Jimmie Johnson found an extra bit of speed during a green-white-checkered finish in overtime of the Auto Club 400 and used it to fly ahead of the field to claim his 77th career Sprint Cup win.
After a caution for a blown tire from Kyle Busch with, Johnson edged past Harvick on the backstretch for the 26th lead change of the race and kept his No. 48 Chevrolet there for the final lap and a half.
“I knew we had a good car, but that caution fell at a bad time the run before,” Johnson told Fox while wearing a Superman cape to match his paint scheme and firesuit. “I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with (the leaders). To go there at the end and have good tires on the car, Harvick and I got by I guess Joey (Logano) there at the start. 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.”
If Johnson was Superman arriving just in the nick of time on Sunday, then Harvick may be becoming frustrated nemesis in the vein of Lex Luthor. Harvick has finished second to Johnson in eight of his last 11 wins.
Johnson’s second win this year denied Harvick in yet another race where the No. 4 led the most laps. Johnson led 25 laps to Harvick’s 142.
Johnson won at Atlanta after Harvick led 131 laps.
“It was the worst it’s taken off on restarts,” Harvick told Fox. “But we weren’t very good on restart for four or five laps unless we were all by ourselves. The 48 was able to hang with us and we 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.”
Johnson now moves into seventh on the all-time wins list ahead of Dale Earnhardt Sr. The No. 48 team is the first to repeat as winners in 2016.
“It’s hard to believe,” Johnson said. “I grew up out in the desert as a desert rat having fun and going to the river a little bit and having some fun over there too. To have those early childhood memories kind of shape me into the racer I am today and to be here in Victory Lane is pretty awesome.”
A California native, Johnson earned his series best sixth win at Auto Club Speedway, the same track he earned career win No. 1 at in 2002.
Johnson was followed by Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
HOW JIMMIE JOHNSON WON: The No. 48 took advantage of a bad restart by Joey Logano and then edged passed Harvick on the backstretch to take the lead for the final time on the green-white-checkered finish.
WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Denny Hamlin finished third for the second race in a row and his third top-five finish of the season. Hamlin overcame two penalties and early issues with the team radio … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fifth for his first top-five finish at a track not named Bristol Motor Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway. It’s the first top five for Roush Fenway Racing in 2016 … Brian Vickers finished 13th after having to pit on Lap 25 for a shredded right-rear tire, which sent him a lap down. It’s Vickers’ first top-15 finish of the season … Jamie McMurray finished 10th, exactly where he started, for his first top-10 finish of the season.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Around Lap 10 Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran into the back of a slower Kurt Busch, causing damage to Busch’s right-rear. Busch pitted on Lap 17 for repairs and a tire change, Busch would finish 30th … right as Chris Buescher slapped the wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution … Tire issues continued on Lap 48 when Kyle Larson blew a left-rear tire. The No. 42 swerved into the outside wall, without functioning brakes, Larson then headed straight to the inside of the track, hitting head-on on the backstretch wall … Danica Patrick brought out the fourth caution on Lap 121 when she was turned by Kasey Kane straight into the outside wall on the front stretch … Greg Biffle’s day ended with 53 laps left when his engine went up in smoke. Biffle finished 37th … Rookie Ryan Blaney took a long ride down the outside wall with about five laps to go, ending his day in the garage with a 35th-place finish … Three laps later the caution waved for debris from a blown tire on Kyle Busch’s car. Busch would finish 25th, ending an eight-race streak of top-five finishes for the defending champion.
NOTABLE: Kevin Harvick has failed to win after leading the most laps 16 times since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 … Both of Jimmie Johnson’s wins in 2016 have come after starting 19th.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
NEXT: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.