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Stewart wins rain-shortened race at Auto Club

March 26, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Tony Stewart was all smiles after winning his second race of 2012 when the rain came to Auto Club Speedway. (Getty)

FONTANA, Calif. -- Tony Stewart made all the right moves Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, and the last one proved decisive in taking the three-time champion to Victory Lane in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400.

After raindrops slowed the race on Lap 124, Stewart, the race leader, faked a move toward pit road but stayed on the track and matched the pace car's speed of 65 mph, a far cry from the lightning-fast laps he ran under the green flag.

But that move -- staying out and running slow caution laps before NASCAR stopped the race on Lap 129 -- proved decisive for the defending Sprint Cup champion, who claimed his second victory of the season, his second at Fontana and the 46th of his career, tying him with Buck Baker for 14th on the career victory list.

* Video: Final Laps | Victory Lane | Post-Race Reactions

Kyle Busch, who stayed out with Stewart, finished second, with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards completing the top five.

Greg Biffle ran sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, all of whom gambled on protracted rain and stayed on the track during the initial shower. Jimmie Johnson and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin came to pit road and finished 10th and 11th, respectively.

"I don't think that I faked him out," Stewart said of Hamlin. "I'm sure he had made his decision already -- looked good, though."

Never before has Stewart won two Cup races this early in a season. Stewart was at a loss for an explanation.

"I don't know, but I like it," he said. "I'm really proud of [crew chief] Steve Addington and all of our guys. This Office Depot Chevy was bad fast."

* Caraviello: Stewart sending signal with surprising spring surge

In Johnson's case, the top-10 was a godsend, given that the No. 48 Chevrolet developed an oil line problem as the cars circled the 2-mile track under caution. Johnson's car began smoking and he kept it rolling on the apron until NASCAR stopped the race (watch).

The event ran caution-free for 124 laps, until rain in Turns 3 and 4 brought out the first yellow flag of the afternoon. Stewart had retained the lead through a third cycle of green-flag pit stops, with Hamlin chasing him.

Hamlin had made a run at the leader when the rain began to fall, but he and Johnson opted to give up positions in the top five and come to pit road, after Stewart made his feint toward the pits but remained on the race track.

Feint or not, Hamlin was committed to the trip to pit road, and he explained the decision.

"We were planning on the race going back to green, and if it doesn't, we'll lose some spots, but if we chose to stay out there, we would have to be behind all the cars that pitted [if the race restarted]," Hamlin said as the rain intensified. "[In that case], your chance of winning decreases greatly.

"So you could give up a few spots if it finishes up here and lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things. ... We had finally gotten to [Stewart's] bumper when the rain came."

That left Busch in second place. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota had led 80 laps to that point, but Busch had rubbed the wall in traffic before the halfway point, and the handling of his car deteriorated thereafter.

Busch wasn't dismayed that the race ended when it did.

"I wish we would have been able to race the whole thing, on the one hand," he said, "but, on the other hand, I'm kind of glad we're not, because we have a little bit of damage that slowed us down there. ...

"Trying to run back with Stewart's lap times, that's when I was trying too hard, too close to the fence, got myself in trouble there -- caught the right-side a little bit."

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Tony Stewart scored his 46th career win in his 467th career race.
• Tony Stewart posted his second career win at ACS in his 21st start; he has won two of the past three races there.
• Tony Stewart scored his second win of 2012, the first driver to win multiple races this season; he has won seven of the past 15 races, dating to Chicagoland (September 2011).
• Tony Stewart scored his third career win in a rain-shortened event: Michigan (June 2000), New Hampshire (July 2000).
• This is the first race to be rain-shortened since June 2009 at New Hampshire.
• Tony Stwart led twice for 42 laps, including the final 22.
• Stewart-Haas Racing posted its 15th career win.
• Chevrolet scored its 12th win at ACS, most of all makes; it has won the past five races there.
• Kyle Busch (second) scored his best 2012 finish; he led a race high 80 laps.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (third) has finished 15th or better in all five races in 2012.
• Kevin Harvick (fourth) has finished 11th or better in all five races this season.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) matched his best finish in 2012; he also finished fifth at Las Vegas.
• Greg Biffle (sixth) scored his fourth top-10 in five races this season; all five of his finishes are 13th or better.
• Martin Truex Jr.(eighth) posted his best finish and only top-10 in the past seven races at ACS.

* Related: JGR once again comes up short at Auto Club

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