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AUTO CLUB 400 NOTES

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings

Earnhardt finishes second in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana for his fifth top-10 finish in as many races this season.

March 24, 2013|By Jim Peltz
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets fans before the start of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets fans before the start of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images )

Dale Earnhardt Jr. still hasn't won at Auto Club Speedway, but he left the Fontana track Sunday leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

Earnhardt finished second in the Auto Club 400 after the last-lap crash knocked out leaders Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, giving Earnhardt his fifth top-10 finish in as many races this season.

"I was just glad to get through" the wreck "and get a good run," Earnhardt said. "We had a good car all day."

Earnhardt started 15th and struggled at times but rebounded in the closing stages after his Hendrick Motorsports team made adjustments to his No. 88 Chevrolet.

That continued a pattern of "closing races" with strong finishes, "something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody," he said.

Earnhardt leads reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski by 12 points in the title standings. Keselowski finished 23rd.

Five-time champion and Earnhardt teammate Jimmie Johnson is third in the standings, 16 points behind Earnhardt, after finishing 12th.

Patrick's long day

Danica Patrick spent much of the Auto Club 400 in 30th place or worse, but she climbed a few spots near the end to finish 26th, one lap behind the leaders.

"The car started off a little bit loose, but once we dialed that in, it was decent," she said of her No. 10 Chevrolet that's prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing, which is co-owned by three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.

Patrick, who started 40th, said, "We made some big improvements" to the car during the race. "We all want better than 26th," she said, "and it will be better next time."

Busch's sweep

Kyle Busch's win Sunday was the first Cup victory at Auto Club Speedway for his Joe Gibbs Racing team and for Toyota.

The victory also gave Busch a sweep of the weekend; he won the Nationwide Series race at Fontana on Saturday.

"Being right here in California, finally we get a home win for Toyota," which has major facilities in Torrance and Costa Mesa, Busch said.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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