Harvick Prevails at Home; 2010 Ford 400 winner Takes Points Lead

Carl Edwards at Fontana

On the strength of a sixth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, Carl Edwards aboard the No.99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford assumed the NASCAR Championship points lead. NASCAR will crown a Sprint Cup Series Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20 (photo courtesy: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images Sport)

California-native Kevin Harvick chose track position over tires with the laps winding down at Auto Club Speedway, then executed a last-lap pass of five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson to claim his 15th career victory.  Harvick —who finished third in last fall’s nail-biting Championship Chase in Miami— led just one lap of the race, but it was the one that counted most… the final lap.  Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets TODAY with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

When the final yellow flag of the day flew for Bobby Labonte’s accident thirteen laps from the finish, Harvick and Johnson were part of the lead pack of seven cars which chose to remain on the track while the remainder of the drivers on the lead lap pitted for fresh tires.

"Well, we have just had a lot of adversity that we have fought through because we knew our cars were fast enough to win races,” said Harvick. “To win at home, that is pretty cool."

Carl Edwards finished sixth and took over the Sprint Cup Series points lead from Kurt Busch who placed 17th.  The No. 99 was a popular preseason pick to unseat five-time Sprint Cup Champion Johnson this fall when NASCAR crowns a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets TODAY with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

“For our AFLAC team to come out of here leading the points is big considering how we ran all day,” said Edwards after a Top 10 finish at Auto Club Speedway. “We will just go to Martinsville now.”

After the race’s final restart on Lap 192 two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart was a second behind race-leader Kyle Busch and Johnson before his No. 14 car faded. The driver/owner of Stewart-Haas Racing—seeking to become the first driver/owner to win a Championship since Alan Kulwicki—quickly found himself outside the Top10, and when the checkered flag dropped, he was an agonizing 13th.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, as Stewart led four times for 11 laps and spent much of the race behind Busch, who led five times for a race-high 151 laps.

Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman led once for eight laps en route to a fifth-place finish. It was his third Top 5 finish of the season. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Newman rounded out the Top 5. Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne along with pole-sitter and South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya (see SIDEBAR) comprised the remainder of the Top 10.

With Race 5 of 36 complete en route to Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 18-20, Newman moved up one spot to second in the Sprint Cup Championship point standings and sits just nine markers back of new leader Edwards. Stewart fell three spots to sixth in the standings and is 17 points back of Edwards.

“Good day for the US Army Chevrolet to get a top-five finish and in the points,” said Newman. “Really strong start to our season.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, finished 12th and sits 12th in the Sprint Cup Championship standings heading to Martinsville.

“We’re a top 10 team and we’re doing pretty good,” said Earnhardt Jr. “I like the consistency but I’ve got to do a better job helping them put a car on the track for qualifying that’s going to get us in the Top 15.”

Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets TODAY with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Martinsville this Sunday, April 3 (1 p.m. ET, FOX TV)—Race 6 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 18-20).

Miami’s Montoya scores third Top 10 spot through five races

Montoya Wins the Pole at California

South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya looked poised to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series oval track race in Race 5 of 36 en route to Miami. Montoya started on the pole for his 150th career NASCAR race.

He had the fastest time in Friday’s qualifying at Auto Club Speedway in California hitting 184.653 mph. Montoya started Sunday’s 400-mile race on the front row next to last years’ Championship runner-up Denny Hamlin.

I think we’ve got a decent car,” said Montoya on his chances in the Auto Club 400. “But the main thing is we’re in really good position in the points and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”

Pole sitter Montoya led the first six laps, but wasn't a factor after that, drifting deeper into the field before making a late charge to finish 10th in his bid to win a race on an oval. Montoya’s 10th place finish finds him sitting eighth in the points standings—just three points behind Paul Menard for seventh—in his Chase for a Sprint Cup Championship on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20.

"The Target Chevy was good on the short runs but got tight the longer we ran,” said Montoya. “The goal was for a top-10 finish and that's what we got so I'm pretty happy."

In Race 5 of the 2011 campaign at Auto Club Speedway, Montoya made his 150th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start; his first coming at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006 with Chip Ganassi Racing. Since that debut, Montoya has recorded six poles, two wins, 19 Top 5s, and 44 Top 10s, his most recent win coming last August at Watkins Glen. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale May 2, but fans can lock in tickets TODAY with just a $30 deposit. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Next up for Montoya and NASCAR’s best is Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on Sunday, April 3 (1 pm ET, FOX TV, MRN Radio)—Race 6 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekendat Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 18-20). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 20.

Follow Montoya on Twitter:

@JPMontoya

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