Event: Auto Club 400 (Round 5 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (2-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 2nd/2nd (Running, completed 209 of 209 laps)
Point Standing: 1st with 225 points
Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske in a green-white-checkered finish (Ford)
Kevin Harvick finished second in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday in Fontana, California, extending his streak of consecutive top-two finishes in the five-race-old 2015 season to five.
The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) continued his “freaky fast” ways as he started from the second position and led three times for 34 laps en route to his series-high fifth top-five finish of the season.
It was Harvick’s eighth-straight finish of second or better, a streak that began at Texas Motor Speedway in November. The last driver to score eight consecutive top-two finishes was NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty in 1975. Petty holds the record with 11 straight top-two finishes.
Harvick was attempting to sweep the three-race West Coast swing after winning at both Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, but the Bakersfield, California, native came up .710 of a second short, crossing the finish line in second.
The defending Sprint Cup champion was chasing down SHR teammate Kurt Busch for the lead with two laps to go when the race was slowed by a debris caution, setting up the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. While some drivers decided to stay out, several of the leaders came to pit road. Some of them, including Busch and Harvick, took two tires, while others made a four-tire stop, including eventual winner Brad Keselowski. Busch restarted fourth while Harvick restarted sixth for the first attempt.
Busch and Harvick both pushed their way through the middle of the restart and were running first and second, respectively, before the final caution flag waved for debris on lap 204. All the leaders stayed out under caution, so the second and final attempt at the green-white-checkered saw Busch and Harvick restarting first and second on two tires from the previous stop and Keselowski restarting sixth on four tires.
On fresher tires, Keselowski raced from sixth to the lead on the final attempt. Harvick was able to pass Busch just before reaching the checkered flag to finish as runner-up.
“What a race, just really happy for the fans and everybody who was here at the racetrack and watching on TV to see a race like that,” Harvick said. “You just never know how the strategy is going to work out. You are kind of on both sides of the fence there as to what you should or shouldn’t do. If the second restart doesn’t come about, then two tires is the right call. But you just never know. Just really proud of Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Budweiser team for everything that they do.”
Harvick has led a series-best 516 laps through the first five races of 2015, while Joey Logano has led the second-most laps with 197. He has led at least one lap in four of the five Sprint Cup races to start the season. It was also his fifth top-five and 10th top-10 finish in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, started from the pole and led six times for a race-high 65 laps before finishing third. It was Busch’s seventh top-five in 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana. It was also his second straight top-five of 2015.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 14th to earn his 16th top-15 in 24 career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 22nd and finished 19th to nab her third top-20 finish in four career Sprint Cup starts at Fontana.
Keselowski won the Auto Club 400 to score his 17th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Fontana.
Harvick finished .710 of a second behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot, while Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 31 laps. All 43 drivers completed the race, which was extended nine laps from its scheduled 200-lap distance by the green-white-checkered finish.
With round five of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 225 points, 28 ahead of second-place Logano. Patrick is 23rd with 111 points, 114 out of first. Busch is 28th with 82 points, 143 out of first. Stewart is 32nd with 62 points, 163 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Martinsville 500 on Sunday, March 29 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX Sports 1 beginning with its prerace show at 12:30 p.m.