Jimmie Johnson gets past Harvick to win at Fontana
FONTANA >> Jimmie Johnson pulled away in overtime to beat Kevin Harvick on Sunday for the Southern California native's record sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Fontana.
Johnson was third on the late restart, but surged past leader Denny Hamlin while giving a little bump to Harvick. He side-drafted Harvick and easily got away for his 77th career victory, passing Dale Earnhardt Sr. for seventh place in NASCAR history.
"We saved the best for last, for sure," Johnson said.
Johnson finished with his fastest lap of the race to claim his second win of the young season, adding Fontana to Atlanta. The six-time series champion has won three of his last eight races after a 20-race winless skid in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Harvick was in position to win for the second consecutive week before second-place Kyle Busch blew a tire with two laps to go, forcing the race into overtime. Hamlin got off pit road first for his first lead of the race, but Johnson's fresh tires gave him the speed needed to get ahead.
"I knew we had a great car, and the caution fell at a bad time," Johnson said. "The run before, I just didn't have the tires on the car to race with those guys. I got a great run off of Turn 2, and I thought, 'Man, I've got a shot at this thing,' which I didn't expect to have. Harvick has been so fast."
Johnson is from El Cajon, just outside San Diego. He won at Fontana in 2009 and 2010, but hadn't finished higher than ninth in his last four races at his closest thing to a hometown track, one hour east of Los Angeles. His sixth victory increases his own career record.
Harvick finished second to Johnson for the ninth consecutive time that the California natives have occupied the top two spots.
"That was the worst it's taken off on the restarts," Harvick said of the last lap. "But we weren't good on the restarts for four or five laps unless we were by ourselves. We weren't able to drive it in like I needed to. Just didn't have the front tires turning, and then the back wouldn't grip. Still a good day for us."
Hamlin was third, followed by Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Martin Truex Jr. was in contention until late contact with Logano, who left Truex furious.
The combination of Auto Club Speedway's aged asphalt and NASCAR's new low-downforce package led to the excellent entertainment value that most drivers expected in the closest race to Hollywood. Fontana showcased uncommonly close racing and multiple passes on one of the series' fastest tracks.
Johnson soared to the win with the Superman logo emblazoned on his hood to promote Warner Bros.' upcoming "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" film. Johnson later donned a red cape, knowingly grinning at the cheesiness.
ROUGH WEEKEND: Busch's blown tire while he was in second place capped a hard-luck weekend for the defending Sprint Cup champion, who won here in 2013 and 2014. A day after Busch blew a tire while leading on the last lap and closing in on his fourth straight Xfinity Series victory, his streak of eight straight top-five Cup finishes also ended in dismaying fashion.
QUICK START: Harvick started up front and took the lead on the opening lap from Austin Dillon, the pole-sitter and Saturday's Xfinity Series race winner in a jaw-dropping finish. Harvick and Carl Edwards soon picked up right where they left off last week in Phoenix with their photo finish, trading the lead throughout the early laps.
BIG CRASH: Kyle Larson was unhurt after a frightening solo crash on the 48th lap that sent his entire car flying into the air. The Northern California native hit the wall head-on when he blew his left rear tire, but climbed out after landing on his wheels.
BAD CRASH: Danica Patrick then hit the wall hard with 79 laps to go after contact while passing Kasey Kahne, who was a lap down. Patrick and her team were angry with Kahne for the bump, with Patrick calling Kahne "pretty desperate."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.