Stewart wins best Fontana race ever
FONTANA, Calif. -- Wouldn't you know it. The event that's now extinct, the second and last Chase race for Auto Club Speedway, was the barn burner this place never had.
This was quite a show for the typically sparse crowd that bothered to show up and watch it.
If you opted to soak up some rays on the beach at Malibu, here's what you missed in the Pepsi MAX 400:
• Restarts in the last 50 laps resembled Talladega wildness more than the usual Fontana boredom. Cars got five-wide into the turns on the last restart and four-wide on several others, but managed to keep the wheels moving forward.
• A furious Clint Bowyer, who questioned the legitimacy of a late debris caution when he was leading the race.
You missed blown engines, blown tempers and blown chances. You should've been here.
Stewart zoomed to victory after leaving Bowyer and Johnson to battle it out for second on the final restart with two laps to go.
Bowyer edged ahead of Johnson for second.
Johnson said afterward: "As I was focusing on the 14, this sorry ass right here [jokingly pointing at Bowyer in the media center] drove by me."
Bowyer smiled and looked at Johnson: "It was pretty easy, really. I just drove right under you."
Bowyer wasn't smiling when a caution flag flew for debris with 18 laps to go while he was leading the race.
"Where the hell was that at?" Bowyer screamed on his radio. "If they're talking about what's on the backstretch, it's been out there the whole damn time."
Bowyer is convinced he would have won if the debris caution hadn't come out.
He was racing without crew chief Shane Wilson, who was starting his four-race suspension. Scott Miller was on the pit box for the No. 33 Chevy team in this one. The team lost 150 points when penalized after a victory at New Hampshire to start the Chase.
"We want to redeem ourselves and show this is a race-winning team," Bowyer said. "We want to go out and prove the win wasn't a hoax. Then a mystery debris came out and that debris was out there the whole run."
Bowyer never specified what the debris was.
"The biggest thing I saw today was a piece of a car in Turns 1 and 2 on the first run, but I guess [NASCAR officials] never saw that one," Bowyer said. "Hell, it's just part of it. We got one [at New Hampshire] when Tony ran out of gas and he got one from me today. He was happy for me and I'm happy for him."
Which begs the question: Where would Stewart be today if his car had one more lap of fuel at New Hampshire? A victory became a 24th-place finish, costing Stewart 94 points.
The restarts early in the race were out of control. This place is so wide that guys know they can run so many different lines. It's not an old track, but it sure raced like an old worn-out track.” -- Tony Stewart
He's now 107 points behind Johnson, who remains the Chase leader. Stewart would have been second in the standings instead of fifth.
But at least he kept Johnson from reaching unreachable status in the Chase.
"We knew we would have our hands full with him here," Stewart said. "But he and Clint mixed it up at the end and broke their momentum.
"We're doing everything we can do, but we're gonna need some help. Our guys refuse to back down."
No easy task for Hamlin considering how crazy things were at times. The race had a little more urgency for all the teams because of the shorter distance. It was 400 miles for the first time, 50 laps less and at least two fewer pit stops than a 500-miler at ACS.
"The restarts early in the race were out of control,'' Stewart said. "This place is so wide that guys know they can run so many different lines. It's not an old track, but it sure raced like an old worn-out track."
So say goodbye to Chase races at Fontana, but hope the others down the stretch this year are half as good.
"They say you're only as good as your last race," Bowyer said. "Well, for this place, that was a hell of a race."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.