When dark clouds ominously obscured majestic Mount Baldy north of Auto Club Speedway early in Sunday’s race in Fontana, Calif., NASCAR’s drivers all realized they were probably in for a short day on a long track.
Nobody did a better job racing until the raindrops fell than Tony Stewart.
Stewart got his second NASCAR victory of the season when rain shortened the race at Auto Club Speedway by 71 laps, extending the defending Sprint Cup champion’s unusually strong start.
Kyle Busch finished second, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. added to his good start to the season in third.
“You hate to have it end with rain like that,” Stewart said. “But we’ve lost some that way, and we didn’t back into the lead.”
Stewart has won seven of the last 15 races, including Las Vegas last month, in a remarkable stretch of dominance for a driver who rarely gets rolling until summer.
Although Stewart sees nothing special about his approach to the new season, he’s clearly focused. Stewart and new crew chief Steve Addington didn’t mention the rain to each other until moments before it hit one end of the 2-mile oval, but they had already done the work necessary to win.
“It’s been nice to get off to a good start this year the way we have,” said Stewart, who has been even more impressive this year despite firing crew chief Darian Grubb last December. “The history shows the last 13 years, we haven’t had the strongest start the first third of the year, but I’m really excited about the start we’ve got going. Daytona was probably our weakest race, and I know I made decisions trying to make things happen and it didn’t work out. I’m really proud of what Steve and all our guys have done.”
Stewart’s Chevrolet passed Busch 44 laps before the race was stopped when the looming rain clouds finally burst and halted a race run entirely on green flags to that point. Stewart collected his 46th career win and his second at Fontana.
Helio Castroneves used a bold pass of Scott Dixon to win the IndyCar season opener through the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., where he celebrated with a tribute to the late Dan Wheldon.
Castroneves stopped his Penske Racing Chevrolet in Turn 10, which earlier this year was renamed Dan Wheldon Way in honor of the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. After climbing the fence, his traditional victory celebration, he ran to the street sign and patted it, then emotionally doubled over against the wall.
“No question about it, this is for our friend upstairs, Dan Wheldon,” Castroneves said.
Dixon finished second for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in a Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay was third for Andretti Autosport, and gave Chevrolet two spots on the podium.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won a dramatic Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, giving the Italian team one of its more unlikely victories in its long history.
In a race that was stopped for 51 minutes because of rain, Alonso looked like he’d be overtaken by Sauber’s Sergio Perez until the Mexican ran off the track with six laps to go, giving the Ferrari enough of a gap to hang on.
Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton of McLaren finished third.