the track and his third of the weekend.
After Mark Martin and Greg Biffle picked up the spoils in the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series races on Friday and Saturday, Kenseth completed the sweep in Sunday's Auto Club 500, the second round of the 2006 Nextel Cup Championship.
Kenseth's win was slightly fortuitous however, as the driver of the #17 DeWalt Ford watched Biffle and Tony Stewart, the two strongest drivers on the day, both retire with engine problems inside the final 35 of what was scheduled to be a 250 lap race, before picking up the pieces to score his eleventh, and the Ford Fusion's first points paying Cup Series victory.
The final result sheet read Kenseth from Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Burton, although with 50 laps of the race remaining the picture was very different with Biffle and Stewart, who was on a slightly different pit strategy, a class above the rest of the pack.
In fact the final 50, or 51 laps as once again NASCAR's green-white-chequered rule came in to play, was very different from the opening 200, which were dominated by two things, Biffle and green flag racing.
From the outside of the front row it took the defending Auto Club 500 champion five laps to work his way around Bud Pole winner Kurt Busch for the lead, thereafter steadily increasing his advantage until a lap 30 caution flag for debris. Behind the fleeing #16 Ford, it was a welcome sight to see at least three full racing grooves working well with cars able to pass on the low side as well as the high side right from the word go.
Although Busch's #2 Penske Racing team were able to get their driver off pit road in front of the field after the first round of stops, Biffle was back on point barely a lap after the green flag waved and pulling away once again. However it was during the period between the race's first caution flag and the second yellow, again caused by debris on lap 87, that Biffle was actually shown a clean pair of heels for the only time as Stewart charged to the front on lap 60.
From 12th on the grid, the defending series champion showed all of the qualities that led to his second Nextel Cup title with some wonderfully aggressive but clean driving combined with a good dollop of racing courtesy to boot as he challenged Biffle for the lead, nearly sliding into the side of the #16 Ford before completing the pass in turn two on lap 60.
Stewart also had the task of leading the field through the first round of green flag pit stops of the 2006 season, which occurred shortly before the second yellow. While Stewart's lap 79 stop went smoothly, the same could not be said for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers who both lost time and, in Vickers case, a whole lap after he broke the pit road speed limit and was called in for a drive through penalty.
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