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NASCAR Auto Club 400: Jimmie Johnson surges to win on late caution

With the win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif., Jimmie Johnson becomes the Sprint Cup series’ first multiple winner this season (also won at Atlanta).
With the win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif., Jimmie Johnson becomes the Sprint Cup series’ first multiple winner this season (also won at Atlanta). Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson took advantage of a late caution Sunday and won the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in a green-white-checkered finish.

Kevin Harvick appeared to have the race under control when Kyle Busch hit the wall on the 198th of 200 laps. Johnson, who was fifth at the time, changed all four tires on the ensuing pit stop and was third on the restart. He quickly overtook Denny Hamlin and Harvick and won going away.

“I got a great run off Turn 2 and thought, I have a chance at this thing,” said Johnson, who won his second race of the season.

The victory was the 77th of six-time champion Johnson’s career, pulling him into sole possession of the seventh spot on NASCAR’s career list ahead of Dale Earnhardt.

Harvick finished second, followed by Hamlin and Joey Logano. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (fifth) and rookie Chase Elliott (sixth) also had strong days.

The Sprint Cup circuit takes next week off before returning to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April 3.

Turning point

Busch’s wreck on Lap 198 set up the final restart and a green-white-checkered finish. Johnson was fifth at that time, but came out of the pits in third place. He passed Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick to win.

Three who mattered

Jimmie Johnson: He also becomes the Cup series’ first multiple winner this season (also won at Atlanta).

Kevin Harvick: Finished second for the 20th time in 77 races (two-plus years) at Stewart-Haas Racing, maintains points lead.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Is quietly putting together a really strong season for Roush Fenway Racing. He’s 14th in the points standings.

Worth mentioning

▪ Kyle Larson took a vicious hit when his No. 42 Chevy blew a left rear tire on the backstretch of Lap 47. After hitting the outside wall, Larson’s car drove head first into the SAFER barrier-protected inside wall (he said the brake line was cut) and lifted entirely into the air before finally coming to a stop. Larson was OK, but said over the radio, “that one really hurt, though.”

▪  Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick wrecked on Lap 121. Patrick got out of her No. 10 Chevy because she was worried it might catch fire, but also used the opportunity to walk up the track to show her displeasure with Kahne, who had been a lap down. That might lead to a penalty for Patrick. Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden were called to the NASCAR hauler after the race.

“I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down,” said Patrick, who was running 20th at the time. “He must be having a very tough time.”

▪  Martin Truex Jr. also wasn’t pleased with Joey Logano, who hit him while Truex was a lap down (he had served a penalty for speeding on pit road). Truex said: “I’ll drive him differently (next time).”

They said it

“I got a great run off Turn 2 and thought, I have a chance at this thing.” – Johnson.

Next race

STP 500

Where: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

When: 1 p.m., April 3.

TV: Fox.

Radio: Motor Racing Network.

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