Weather may have dampened the proceedings at Auto Club Speedway, but some drivers certainly felt jubilant after leaving the Southern California venue.
Oddly enough, that number included a couple of drivers who finished lower than they ran for most of the race: Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Busch led more laps than any other driver but was happy with his second-place finish, as he had brushed the wall and doubted he would be able to contend for the win if the race had gone its scheduled distance.
Johnson, meanwhile, ran in the top five all day long but developed an engine problem just before NASCAR called the race. Avoiding costly repairs to his No. 48 machine, Five-Time gladly parked his car and pocketed a top-10 finish.
Of course, there were plenty of drivers (and fans) who were disappointed with the results of the rain-shortened race. So who's in a good mood and who's not after the fifth race on the 2012 Sprint Cup Series schedule?
Up: Tony Stewart
The sport’s defending champ is off to a hot start in 2012. With two wins in the first five races of the year, “Smoke” now has won seven of the past 15 Sprint Cup races and is up to fourth in the points. Switching crew chiefs over the offseason has had no ill effects, as Stewart and new pit box caller Steve Addington are putting a beatdown on the rest of the field.
Down: Exciting racing
Booooooring. We all knew Auto Club Speedway couldn't attract a decent crowd and therefore lost one of its two dates after the 2010 season. But what we witnessed Sunday was a new low. The ENTIRE race ran under green before it was mercifully cut short by rain. Seriously, the most intriguing storyline of the actual race was whether or not weather would be a factor. The only pit strategy was whether or not to pit when the caution came out, and the action at the front of the pack was limited, with only one meaningful pass for the lead.
Luckily, the series heads to Martinsville next week, a venue that guarantees constant action at the front of the field and around the entire track.
Up: Roush Fenway Racing
No, the team didn't manage to find Victory Lane. But all three drivers placed inside the top 15, while Carl Edwards earned a welcome top-5 finish to creep closer to the top 10 in the points. Biffle finished sixth to maintain his position atop the standings, and although Kenseth actually lost two places in the standings with his 13th-place run, it was a solid day overall for the Roush gang.
Down: Joey Logano
Logano had a great day on Saturday, winning the pole and leading the most laps en route to taking the checkered flag for the Nationwide race. Sunday? No such luck. "Sliced Bread" finished one lap down to the leaders in 24th place, slipping to 14th in the points. The Home Depot team had better get things going back in the right direction in a hurry, or this could be the last time Logano is within sniffing distance of the top 10 all season.
Up: Kasey Kahne
No, 15th isn't exactly a spectacular result. But at least Ol' Blue Eyes is off the top-35 bubble, moving up seven slots to 27th. The No. 5 now has a 25-point cushion over 36th place in the owner standings. This isn't remotely the start to Kahne's inaugural season with Hendrick Motorsports that he was hoping for, but getting off the top-35 threshold is a step in the right direction.
Down: Jeff Gordon
As the rest of Hendrick Motorsports is moving up, the No. 24 is headed in the opposite direction. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each gained three positions in the points and are safely inside the top 10 in the points, but Gordon's team committed a pit road violation while running in the top five, dooming the team to a 26th-place finish at Fontana and falling to 25th in the standings. There's a lot of time left in the regular season, but Team 24 is fast running out of mulligans. Gordon has missed the Chase before, and he doesn't want that to happen again.
Up: Kurt Busch
The ticking time bomb that is Kurt Busch may have gotten a few inches added to the length of its fuse. Busch and his No. 51 Phoenix Racing team took home their first top-10 run of the season at Fontana, staying out when the caution came out for rain to collect a ninth-place finish. Busch gained four positions to 23rd in the points—nothing spectacular, but within striking distance of the top 20 and contention for a Wild Card Chase berth if Busch can sneak in a victory or two.
Brendan Gaughan completed his disappointing four-race Cup stint with Richard Childress Racing at Fontana, finishing dead last in the field. His No. 33 Chevrolet lost its engine before the completion of Lap 1, thanks to Gaughan missing a gear while shifting at the start of the race. In his four races (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol and Fontana), Gaughan's best finish was 22nd. Could this be the last chance for the the 36-year-old to prove he deserves a ride in the Cup Series? Only time will tell.
Follow Luke Krmpotich on Twitter at twitter.com/nascarfanumber1
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