FONTANA, Calif. – Matt Kenseth’s team has found some much-needed magic.
After going through a winless and disappointing 2008, the former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is 2-0 in 2009, adding a victory in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 to his win the previous week in the Daytona 500.
“Just great team, great crew, great, great engines,” Kenseth bubbled in the aftermath of his 18th career victory. “You just need everything to go right, really to win these races.”
At Daytona, Kenseth took the lead moments before rain, which eventually cut the race short, began to fall.
Sunday’s race was considerably more dramatic, with Kenseth fending off a determined challenge from four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon to win for the third time on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval.
Kenseth took the lead from Gordon in the pits under caution with 38 laps to go in the 250-lap race and stayed ahead, pulling away over the last 20 laps. But it took a while for the winner to shake Gordon, who went also went winless last year and is desperate to get back to Victory Lane.
“I honestly thought that we were going to be too loose at the end and he was going to catch us,” Kenseth said. “Especially (when) I couldn’t get away from him that time he ran me down and got right on my bumper (on lap 231).”
But get away he did, beating Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the finish line by 1.464 seconds – most of the front straightaway.
It is the first time a Cup driver has won the first two races of the season since Gordon did it in 1997 on the way to the second of his four championships.
The key to Kenseth’s win Sunday was a near-perfect pit stop that put him in the lead on lap 213.
“It’s such a great team,” Kenseth said. “I just thank these guys (on the crew). They gave me a great stop and got me in clean air and that’s just a huge difference.
“Our car handled really good all day and we had excellent pit stops. About the fourth one from the end, I started complaining and then, all of a sudden, they started getting me three or four spots every stop.”
Earlier in the race, Kenseth, who led a race-high 84 laps, got out ahead and Gordon caught and passed him on a long green-flag run. But, after the final restart on lap 216, Kenseth found a way to stay in front.
At that point, both Kenseth and Gordon were much faster than the rest of the field at the end. They steadily pulled away from the pack. But Gordon was unable to get to Kenseth’s rear bumper and get a real run on the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford.
CHANDLER – Ron Capps raced to his second consecutive Funny Car victory of the season Sunday at the Lucas Oil Slick Mist NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.
Capps took a single pass to claim his 27th career victory after final round opponent Mike Neff’s Ford Mustang broke on the burnout. Capps powered his Dodge Charger to 4.048 seconds at 306.81 miles per hour.