Tony Stewart won the Auto Club 400, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event in Fontana, Calif., that was shortened by 71 laps because of rain.
FONTANA, Calif. — When dark clouds ominously obscured Mount Baldy north of Auto Club Speedway early in Sunday’s race, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers realized they probably were in for a relatively short day on a long track.
Nobody did a better job racing until the raindrops fell than Tony Stewart.
Defending Cup champion Stewart got his second victory of the season at NASCAR’s highest level when rain shortened the Auto Club 400 by 71 laps.
Kyle Busch finished second on the 2-mile track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. placed third and Kevin Harvick got fourth.
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Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., finished sixth, good enough to keep the series lead. He is seven points in front of Harvick after five of the season’s 36 races.
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw finished 15th of 43.
Including last year, Stewart has won seven of the last 15 Sprint Cup races.
“It has been nice to get off to a good start this year the way we have,” Stewart said. “The history shows the last 13 years, we haven’t had the strongest start the first third of the year, but I’m really excited about the start we’ve got going.”
Stewart’s Chevrolet passed Busch 44 laps before the race was stopped after 129 laps, when the looming rain clouds finally burst.
Perhaps realizing they might not be able to get much past the halfway point necessary to make a race official, the drivers mounted a fast, clean race on the extra-wide track.
“We all knew it was just going to be a matter of time,” Busch said. “So probably at Lap 60 or 70, we were thinking, ‘OK, we’re probably going to race to Lap 100.’ “
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The IndyCar Series finally got a chance to move on after the 2011 season ended in the worst way imaginable.
Helio Castroneves led the final 26 laps to win the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, taking his record third victory on the downtown streets to snap an 18-race series winless streak.
“This was just what we needed,” Castroneves said.
He also could have been talking about the series.
Sunday’s race was the season opener — and the first IndyCar event since St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon died in a crash Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It also was the first race with the Dallara DW12, the new chassis named in honor of Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who played a role in developing the chassis.
Wheldon’s sister, Holly, dropped the green flag at the start of the race and presented the winner’s trophy to Castroneves at the end.
It was a clean, relief-filled return to racing for IndyCar after a five-month period of absorbing the tragedy that befell the series with Wheldon’s death.
“I had the butterflies going on in my stomach (before the race), which is a good sign,” Castroneves said. “But they were flying in formation. They weren’t like crazy butterflies.”
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