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Wow! Now that's some racing: Stewart beats Bowyer and Johnson. And this California 400 was filled with hot action: Hot 'tana'?

 Tony Stewart at Sunday's finish line, while Clint Bowyer dives to the apron to edge Jimmie Johnson for second behind him (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


 FONTANA, Calif.

   Maybe it was an anomaly, or maybe the racing dynamic here has now suddenly changed, for some reason. But Sunday's California Pepsi 400 was a barnburner most all the way.
   And maybe if all the recent NASCAR Cup events here at California's Auto Club Speedway were this exciting, the 92,000-seat grandstands would have  been more than just half-full Sunday.

   Indeed, maybe NASCAR executives should now be second-guessing their controversial decision to pull this event off the 2011 stock car racing tour and move this Cup date from the Los Angeles market to Kansas.
   What the crowd of some 50,000 did see was, at the end, Tony Stewart scratching another one off his NASCAR bucket list, winning his first here by sprinting away from Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson in the final 10 miles.
    But just a week after the stock car racing championship playoffs tightened up so dramatically at Kansas Speedway, things went haywire for several of the title contenders:
   -- Greg Biffle blew up early.
   -- Carl Edwards had a mysterious engine electrical problem.
   -- Matt Kenseth had engine problems too.
   -- Kyle Busch blew an engine.
   -- Kurt Busch had a poor handling car, and wound up getting pushed into the wall by David Ragan.
   -- And Jeff Burton never got in contention, finishing a disappointing 23rd.
   So heading back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Round Five of the 10-race chase Saturday night, the title battle appears to be focused now on four men:
Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon.
   Stewart himself? Well he did pick up 20 points on Johnson, and that leaves him just 107 points down, still within striking distance. But also still a little iffy, considering his on-and-off season.
   And Johnson? Well, he beat his three closest title challengers, and he's heading to Charlotte and Martinsville, traditionally two of his best tracks on the tour.
   Hamlin is the closest to Johnson, just 36 points down. But Hamlin, though finishing eighth, didn't live up to his own pre-game billing, never challenging.

     Clint Bowyer, here leading the pack, with the dramatic San Gabriel Mountains as backdrop, had the car to beat, until that late-race yellow (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

      Bowyer had the car to beat, until a late-race yellow tightened up the field again.
    And Bowyer wasn't happy about that yellow: "That piece of debris was out there the whole run," Bowyer griped. "I saw it for a long time.
   "But the first run, there was a big piece of debris down in the first turn that I guess they didn't see...."
    Afterwards, Bowyer was pressed for comment about whether NASCAR officials might still be trying to make a point with him and his team for having questioned cars at Richmond and Loudon, N.H. NASCAR has been taking Bowyer's cars back to Charlotte for further inspection.
     But Bowyer – perhaps mindful of those 'secret' $50,000 fines NASCAR has hit drivers with this season for making comments officials didn't like – declined to get too far into that issue. In fact, one of those secret penalties was assessed Denny Hamlin for his questioning some of NASCAR's cautions, including a late-race yellow at Michigan in June that Hamlin felt could have cost him the race.
    What Bowyer did say was that he was "glad to get things turned around after the problems the last two weeks. And this was a helluva race."
   Indeed it was. Surprising so.
   At the end of the day it was a three-man battle at this fast, flat, two-mile track, Bowyer losing clean air and the advantage with that curious yellow, and Stewart taking advantage, and then letting Bowyer and Johnson duke it out side by side behind him and pulling away.
   Stewart saw he was more concerned about Johnson's late charge.
   "I knew we'd have our hands full with Jimmie...until Clint got up there and broke his momentum," Stewart said.
   "I'm just to knock this one off the list of tracks I haven't won at."
     Johnson, stretching his Sprint Cup tour points lead, said he could have taken Stewart if not for a couple of late-race yellows. "If it had stayed green, I think we'd have been in victory lane," Johnson said. "I was taking big chunks out of Tony's lead before that last yellow.
    "But while I was planning all that, Clint slipped up inside of me."


    Tony Stewart's bucket list: Scratch California off it now (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Bowyer did not have the car

Bowyer did not have the car to beat Mark Martin did. If it wasnt for pit crew screwing he would have won. He had the fastest car almost all race

By Alan I beg to differ with

By Alan

I beg to differ with "Anony". Woulda coulda shoulda. Bowyer had the car to beat at the end of that thing, period. No way NASCAR was going to let RCR win that race, period. If they had allowed that to happen, their excessive NH penalties would have looked way way suspect, period. 'Bowyer wins legitimately so soon after NH,' one might say. 'Well seems that 6o-thousandths of an inch didn't help him.' Bowyer ran the race of his life at California and the Racing Gods in Daytona took it away from him, period. These guys are surely addicted by speed--and to be admired because of the crap they are forced to eat sometimes by the Dunces in Daytona. Because I would walk away from this NASCAR-trashed sport over losing a race that I was going to win because NASCAR manipulates the sport. After being around this sport for over 45 years that's as close to "fixing" a race as you can get. It was blatant. Losing it's TV audience. Doesn't take a high-end marketing or engineering degree to figure out why.

Agreed, best race I've seen

Agreed, best race I've seen at Cal Speedway since it opened! I hope track management and Nascar paid attention and will keep all Cal races at 400 miles. It's been too long, for too long. Added to a flat, wide track that was built for fragile indy cars so they don't dare touch each other, the double file restarts and shorter race have finally proven to be the 'chemistry' that my home track needed. While it's sad to see the second race leave (just because I suppose) I was never in favor of adding it in the first place. Cal Speedway was standing room only until that dreaded second date arrived. Then they replaced the track president with someone who had no racing experience, brilliant move ISC. They are still paying the price for that and will until she's replaced.

Glad to see Tony win, glad as heck to see Bowyer almost win! Sad as heck to see all my Roush boys blowing smoke - crap!!! All I can hope for now is someone other than Hamlin (childish spoiled brat) to knock JJ off the top.

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