Johnson 'Super' at Auto Club
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on March 20, 2016 | 6:51 P.M. EST
Driving the Superman car, Jimmie Johnson took an overtime win in the Auto Club 400 for his sixth victory at Auto Club Speedway and the 77th of his career.
Johnson worked around Kevin Harvick on the next to last laps of the race and went on to take the checkered flag for the second time this season.
“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 explained. “I cleared him and kind of got away. We saved our best for last for sure.
“We had our best at the last there and really strong on the short run which wasn’t necessarily our strong suit earlier in the day. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) made some great adjustments there to get me tuned up for that dash at the end.”
Johnson became the first repeat winner of the season and scored his record sixth career ACS victory. The victory also moved Johnson past Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list.
Harvick led a race-high 142 laps but after his Phoenix win last week, was forced to settle for second place.
“It was the worst it’s taken off on restarts,” Harvick said. “We weren’t very good on restarts for four to five laps unless we were all by ourselves. (Johnson) was able to hang with us. We just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to, didn’t have the front tires turning and the back wouldn’t grip.
“Still a good day for us. We’ll keep at it.”
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top five.
Chase Elliott, Carl Edwards, AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray completed the first 10 finishers.
There were 26 lead changes among eight drivers. The race was slowed by caution six times for 33 laps.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes the Easter weekend off before returning to action on Sunday, April 3 at Martinsville Speedway.
How Johnson Won: Johnson got by Hamlin who was the leader on the overtime restart before Harvick edged by for the top spot. But then Johnson set his sights on the Stewart-Haas Racing driver and was able to get a run to move around last week’s Phoenix winner. Once he cleared Johnson pulled away and scored a comfortable advantage as he crossed the finish line.
Who Had a Good Day: Harvick was frustrated at not winning but scored his 14th second place finish since the start of the 2015 season...Hamlin matched his best career Auto Club finish in third after rebounding from a pit road speeding penalty...Stenhouse scored only his fourth career top-five finish in 117 Sprint Cup Series starts. (Read More)
Who Had a Bad Day: Kyle Larson’s disappointing start to the season hit its lowest point on Sunday when he was involved in a hard crash. Larson’s rear tire went down as he sped down the backstretch and after making contact with the outside wall slammed hard into the inside SAFER Barrier and the impact lifted his car off the ground. Larson was shaken in the incident but fortunately uninjured (Read More)...On lap 121 it was Danica Patrick’s turn to experience a hard hit into the way when she was clipped by Kasey Kahne racing down the frontstretch. Patrick’s car spun around and slammed into the outside wall before stopping. She got out quickly due to a fire that erupted and then walked up the inside of the track to gesture her unhappiness to Kahne. NASCAR could choose to penalize Patrick for walking out onto a hot track, a rule that was implemented nearly two years ago (Read More)...The frustration for Greg Biffle also continued when the Roush Fenway Racing driver had his engine blow with 54 laps to go...Kyle Busch suffered the same fate Sunday he did in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race when he blew a tire at the end of the race. Busch was running second when his tire exploded and it brought out the caution to set-up the overtime finish.
What Else Happened: The race was the first at ACS with this year’s lower downforce rules package and combined with the track’s rough surface it combined for a challenging afternoon for drivers as well as three and sometimes four-wide racing. Several drivers did experience tire issues, attributed to aggressive set-ups, lower than recommended air pressures and heat in the track. But tire management was a key component to the afternoon and as it did at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the rules package seemed to create racier conditions for drivers.
Quote of the Day: "I told everybody Superman kicked Batman’s butt and it happened,” Johnson on his special paint scheme beating teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s.
Notables: Allmendinger scored his first top-10 finish since Pocono in 2015...Brian Scott’s 12th-place finish matched his career best...Kyle Busch ended a career-long streak of eight top-five finishes with his 25th.