Busch’s pit road gamble spurs Nationwide victory

FONTANA, Calif. — Kyle Busch had resigned himself to finishing behind Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, figuring his car didn’t have enough to keep up.

Then the Las Vegas native’s crew chief called for a gamble on the final pit stop: Take two tires, not four.

Busch was all for it and ended up with another win in California.

Heeding crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s advice, Busch came out of the pits in the lead after taking two tires on a late stop, then held off Edwards and Harvick to win his third straight Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday.

“I thought four tires was just going to be a consistent call, just give us a third-place run,” Busch said after his 46th career Nationwide win, two behind Mark Martin’s all-time mark. “But Jason surprised us all and pulled one out of the hat.”

Edwards and Harvick had the dominant cars most of the day, leading a combined 112 laps around Fontana’s wide 2-mile oval.

Busch figured he had no better than a fourth- or fifth-place car, not able to pass the leaders, just good enough to keep them in his sights.

That left it up to the final green-flag pit stop with less than 20 laps left.

Edwards came in first and took four tires. Harvick followed and also took four.

Busch stayed out, inheriting the lead, then finally took his turn down pit road with 13 laps left.

Ratcliff initially called for four tires but then changed his mind, which Busch was all for. The quick stop put the No. 18 car about a straightaway ahead of Edwards and Harvick coming off pit road, and Busch had just enough to survive a momentum-killing brush with the wall coming out of Turn 2 on the final lap.

Busch has won five of his past six starts at Auto Club Speedway and three of the five Nationwide races this season after completing the Nationwide-Sprint Cup sweep at Bristol last week. Busch’s team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has won seven straight races at Auto Club Speedway — five by Busch and one each by Tony Stewart and Joey Logano.

“I still can’t believe it actually worked out,” Ratcliff said. “You think about things like that when you’re sitting on the couch and thinking ‘Oh, if I was that guy, I’d do this.’ We weren’t going to win taking four tires.”

Edwards started on the pole and had a strong car all day, leading 48 laps. He passed Harvick to finish second, and Harvick placed third.

Jennifer Jo Cobb had a rough day after a dramatic week at Bristol.

The Nationwide rookie refused to race last week at Bristol because team owner Rick Russell told her he wanted to start then park the car, stirring up a she-said, he-said controversy. Driving for Rick Ware Racing at Fontana, she spun out on Turn 4 after 12 laps, returned a little while later, then went back to the garage. Cobb finished 38th.

■ INDYCAR — At St. Petersburg, Fla., Will Power is on the pole for today’s IndyCar season opener.

Power claimed his second consecutive pole at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, edging two-time reigning series champion Dario Franchitti in the Fast Six competition.

Power, who finished second to Franchitti last season, posted a quick lap of 1 minute, 1.96 seconds with about two minutes remaining in the final qualifying session.

Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon, will share the second row with Mike Conway. Ryan Briscoe and Justin Wilson will share the third row.

Danica Patrick, returning to IndyCar after a four-race stint in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, will start 19th.

■ FORMULA ONE — At Melbourne, Australia, world champion Sebastian Vettel will start from the pole today in Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix after a dominant performance in qualifying.

The Red Bull driver had a time of 1 minute, 23.529 seconds, more than three-quarters of a second quicker than nearest rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber will start third in front of his home crowd, with Jenson Button of McLaren fourth as he attempts to win the race for a third straight year.

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