Jimmie Johnson roared past Kevin Harvick on a restart with two laps remaining on Sunday and won the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick led for 142 of the race’s scheduled 200 laps, but could not pull off the victory.
Finishing third was Denny Hamlin followed by Joey Logano in fourth and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. coming in with his best finish of the year in fifth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was 11th.
Harvick, a native of Bakersfield, California, was in command throughout the race, giving up the lead mostly when he came in to pit. Johnson did manage to lead for 25 laps.
With Harvick comfortably in front, Kyle Busch blew a tire with only two laps remaining. The track’s tendency to wear down tires forced all drivers to pit for the two-lap sprint to the finish. The caution was the sixth of the day.
Hamlin was the first car off pit road, followed by Harvick, then Johnson. With Hamlin starting on the outside, Johnson lined up behind Harvick on the inside.
When the green flag dropped, Johnson pushed Harvick past Hamlin. As Harvick assumed the outside line, Johnson went underneath, where few drivers had success in making a pass. In Johnson’s case it worked as he got by Harvick on the back stretch then pulled away at the end.
“I got a great run off (turn) two and thought ‘I got a shot to win this thing,’ which I didn’t expect to have,” said Johnson. “Harvick’s been so fast and I cleared him and kinda got away. So we saved our best for last for sure.”
The full results are here.
With the victory, Johnson now has 77 for his career, the seventh-highest in NASCAR history. He has the most among active drivers.
The series takes a week off for Easter, then resumes on April 3 for the STP 500 at Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway. Hamlin is the defending champion.