Kyle Busch celebrates after winning the Auto Club 400.
FONTANA, Calif. -- Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson took advantage of four fresh tires on a green-white-checkered restart at the end of the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, and it paid off in a victory for Busch.
The move got Busch and Larson out in front of the field on the final lap at the Auto Club Speedway, and helped Busch claim his 29th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
"What do you expect when you get a green-white-checker finish and everybody heads down pit road for four?" Busch asked.
Larson's runner-up finish was his career best in the series.
Kurt Busch took only two tires during the final caution, which resulted in the two-lap sprint to the finish. Kyle Busch held on for third, Matt Kenseth was fourth and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five.
"Unreal the amount of emotions of running well today, executing on pit road," Kurt Busch said after claiming his first top-20 finish of the year. "Daniel Knost (crew chief) did a great job, and this Haas Automation Chevy was fast and then to race your boss (Stewart) for the win. Neither one of us came home with the 'W' so we are both upset about that, but at the same time, it was a genuine moment for Tony and I to race and to put it all out on the line for Stewart-Haas."
Tire problems plagued several drivers throughout the race, with at least 20 tire issues causing cautions or, at the very least, bringing cars down pit road prematurely.
"To be honest with you, the back straightaway is very rough, and I think the tire can't handle the load that it goes through on that back straightaway," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 12th after a couple of tire problems. "And it's just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together. There ain't another race track on the circuit besides Kentucky that has bumps like that. They're incredible, huge, huge bumps."
Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 104 laps and was in front with 10 laps to go, gave up the lead to pit for tires with seven laps remaining. Two laps later, Brad Keselowski had a flat tire and so did Marcos Ambrose.
A yellow flag waved with three laps remaining in the scheduled 200-lap distance when a tire issue sent Clint Bowyer into a spin.
During the caution, every driver except for Landon Cassill headed for pit road for at least two tires. The Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Kurt Busch and Stewart took only two tires for track position, as did Paul Menard.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, Kenseth, Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon, among others, took four. Gordon had inherited the lead when Johnson pitted just before the caution, but with Cassill staying out and a few drivers taking two, Gordon wound up in the back of the top 10 for the restart.
"The closing laps were pretty much typical restart for me," Gordon said. "I got the inside lane, which was absolutely the worst lane for me. I got, actually, a decent restart and it just didn't go well. I went to the inside of the No. 18 (Kyle Busch). He swerved left; that put him in the middle, me on the bottom three or four wide, and it just went downhill from there."
Cassill dropped back through the field and outside the top 10 on his older tires after the race restarted. Kurt Busch, who restarted fifth, and Larson, who restarted ninth, moved toward the front.
"I thought I wanted to start eighth and then the No. 40 stayed out and we started ninth," Larson said. "I thought we were in trouble there, or at least not going to be able to get up to the front. I don't know where everybody went, but I somehow ended up in second there, and I was right on Kyle down the backstretch."
On the first lap of the race, Keselowski took the lead from pole-sitter Kenseth and dominated the early stages. Keselowski led a total of 38 laps and wound up 26th at the end after multiple tire issues.
Johnson led most of the way, with Gordon eventually joining him at the front after racing through the field twice. Gordon was caught speeding on pit road during the first caution of the race just before lap 20 and restarted in the back.
Gordon made his way back up through the field to claim second just before lap 130. Ten laps later, he passed Johnson to go in front. For much of the remainder of the race, Johnson and Gordon swapped the lead back and forth.
Gordon's chances to win went away in the final 20 laps when he fell back through the field and reported a vibration to his team. He wound up 13th.
Jamie McMurray finished sixth. Vickers was seventh, A.J. Allmendinger eighth, Paul Menard ninth and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 10
NOTES: There were nine California natives in the 43-driver race field: Kyle Larson, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, A.J. Allmendinger, Casey Mears, David Gilliland, Cole Whitt, Kevin Harvick and Josh Wise. ... Kyle Busch became the fifth different driver to win in 2014, five races into the season. ... Johnson is the winningest driver at Auto Club Speedway with six victories. ... Kyle Busch would have hit 10,000 laps led if he had led 67 laps, but he only led four. ... Sunday's race set a race record for number of lead changes with 35 lead changes among 15 drivers. ... There were nine cautions for a total of 42 laps. ... Denny Hamlin was unable to race, as a sinus infection led to vision problems. Sam Hornish Jr. filled in for Hamlin and finished 17th.