Jimmie Johnson pulled away on an overtime restart to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Monday at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
It was the six-time champion’s 77th career victory, which lifted him past the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. to seventh on Cup series’ all-time wins list.
The victory also extended Johnson’s record performance at the two-mile (3.2-kilometer) Fontana track. He’s now the only driver to win six Cup races at Auto Club Speedway.
“I knew we had a great car,” Johnson said of his No. 48 Chevrolet in victory lane. “We just saved our best for last, for sure.”
Kevin Harvick finished second, Denny Hamlin was third and Joey Logano finished fourth.
Harvick was cruising toward his second consecutive win when Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota blew a tire with only two laps remaining, bringing out the caution flag and setting up the two-lap overtime restart.
Just past the midway point, Danica Patrick walked away from a hard crash after her No. 10 Chevrolet was clipped by Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy as they raced at nearly 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour) on the front straightaway.
The contact sent Patrick’s car slamming into the outside wall, with the car briefly coming off the ground. After stopping on the infield grass, Patrick climbed from her car, walked back to the track and held her arms out – as if to say “What did you do?” – as Kahne slowly passed by her again under caution.
Driving a No. 48 Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet adorned with a “Superman” logo to plug the movie “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Johnson led 25 laps, but his rival from Bakersfield had dominated the event until the final restart.
“That sucks,” said Harvick, who has finished second 20 times in 77 events since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, his championship season. “Just way too tight right there. Couldn’t put the throttle down. Wouldn’t turn.”
Harvick described the late-race caution as a “worst-case scenario.”
“We weren’t very good on restarts for four or five laps, unless we were all by ourselves,” said Harvick, who nevertheless retained the series lead by 11 points over Johnson. “The No. 48 was able to hang with us, and we just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to, just didn’t have the front tires turning and the back wouldn’t grip.”
“Still, a good day for us. We’ll keep at it,” he added.
Hamlin ran third, overcoming radio problems that left him mired in traffic early in the race. Joey Logano ran fourth, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who notched his first top five since last year’s spring race at Bristol.
Polesitter Austin Dillon finished 24th, after a loose wheel forced him to return to pit road after stops under caution on Lap 110.
TNS WITH NASCAR.COM