Kyle Busch held off a determined Kyle Larson to claim his first victory of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who also won last year’s event, ran in the top five for the majority of the race but never looked like a victory candidate as those ahead of him had greater pace. Everything changed, however, when the ninth caution of the race came on lap 199 of 200 as Clint Bowyer spun out as a result of a blown tire.
A quick four-tire change helped propel Busch to the front of the field and he soon deposed brother Kurt and rookie Larson to claim the win.
Larson missed out on what would have been a first Sprint Cup victory by just 0.214sec, a day after winning the Nationwide round at Fontana. Kurt Busch beat polesitter Matt Kenseth to third.
The latter ran at the sharp end of the field throughout the race, fighting with the likes of Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski led the opening phase of the race, but a gamble to stay out in the lead on lap 57 – on 14-lap old tires – when Tony Stewart spun out down the backstretch failed miserably, and he soon dropped down the order. The 2012 champion briefly returned to the front with 30 laps to go before suffering a blow out in the closingmoments of the race. He eventually finished 26th and a lap down.
Johnson, meanwhile, led the most laps – a total of 104 – and looked set to claim his sixth Fontana win, but he too experienced a tire deflation five laps from the end while leading.
Jeff Gordon produced a great recovery drive from the back of the field and was a thorn in his Hendrick teammate’s side all day. The 42-year-old suffered an early penalty for being too fast on pit road when he stopped on lap 19, dropping him from third to the rear of the field. He fought back and soon filtered his way to the front again, where he and Johnson traded places on numerous occasions, resulting in a record 35 lead changes at Fontana.
Gordon’s charge fell apart though during the green-white-checker as he dropped down the order to finish 13th.
Denny Hamlin failed to start after suffering from a severe sinus infection. His replacement Sam Hornish Jr. came home in 17th place.
Results - 206 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car 1. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota 2. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet 3. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 4. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota 5. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 6. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet 7. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota 8. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet 9. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 10. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 11. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet 12. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 13. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 14. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 15. Casey Mears German Chevrolet 16. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 17. Sam Hornish Jr Joe Gibbs Toyota 18. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota 19. Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet 20. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet 21. Reed Sorenson Baldwin Chevrolet 22. Alex Bowman BK Toyota 23. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Ford 24. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 25. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet 26. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford 27. David Ragan Front Row Ford 28. Justin Allgaier Hscott Chevrolet 29. David Reutimann Front Row Ford 30. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 31. Ryan Truex BK Toyota 32. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 33. Travis Kvapil Go FAS Ford 34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 35. Brian Scott Childress Chevrolet 36. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 37. Josh Wise Parsons Chevrolet 38. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 39. Joey Logano Penske Ford 40. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 41. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 42. Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota 43. Aric Almirola Petty Ford Retirements: Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota Aric Almirola Petty Ford