Jimmie Johnson slid by Kevin Harvick in an overtime period to win the NASCAR Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway Sunday. It was a race that saw 26 lead changes and ended with Johnson celebrating his second win of the season and the 77th of his career. Here’s how it all went down Sunday in Fontana California.
Austin Dillon with his second career pole led the field to green, but by the time the field exited turn 2, second place starter Kevin Harvick had the lead and was pulling away. Carl Edwards and Dillon were fighting for second with Edwards getting the spot by lap 3; Dillon was third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
Kyle Busch got fifth from Newman on lap 4 as up front Edwards was gaining on Harvick for the lead. Hamlin went to third on lap 7. Dale Earnhardt and Kurt Busch got together exiting turn 4 on the same lap and Busch was forced to pit with damage to his right rear. They were running outside the top 20 at the time.
By lap 15 the lead for Harvick was nearing two seconds as he pulled away from Edwards. Martin Truex Jr. went to fifth on lap 16, he went to fourth past Kyle Busch a lap later; Hamlin went to third. Kyle Busch pitted with a possible tire issue on lap 20. His brother Kurt had just been in for a second stop after his earlier issues; both went a lap down. The lead up front was nearing three seconds. Hamlin was third, Truex fourth, Dillon fifth.
Brian Vickers lost a tire on lap 25 and was forced to make his way slowly to pit road. Chris Buescher running 17th lost a left rear tire and hit the wall exiting turn 2 and caution number one came out on lap 27. Hamlin hit the wall and was forced to pit.
The leaders all came in for stops. There was a three wide race off pit road with Edwards coming out first, Truex second and Harvick third; Dillon was fourth, Joey Logano fifth; all took four tires. Hamlin was penalized and sent to the rear for pitting too soon, and he also had radio issues.
The green came out on lap 32; Edwards grabbed the lead while Harvick got to second, Truex was third, Logano fourth and Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski fought for fifth and were soon battling for fourth.
Edwards led four laps before Harvick was able to get back by for the lead on lap 34. Edwards would have none of it and soon the two were side by side. As the fight continued, Truex was closing from third. Harvick was finally able to inch ahead on lap 37 as Truex and Edwards contested second. Edwards had the spot by lap 38 as Harvick began to slowly stretch out his lead. Logano was fourth, Keselowski fifth. Truex and Edwards contested second and on lap 41 Truex was able to grab the spot.
Kyle Busch was up to 13th by lap 44; the lead for Harvick over Truex up front was just over one second.
Caution two came out on lap 47 when Kyle Larson lost a left rear tire exiting turn 2; he hit the backstretch wall then slid down and hit the inside SAFER barrier. The car went airborne before coming to rest, but Larson was uninjured. The leaders all came in for stops. Harvick was out first, Logano second, Edwards third, Truex fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth. Keselowski came out sixth but was sent to the rear of the field for an uncontrolled tire.
Green came back out on lap 54; Harvick went back to the lead over Logano. Truex soon went by for second and was looking for the lead. Johnson, who restarted ninth, suddenly appeared in third and was beside Truex for second on lap 56; Kenseth was fourth and on lap 56 went to third over Johnson who had fallen in behind Truex, Logano was fifth. Kyle Busch was 9th. By lap 68 the lead for Harvick was just over 2 seconds, as rookie Chase Elliott moved to seventh, he was sixth on lap 70.
Harvick pitted from the lead for an unscheduled stop on lap 71 reporting that he felt like a tire was going down. He rejoined the field in 33rd place on the lead lap as Truex took over the lead. The crew chief for Harvick told him the tires looked fine. Johnson was second, Kenseth third, Elliott and moved to fourth and Logano was fifth.
Johnson was looking for the lead on lap 78, and was able to slide by Truex for the top spot; after struggling earlier, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was inside the top 20 in 17th.
Elliott went to third on lap 81; Harvick had moved up to 28th.
Johnson pitted from the lead on lap 83, setting off a round of green flag stops. Truex and the rest of the leaders followed with the exception of Kenseth. Hamlin was penalized for entering too fast. Kenseth pitting on lap 85; Harvick cycled back to the lead. With fresher tires though Johnson soon took over second and was closing the gap on Harvick. By lap 90 an 11-second gap was five seconds. Allmendinger was third, Truex was fourth, Elliott fifth.
Johnson had cut the lead to just over three second by lap 95; Truex was third, Elliott fourth, Allmendinger fifth.
At the halfway point the lead was under two seconds for Harvick. Truex was third, Elliott fourth, Kenseth fifth. Harvick pitted on lap 107 under green. Trevor Bayne scraped the wall in turn one on lap 108 and caution three came out. Bayne had hit the wall earlier but had tried to continue. The leaders came in for stops. Harvick stayed out. Johnson was out first followed by Truex, Kenseth, Elliott and Logano followed.
Harvick restarted on the outside of Johnson on lap 115. Johnson was able to rocket to the lead with a push by Truex; Harvick fell into third, Kenseth was fourth, Kyle Busch fifth. Kenseth moved to third on lap 116, Harvick lost another spot a lap later as Kyle Busch grabbed fourth. On lap 119 Truex was looking for the lead as Kyle Busch got third from Kenseth; Danica Patrick in 19th got into Kasey Kahne exiting turn 4 on lap 120 and crashed headlong into the frontstretch wall; caution three came out. Patrick was able to climb from the car and walked up the track showing her displeasure at Kahne.
All the leaders, including Harvick who had just moved to third and was now on the same pit cycle, came in for stops. Truex led off pit road, Harvick was second, Johnson third, Kenseth fourth, followed by Edwards in fifth. Edwards was penalized was too fast exiting and sent to the rear of the field.
After an extended caution, the green came out on lap 128. Truex and Harvick were side by side until the exit of turn 2 when Truex was able to pull out into the lead, Johnson fell into third, Kenseth was fourth, Logano fifth. Busch and Logano was fighting for fifth by lap 134. Harvick was able to stay close and by lap 136 was dueling for the lead with Truex; Harvick was able to get the lead on lap 137; behind Logano and Kenseth fought for fifth as Busch had a clear fourth place. Hamlin had overcome his issues and was sixth. Hamlin soon put Kenseth behind him and was looking for fifth from Logano. Johnson got second from Truex on lap 140. Truex stayed close however and the two raced side by side for a lap before Johnson was able to pull ahead.
Harvick’s lead was nearing 2.5 seconds by lap 143. Busch blasted past Truex for 3rd on lap 147. Kenseth had fallen back to 10th, reporting a tire issue; he pitted on lap 149. On the track, Truex and Logano got close; Truex got loose and was sent into the wall in turn 2, both kept going. Earnhardt Jr. entered the top 10 for the first time moving into 9th behind. He pitted a lap later as did Johnson, Truex followed.
Caution five came out on lap 155 for debris. Johnson had just passed Harvick and got back on the lead lap after his stop. During the green flag stops, Truex was penalized for speeding. Under caution the leaders all came in for stops. Hamlin was out first, Logano second, Keselowski third followed by Harvick and Kyle Busch. Truex made extensive repairs on pit road.
Johnson led to the green on lap 157, Edwards who had just pitted before the caution with Johnson, was second followed by Logano, Keselowski and Harvick. Johnson and Edwards stayed side by side for the entire lap with Edwards leading the first lap after the restart. Logano held station in third just behind. Logano made a slow steady run and soon Johnson had the lead Logano was second. On lap 168 Logano had second but third through fifth were spread out behind. Logano snagged the lead on lap 163 as Harvick and Johnson raced for second. Edwards had faded to fifth. Harvick was behind Logano wand on lap 165 was beside Logano. The two fought side by side as the top five fanned out behind. Harvick had the lead on lap 167. It was a four wide battle directly behind. By lap 170 the top five had finally settled into a line; it was Harvick, Logano, Edwards, Busch and Keselowski; Johnson had faded to seventh.
Elliott took over fifth on lap 171. The lead for Harvick was just over a second. Edwards got second on lap 176. Behind them Logano, Busch and Elliott was dueling for position. Busch got third on lap 177. Edwards and Busch were fighting for second with 17 laps to go with Busch getting the spot, as behind Elliott and Logano contested fourth; Elliott was able to get the spot. Up front Harvick’s lead was 1.7 seconds. Elliott was looking for third from Edwards and got the spot with 11 laps to go. Edwards was dropping back and was sixth with 9 laps to go reporting that his rear tires was “gone”.
The lead for Harvick was 2.3 seconds with 8 laps to go. The lead was nearing three seconds with five laps to go as Hamlin took 4th from Logano. Ryan Blaney in 13th hit the wall in turn 4 but was able to make it to pit road and there was no caution. The lead was just over three seconds with 3 laps to go. Kyle Busch hit the wall between turn 3 and 4 with two laps to go after losing a left front tire; caution six came out and set up an overtime finish. Busch was able to limp to the pits and his streak of eight top 10 finishes in a row ended. There were 25 cars on the lead lap. The leaders all came in for tires.
Hamlin won the race off pit road, Harvick was second, Johnson was third, followed by Logano and Edwards. Hamlin restarted on the outside, Harvick on the inside. Logano was behind Hamlin, Johnson behind Harvick. Harvick was able to get to the lead with a push from Johnson. Johnson was able to dive below Harvick entering turn 4 and was leading at the white flag. On the final laps, Johnson was able to stretch out his lead and cruised to victory.
Hamlin was third, Logano was fourth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fifth. Elliott was sixth. Carl Edwards finished seventh, AJ Allmendinger was eighth, followed by Keselowski and Jamie McMurray. The full results can be found here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series takes a week off for Easter. The series next event will be the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville Virginia on April 3.