Hal Martin is taken out by Brad Teague soon after getting back on the lead lap.
Kevin Harvick finishes second for eighth straight top-two finish RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings FONTANA, Calif. -- After Sunday's Auto Club 400 , there may be a warrant issued for Brad Keselowski . After all, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford committed his own version of "Grand Theft Auto" at Auto Club Speedway -- he stole an entire race. Benefitting from a four-tire call on the last lap of regulation and two opportune cautions that extended the event nine laps beyond its scheduled distance, Keselowski passed polesitter Kurt Busch on the final lap (209) and pulled away to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. Trying to make one last desperation run at Keselowski, Busch scraped the wall in the final corner at the two-mile track, allowing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick to pass him for the runner-up spot. Keselowski arrived at the finish line .711 seconds ahead of Harvick, simultaneously taking the checkered flag and leading his first lap of the day. The 2012 champion, who led the series with six victories last year, recorded his first victory at Fontana -- and his first finish higher than 18th -- and the 17th of his career. "At the end, we caught some breaks, made the most of the breaks we caught," Keselowski said. "That was kind of the story of our race. It looked like we were probably going to finish sixth or seventh. That yellow came out (on Lap 185 for debris). We came in and pitted and drove up a little bit, then caught another yellow. Now what do we do? "So (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) made the call to come down pit road and put four tires on. When he said that, I said, 'This can either go really good or really bad.' Didn't know which one it was going to be. Some guys stayed out, some guys took two tires, all different types of strategies on the restart. "We were able to find our way through the lanes and get to the front there, somehow end up in Victory Lane leading the last lap. Kind of a race car driver's dream. This is one we're going to sit back and go 'Wow!' for a while." Keselowski can call it a break, but it was theft, pure and simple. Aside from a stretch before the halfway point where Denny Hamlin got out front in clean air and led 56 laps, the cars of Busch and Harvick dominated the race, leading 65 and 34 laps, respectively. But Keselowski’s Wolfe made what turned out to be the winning call on Lap 200, after NASCAR called the sixth caution of the race because of debris in Turn 4. Opting for four new tires, where the vast majority of the field took right sides only for track position, Keselowski restarted 18th on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish on Lap 203. The No. 2 Fusion quickly moved forward. When Kyle Larson lost his bumper cover during a melee on the restart, NASCAR threw caution No. 7, and by then, Keselowski was already up to seventh place. Using the new tires to full advantage, Keselowski shot into second place like a lightning bolt after a green-white-checkered restart on Lap 208. As Greg Biffle crashed on the frontstretch on the white-flag lap, Keselowski rocketed past Busch off Turn 2 and pulled away for the win. Busch came home third, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Ryan Newman . Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Joey Logano , Martin Truex Jr ., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon completed the top 10. Having won at Las Vegas and Phoenix in the previous two races, Harvick fell one position shy of completing a sweep of NASCAR's three-race West Coast swing, but he could commiserate with Busch, who was trying to win for the first time this season after serving a three-race suspension. "I hate that the 41 (Busch) wasn't able to hold on for the win there," said Harvick, who posted his eighth straight top-two finish, dating to last year, and extended his series lead over Logano to 28 points. "I would have loved to see those guys get their first win. "But you never know how the strategy is going to play out here. There's so many cars on the lead lap, you didn't want to get buried in there (by taking four tires). One little bad move for Brad , he would have been stuck in the middle of that traffic. But it all worked out for him. The second restart, he was in prime position up on the outside with fresh tires." Busch was disappointed but philosophical about the result. "It was a solid day," Busch said. "I don't know what we could have done different. We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left. "We had two tires; Keselowski had four. We didn't need that extra yellow at the end. That last restart, I just didn't get the job done, and I just got out muscled by Keselowski." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today All-time consecutive top-two finishes Streak Driver Year 11 Richard Petty 1975 10 Richard Petty 1971 10 Richard Petty 1967 9 Richard Petty 1964 8 Kevin Harvick 2014-15 8 David Pearson 1968
Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Newman talk about their pit strategies before the closing laps.
Defending series champion extends top-two streak to eight races RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings FONTANA, Calif. -- Things are going pretty well when people wonder if you are disappointed by a runner-up finish. Such is Kevin Harvick 's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion led 34 laps, contended for the win and ultimately finished second in Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway . He didn't hoist the track's cool surfboard trophy and just missed sweeping the three West Coast races by 7-tenths of a second -- Sunday's margin of victory. But Harvick -- who won at Las Vegas and Phoenix -- did extend his streak of finishing first or second to eight consecutive races dating back to last season. The record is 11 set by Richard Petty in 1975. "I'm not disappointed at all," Harvick said Sunday. "I'm just glad to be a part of such a good race there. I'm really happy that all the fans got to come out and see a great finish to a great day. "I'm just really proud of everybody on our Jimmy John's/Budweiser team. You could have flipped a coin as to what the right strategy there was at the end with tires. Just proud of Rodney Childers (crew chief) and the pit crew and everybody for just having a solid day." Another solid day. Harvick trailed his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch by less than a second in the closing laps, when a caution came out for track debris on the final lap. Harvick got two tires on his No. 4 Chevrolet and race winner Brad Keselowski got four during the ensuing caution. Another yellow flag a lap later forced a second green-white-checkered restart and Keselowski was able to get around both Harvick and his SHR teammate Kurt Busch , leading only the last lap for the win. "Well Rodney (Childers, crew chief) he has a lot of information up there and there were so many cars on the lead lap that you just didn't want to get buried in there," Harvick said of the decision to get two tires. "If you get buried in the middle of the field and you don't get a good restart, you are just going to have a tough time making up ground. We won the championship because of a pit call and didn't win a race today. "I don't think it was because of a pit call, just dumb luck and how many times we had to restart. All-in-all just really proud of everybody." "You just never know how the strategy is going to work out," Harvick said. "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." The effort extended Harvick's championship lead to 28 points over Team Penske 's Joey Logano headed into next weekend's STP 500 (Sunday, March 29, 1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) at NASCAR's smallest track, the 0.526-mile Martinsville Speedway . MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today All-time consecutive top-two finishes Streak Driver Year 11 Richard Petty 1975 10 Richard Petty 1971 10 Richard Petty 1967 9 Richard Petty 1964 8 Kevin Harvick 2014-15 8 David Pearson 1968
Third-place finish after late cautions didn't diminish day's gains Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live FONTANA, Calif. -- The disappointment was palpable as Kurt Busch candidly answered questions from a handful of reporters huddled around his No. 41 Chevrolet on Auto Club Speedway pit lane Sunday afternoon. A hundred yards away Brad Keselowski was performing a loud victory burnout for the sold-out California crowd. The celebration could have easily belonged to Busch, who started from the pole position, led a race-high six times for a race-best 65 laps, but finished third after getting out-maneuvered on the restart of NASCAR's second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Keselowski led only that final lap. Busch was obviously letdown by the outcome. Yet even in the highly emotional moments immediately after the race, he didn't deflect his fortune on the late caution flag controversy. Busch actually seemed upbeat despite the outcome. "I don't know what we could have done different,'' Busch said matter-of-factly. "We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left. "We had two tires; Keselowski had four. We didn't need that extra yellow at the end, and I just got out-muscled by Keselowski." And contrary to what one might have expected, Busch even described the day as being "fantastic" overall. For him, every day racing a Sprint Cup car is fantastic. After missing the first three races of the 2015 while serving a NASCAR suspension for legal issues off-track, Busch has wasted no time returning to form behind the wheel of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet. He started eighth and finished fifth in his first race back at Phoenix a week ago and added a Coors Light Pole Award and third-place effort in California. In those two starts, Busch has earned more points (82) than four drivers who have started all five races -- his team owner Tony Stewart among those he has outpaced in just two races ( see the full standings here ). And because NASCAR granted Busch an exemption, he is Chase eligible as long as he stays among the top 30 in points. He's already 28th. "Some of it is the preparation of the team and some of it is the cars coming back toward my driving style," Busch explained of his fast start. "I like cars with less downforce in the rear and that balance feel I think has complemented the way that I drive. So, honestly I think it has to do with some of the rules packages that NASCAR has implemented and you've got to drive the car a little bit looser." After winning the pole position at the super fast California 2-miler on Friday, Busch insisted he wasn't looking for redemption necessarily. But he was frank about how much it means to be back in a car and the extra motivation he carries. "It's about driving,'' Busch said. "I have said it before on how this is a privilege to have a chance to drive at this top level. When it is taken away from you or you have made a mistake and you don't get a chance to go out there and do it on your terms, it is tough. "I don't have anything to prove. I have my job to do, which is to go out there, drive and race for wins." His talent has never been in question, but his drive has never more apparent. "(I'm) just putting the blinders on and focusing on the car," Busch said. "It's my love. It's my passion. It's what I do." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Wrapping up the week that was and look forward to the week ahead Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Hendrick Motorsports will have five teams vying for starting positions in Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway , but HMS officials aren't skirting the rules. Since 2006, NASCAR has limited Sprint Cup organizations to no more than four full-time teams. However, officials allow a fifth entry for a maximum of seven starts "for the purpose of enabling a rookie driver … to become familiar with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition." In addition to full-time teams for drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne , HMS will field a fifth entry for defending XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott at Martinsville. It will be Elliott's first attempt in the Sprint Cup Series, one of five scheduled for the 19-year-old this season. Elliott will also be entered in Sprint Cup races at Richmond (April 25), Charlotte (May 24), Indianapolis (July 26) and Darlington (Sept. 6). The No. 25 Chevrolet will carry sponsorship from NAPA and will be led by crew chief Kenny Francis. Elliott is slated to replace Gordon in the team's No. 24 Chevrolet beginning in 2016. It will be the first time an organization has fielded five Sprint Cup teams in one race since 2009 provided Elliott qualifies for the 43-car field. HMS fielded a fifth team on a part-time basis that season for driver Brad Keselowski -- his final start with HMS came at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. Roush Fenway Racing was allowed to field five full-time teams through the end of '09 due to sponsorship agreements that were in place when the cap was announced three years earlier. MORE INSPECTION TIME ADDED • NASCAR will continue to incorporate additional time into the pre-qualifying inspection process as the Sprint Cup Series returns from a three-week West Coast swing and heads to Martinsville. Schedule adjustments at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway resulted in an additional 15 minutes of off-track time at each venue to allow teams to prepare and present their cars for pre-qualifying inspection and for officials to complete the inspection process. The move came in the wake of inspection delays at the season's second event, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway . Thirteen cars were unable to complete the pre-qualifying inspection process in time to post an official first-round qualifying lap at Atlanta. Friday's schedule at Martinsville indicates changes from '14 that will provide an additional 10 minutes of time between the end of opening practice and the start of qualifying. Compared to last year's Martinsville spring race schedule, opening practice is now five minutes shorter (12-1:25 p.m. ET) and qualifying will being later (4:45 p.m. instead of 4:40 p.m.). In addition, in a NASCAR bulletin distributed to teams, the first round of Sprint Cup Series qualifying will now be 20 minutes at short tracks and intermediate tracks. This takes affect at Martinsville this weekend. NO PRACTICE PENALTIES • No teams required more than three attempts to pass pre-qualifying inspection at Auto Club Speedway , meaning none will be docked 15 minutes at the beginning of practice Friday at Martinsville. NASCAR notified teams earlier this year that any vehicle that fails qualifying inspection more than twice will be subject to a 15-minute practice penalty that will be applied during the opening practice of the next scheduled event. TIRES IMPOUNDED • NASCAR impounded the tires from four teams following Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway . Tires from the teams of Kevin Harvick and teammate Kurt Busch ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), as well as teammates Ryan Newman and Paul Menard ( Richard Childress Racing ) went back to the NASCAR R&D Center for evaluation. Harvick and Busch finished second and third, respectively, while Menard finished fourth and Newman fifth. It marked the second time this season that NASCAR had impounded tires following a Sprint Cup Series event. The sanctioning body took tires from the teams of race winner Harvick and eighth-place finisher Joey Logano after this month’s Phoenix race. No issues with the Phoenix tires were found, according to NASCAR officials. Sunday's race was the first for teams with the new left-side tire code at Auto Club. There was no change in the right-side tires. • According to Goodyear, Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series teams will run the same Goodyear tire codes this weekend at Martinsville used when the two series visited the half-mile track last October. This particular tire is not used for any other events by the two series. PIT ROAD PENALTIES • Officials in NASCAR's Pit Road Officiating (PRO) trailer called 12 of the 22 penalties issued during Sunday’s Auto Club 400 , the second fewest through this year’s first five races. Six of the 12 were for tire violations -- failure to control an outside tire. Only Phoenix saw fewer total violations (19) and those made by officials in the PRO trailer (nine). There have been 158 penalties thus far this season, including 60 that were called by the PRO group. Officials in the tower continue to call infractions for speeding when entering/exiting pit road, pitting before pit road is open and various safety-related violations. Officials in the PRO trailer use video to respond to potential infractions such as too many crewmen in contact with the pit service area, crewmen over the wall too soon and pit box tire violations. PENALTIES FOR FONTANA INFRACTIONS • On Wednesday, NASCAR issued penalities for infractions during race weekend at Auto Club Speedway . Click here for penalties on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series No. 33 team, and click here for penalties on the NASCAR XFINITY Series No. 8 team. POST-RACE INSPECTIONS • Because of the schedule that saw teams competing at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in consecutive weeks, final post-race inspection for entries from both Phoenix and Auto Club will be conducted Wednesday at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina. Both Stewart-Haas Racing entries of driver Kevin Harvick , which finished first and second at Phoenix and Auto Club, respectively, were sent back to the R&D Center as well as the cars of Auto Club winner Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) and Phoenix runner-up Jamie McMurray ( Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning the Auto Club 400.
NASCAR executive discusses Hamlin's pit road penalty, West Coast swing Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell defended race officials' decision to finish Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event under green-flag conditions, saying Monday that safety remains priority No. 1 in racing procedures. Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway ended during the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Greg Biffle wrecked back in the pack, just as the front-runners took the white flag, but the race was allowed to continue under green when Biffle drove away and the spotters' check for debris turned up nothing. Brad Keselowski secured the lead from Kurt Busch in the next turn and drove away to win the Auto Club 400 . The decision contrasted with race control's judgment call last month to end the season-opening Daytona 500 under caution, freezing the field on the final lap when a multi-car crash erupted on the backstretch. That call, O'Donnell said, was made based on the perceived severity of the pileup. "I think when you look at the end of the race, we will always try to finish the race under green-flag conditions, but we're always going to err on the side of safety," O'Donnell said Monday during NASCAR officials' weekly debrief with NASCAR.com. "So if you want to look back at Daytona, we made the decision based on the hit that we saw Kyle Larson take, based on our need to dispatch the safety equipment as quickly as possible. We made that decision to go ahead and display the yellow. "If you fast-forward to what happened yesterday in California, when we looked at it in terms of Greg Biffle was able to drive away, the cars were still in Turn 2, we had eyes immediately on the ground in terms of our flagstand personnel to be able to see if there was any debris on the track. There wasn't, so we were able to let the cars come back and race under green-flag conditions to the checkered flag. So if we can do that, we will, but under no circumstances would we compromise safety in terms of a driver to be able to do that." O'Donnell also addressed the most pivotal pit-road officiating call of Sunday's race, a late penalty for an uncontrolled tire on Denny Hamlin 's Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 crew that left him 28th at the finish and left crew chief Dave Rogers sternly arguing the call. When the new pit-road officiating technology was introduced to teams in the offseason, NASCAR officials told teams that they would receive the benefit of the doubt in close calls, similar to a "tie goes to the runner" theory from baseball. O'Donnell said that philosophy still stands. "Again, we'll go back to video replay. That's why the system was put in place," O'Donnell said. "I think Dave questioned whether we would err on the side of the competitors and referenced what we said at the beginning of the year. We did say that, and we still hold to that, that we will err on the side of the competitors if we can't make a distinctive call, but under the review process … it was clear to us that there was a violation and in that case, we're going to make the call. With this system, it is precise. It's black and white in terms of whether or not we can make a call, very similar to pit-road speeding penalties. "The drivers had asked for that to be more transparent, and under this new system, we're going to be more transparent as well. The good news is we can share that with the race teams, not only during the race, but after the race as well, and walk them through why the call was made and show them as well." O'Donnell also capped NASCAR's first foray into a three-race West Coast swing, remarking about the strong showing by fans in the grandstands at Auto Club Speedway . "Terrific crowd, really a great ending to our West Coast swing. Great job by the folks at Phoenix, Las Vegas and California. Great turnout by the fans out West, and I think it gave us a really great platform to look out in the future. We'll certainly talk to the industry and see what their perspective was, but we give it a big thumbs-up in terms of our first effort heading West." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Brad Keselowski celebrates in Victory Lane after winning his first race at Auto Club Speedway.
Brad Keselowski takes the lead on the final lap of a Green, White, Checkered finish to win the Auto Club 400.