Harvick leads one lap, but it's the money lap
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Kyle Busch may have been the man at Auto Club Speedway most of the afternoon on Sunday during the Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup Series race, but it only took one lap for Kevin Harvick to take the checkered flag and drive his No. 29 car into ACS’s victory lane for the first time.
“We gave the race way today, unfortunately,” Busch said after the race.
Busch drove his backup car up to the front to take the lead on lap 23. He led most of the remainder of the race, credited with leading 151 laps of the 200-lap event.
Stewart did take the front spot away from Busch when a debris caution came out on lap 76. While everyone else pitted, Stewart stayed out for track position to assume the lead. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Ryan Newman, was the first car off of pit road to restart alongside Stewart on the front row. Busch restarted third.
Busch regained the lead on lap 92 and led most of the rest of the way, with the exception of lead exchanges during cycles of green flag pit stops. That all changed following the fourth and final caution of the race that came out with 15 laps to go. The top-seven cars, including the top-three of Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Stewart stayed out.
Busch pulled away, initially, on the restart, but Johnson quickly reeled him in. The two raced side-by-side for a few laps as Harvick made his way into the third spot and gained ground on the top-two cars. Johnson got by Busch with four to go. Harvick then passed Busch for the second spot and set his sights on Johnson. Harvick followed Johnson closely, waiting until the last minute to make his pass. On the final lap, with the checkered flag in site, Harvick passed Johnson for the win.
The end of race was a reversal, of sorts, from this race a year ago. In 2010, it was Johnson celebrating in victory lane and Harvick finishing second.
“We had them all beat last year here, and then we gave it away,” Harvick said.
This time around, it was Harvick with the win, Johnson second and Busch third. Stewart, meanwhile, slid back through the field in the closing laps to wind up finishing in the 13th position.
“Today, we had a fast car, and the circumstances played in our favor,” Harvick said.
Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 was the first of the cars that pitted during the final caution. He was able to take advantage of the fresher tires to gain a few spots in the final laps to finish fourth. Newman rounded out the top-five.