|03/27/12 01:52PM||Bobby Labonte, Coca Cola Racing Team, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, NASCAR, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart|
Another week, another Coca-Cola victory
Stewart grabs second victory of season as four family drivers post top-11s
By Andrew Shain, Special to NASCAR.COM
March 27, 2012 3:44 PM, EDT
Coca-Cola lives in Victory Lane. Drivers from the Coca-Cola Family have won three out of the five points races this season and one of its members still tops the series points chart after Sunday's Auto Club 400 in California.
The defending Cup Series champion took his second checkered flag of the year in a rain-shortened race. Three other family drivers finished in the top 11, including the points leader. Some drivers' lost a few spots at the end when they pitted after the rain started with hopes that racing would resume.
Heading into the first race of April, four Coca-Cola drivers sit in the top 10 of the standings.
Auto Club finish: first
Season standings: fourth
Stewart, the early bloomer? After winning only one race in February and March during his 13 previous seasons, Stewart has taken two checkered flags before April this season. And he's also won seven of the past 15 races, dating back to last year. Stewart started ninth, spent most of the race in the top four and took the lead on Lap 108. With his victory, he scooted up three spots to fourth in the standings.
What he said: "It's been nice to get off to a good start this year the way we have. I'm really, really excited about the start that we've got going. We've had top-10 cars and top-five cars every race this year. ... You hate to have them end with rain like that. But I've lost some that way. The good thing is we didn't back into the lead because we stayed out and the leaders came in. I mean, we were leading the thing and had earned that spot."
Auto Club finish: sixth
Season standings: first
Biffle maintained his series lead with a sixth-place finish even though his car needed adjusting during early pit stops. He stayed in the top 10 during much of the race despite not having a car that did not end up among the 10 fastest. Biffle gained two spots by staying out when the yellow flag flew with the rain. And the "three" theme continued with his finishes this season: a trio of third-place finishes, a 13th-place and now a sixth (three multiplied by two).
What he said: "I like this track but the last few times here we've been off just a tick. [Sunday], I didn't keep up with the track. I was a little bit too tight. I thought we were getting closer at the end because we started closing in on the No. 29, and then he got his car going."
Auto Club finish: seventh
Season standings: 10th
Newman never fell out of the top 10 on Sunday while not having the best handling car all day. He had the second-fastest pit times and stayed out when the rain started to gain two spots for a seventh-place finish. After starting with a pair of 21sts, he's averaged eighth-place finishes the past three races to reach the top 10 in the points standings.
What he said: "We were a little inconsistent [Sunday], going from tight to loose to tight again. Even though we were capable of more, we'll take a top-10 out of it. We certainly made adjustments each time we pitted, but it seemed we just couldn't get things the way we needed to. That's the way it goes sometimes."
Auto Club finish: 11th
Season standings: seventh
Hamlin has a lot of hope for the weekend after winning the pole and having fast practice times. He was in second place when he took a chance as the rain started and pitted to give him an edge when racing resumed. When the race was called, Hamlin finished 11th and dropped two spots in the season standings. Still, his finish on Sunday was his best in three races.
What he said: "This is the strategy that we made. We were planning on the race going back green. If it doesn't, then we'll lose some spots. If we chose to stay out there, then we were going to have to be behind all the cars that pitted. Then you're chances of winning decreases greatly. ... We had a top-two or three car -- had it all day."
Auto Club finish: 22nd
Season standings: 15th
Burton started 19th and reached as high as 12th-place by Lap 40. But his car faded after some adjustments, and he was running in 17th when the rain started. He was among drivers to come to the pits -- a move that cost him another five spots when the race was called. Burton slid three spots in the standings to 15th place.
What he said: "The car was lacking rear grip all day in the corners and we also had to recover from some of the adjustments we made early in the event. We knew the rain was coming, but I didn't think it was going to be heavy enough to cancel it."
Auto Club finish: 24th
Season standings: 13th
The day began with his fourth consecutive starting spot in the top 10 but ended with Logano having to battle another tight car. He slid back in the pack and then as the car was getting better, he was called for a speeding penalty on pit road. He would go a lap down and fall as low as 26th. He finished a season-low 24th after pitting before the race was called and slid out of the top 10 in the points standings.
What he said: "The car was so tight right at the start of the race I couldn't hardly drive it. It was plowing through the corners and I couldn't get a good drive off, which would kill my straightaway speed. ... I am really frustrated about it, but there is no time to dwell on things. You just need to put it behind you and move on."
Auto Club finish: 28th
Season standings: 20th
Labonte was two laps down when the rain stopped the race for his second consecutive 28th-place finish. He got as high as 17th but was penalized for driving too fast on pit road. Labonte has been among the season's best closers. And managed to gain a spot in the series standings and land in the top 20.
Auto Club finish: 32nd
Season standings: 22nd
McMurray's run of top-10 finishes in the past two races was thwarted by a couple of problems in California. He started 16th and got as high as 12th. But a missing lug nut cost him a lap and then he lost another lap with the unscheduled stop to fix a loose wheel. McMurray dropped three spots in the standings to 22nd with his third finish of 30th or worse this season.
What he said: "It is frustrating to have a day like that. We had to make those two extra green flag stops and with no cautions, you just can't make that up. We just had a deficit that we couldn't manage to overcome."