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NOTES

Kenseth continues success at Fontana

February 25, 2007|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Twelve of Matt Kenseth's 200 career starts in the NASCAR Busch Series have come at California Speedway, and when he says he likes the place, one would have to believe him.

Kenseth won for the fourth time in Fontana, as he held off Casey Mears' Chevrolet on Saturday to win the Stater Bros. 300.

"We've always done pretty well here, and I've always enjoyed it," Kenseth said. "I always thought this place was so cool the way it is surrounded by run-down steel mills, and in the middle is this amazing place with perfect sod, perfect brick. I always thought it was a perfect place ever since I came out here."

The Wisconsin native was good from the moment he arrived, finishing third in a Busch race for owner Robbie Reiser in 1997.

Kenseth also won Busch races on the two-mile oval in 1999, 2000 and 2003 for Reiser. He has more Busch victories at the speedway than any other driver, breaking a tie with Greg Biffle.

Now driving a Ford for owner Jack Roush, Kenseth extended an incredible stretch for what is now Roush Fenway Racing. Roush's team has had the winning driver in six of the last seven Busch races at California Speedway, with wins also coming from Biffle, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin. It was the eighth win in the last nine races at California for Ford.

Mears' teammate, Kyle Busch, took third. Edwards, who started 40th, and Biffle rounded out the top five.

After completing a pass of Jeff Burton for the lead in Turn 2 on the 129th of 150 laps, Kenseth withstood challenges from Burton, Busch and finally Mears, who was fourth on the race's last restart, Lap 136.

"We had a decent car most of the night, it seemed to get a little better when the sun went down," Kenseth said of the race, which began at 4:30 p.m., but finished in the cool of the night. "Before the sun went down, I couldn't get the car where I wanted to be. We had great pit stops today."

After Kenseth pitted with 27 laps go, he moved from third to second, getting past Busch.

Then, it was up to him to get past Burton, who led 46 laps, two fewer than Kenseth. Burton eventually finished seventh.

Kenseth -- who started second to Dave Blaney -- won his 22nd Busch Series event. He also won a Nextel Cup race here a year ago.

It was an emotional boost for Kenseth. He was running third in last week's Daytona 500 when Busch crashed into him, setting off the last-lap melee that dropped Kenseth from third to 27th.

It was an even bigger boost to Mears, a Nextel Cup regular who failed to make the Daytona 500 in his first season with owner Rick Hendrick.

"I'm just happy, with everything this crew went through at Daytona," Mears said. "The team worked so hard the last three nights. Those guys' spirits were down pretty low, so to be able to come back with a run like this was really good for the National Guard team."

As Burton and Busch battled with each other for second place, Mears passed both on the inside on Lap 139, but he was 1.5 seconds behind Kenseth.

The margin of victory was 0.484 of a second.

"I burned my tires off pretty good getting up to the front," Mears said. "We were running him down a little bit at the end, but I think I had already run my tires off."

Fifteen of the top 16 finishers -- the exception was ninth-place Regan Smith -- were regulars in the Nextel Cup series.

*

Jimmie Johnson was fastest during Happy Hour on Saturday in preparation for the Auto Club 500, with a top speed of 182.523 mph in a Hendrick's Chevrolet.

Johnson and Kasey Kahne were the only two drivers who cracked the 181-mph barrier. Kahne ran the circuit at 182.242 mph. Next was Martin Truex Jr., at 180.836.

Johnson starts 23rd, Truex seventh.

martin.henderson@latimes.com

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