Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart had the field covered Sunday, but when it was over, the two best cars in the Auto Club 500 were sitting dead last.
Stewart was running second to Biffle’s point when the defending NASCAR Nextel Cup champion slowed, his Chevrolet engine giving out after completing 214 of 250 laps.
Biffle, who won the Busch Series race Saturday and was second in the most recent Cup race at California Speedway, joined Stewart in the garage 15 laps later when his Jack Roush Ford gave way.
“We had a good day, but a bad day,” said Stewart, who led 28 laps for Joe Gibbs Racing. “There were a lot of things that got us behind, mainly having the flat tire, and that’s really encouraging for the whole year.... We had a miscue in the pits and went from leading the race to 15th.”
That “miscue” took place when rear tire carrier Jody Fortson got his hand stuck under the tire when it was let off the jack. After icing it, he finished the race.
Stewart finished 43rd for the first time since the 2002 Daytona 500.
Biffle led five times for a total of 168 laps, a track record.
“It’s frustrating,” Biffle said of being so dominant and having so little to show for it. “We need to get inside the top 10 for the end of the season, and a [31st] place [at Daytona] and [a 42nd] is not the way to start the season.
“The 20 and I were pretty quick.... I was gonna be tough to beat.”
Pole-sitter Kurt Busch was never a factor. He was passed on Lap 8 by Biffle, who started alongside Roger Penske’s new driver on the front row.
“I think we’re fine,” said Busch, the 2004 champion who left Roush’s super team to replace Rusty Wallace in the Miller Lite Dodge. “We just missed our setup. We were so fast in practice. We sat on the pole, and it was hard to change the car.”
The race was largely a parade in front of what appeared to be many empty seats, and track President Gillian Zucker said afterward that changes could be made to the speedway, including progressive banking, if it is necessary to improve the on-track product.
“Today, with limited cautions, I imagine we may hear more about it and if we do, we’ll take a look at the track surface. In Miami, it has completely changed the show.”