FONTANA, Calif. — Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth made it two victories in a row Sunday, holding off a late challenge from Jeff Gordon to win the Auto Club 500.
Kenseth took the lead from Gordon in the pits with 38 laps to go in the 250-lap race and stayed ahead in a battle of former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions, pulling away over the last 20 laps.
It is the first time a Cup driver has won the first two races of the season since Gordon did it in 1997 on the way to the second of his four championships.
“It’s such a great team,” Kenseth said. “I just thank these guys (on the crew). They gave me a great stop and got me in clean air and that’s just a huge difference.”
Kenseth and Gordon were much faster than the rest of the field at the end, both of them pulling away from the pack. But Gordon, like Kenseth winless last year, was unable to get to Kenseth’s rear bumper and get a real run on the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford.
“It was a lot of fun,” Gordon said. “This is a new team and they showed it tonight. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do. I’m so excited on one side because we ran so well and we started out the season so great, but I’m still mad on the other side because I felt like we had what it took to win tonight.”
It was Kenseth’s third victory on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval and the fifth straight February victory for team co-owner Jack Roush.
Kyle Busch, who made NASCAR history by winning both the truck and Nationwide races on Saturday, came up short of weekend sweep.
“It’s never been done before, so you know it’s a challenge,” Busch said after finishing third. “The last one’s always the hard one to get. It’s on Sunday and it’s the biggest show. Maybe one day.”