By Gary Montgomery/Photos by Jon Gaede
A large sold out winter crowd showed up at the California Speedway and was treated to one of the most exciting endings in recent track history.
On lap 199 of 200, of the second re-start, with four fresh tires, Brad Keselowski flew by Kurt Busch and accelerated toward the finish line as 80,000 race fans jumped to their feet.
Roger Penske, the man who built the track and brought NASCAR to Southern California enjoyed only his second victory here since 1997. Penske and Keselowski were all smiles in the winner’s circle on Sunday.
The race was relatively uneventful, with few cautions until the last fifteen laps. Due to loose debris on the track, there would be a green-white finish for only the third time in the history of the race.
In a key decision by race teams, some drivers took two tires, however, Team Penske and Brad Keselowski took all four. That decisive move would prove to be important as Keselowski was able to pass Kevin Harvik on the lower portion of the track and eventually Kurt Busch for the victory.
Many Fontana fans came to say so long to Jeff Gordon, the iconic driver who has announced that this will be his final season of NASCAR competition. Gordon would finish 10th on Sunday.
Gordon, the Midwest guy with Hollywood looks, was not embraced by true NASCAR fans when he broke in. Gordon’s DNA would prove to be marked for winning. He did just that for so many years, earning four NASCAR Titles and 92 all time victories.
Gordon and crew chief Rick Hendrick have won here at Fontana three times. For true fans of NASCAR, love him or hate him, Jeff Gordon’s body of work and success must be included in anyone’s top 10 all-time list.
With a ‘Q rating’ that might be compared to boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya, each brought that intangible combination of undeniable good looks and success in their sport to the masses.
Like so many champions, the sport will certainly be something less without him. He will be missed.