If leading the most laps without winning didn’t qualify as annoying enough, Kevin Harvick’s Sprint Cup frustration also might be exacerbated by who keeps finishing first ahead of him.
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 marked the 14th time that Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick finished 1-2 in NASCAR’s premier series, and Johnson has been the winner 12 times – including the past nine.
Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Harvick has finished second 20 times – and Johnson has been first in eight of those races.
The six-time series champion’s No. 48 Chevrolet took the lead for the last time Sunday shortly after a restart in overtime at Auto Club Speedway, passing Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet on the bottom entering the third turn. Harvick had restarted second on the bottom of the front row, directly ahead of Johnson in third.
“Kevin and I had a restart earlier in the day,” Johnson said. “I was able to get to his bumper and give him a shot. I feel like that gave us the opportunity we had on that final restart.
“I didn’t expect to get inside of him and really have a shot at racing him for the win. My whole goal lining up was to clear (Joey Logano). I know that he’s fast, he’s good, he knows how to do these restarts, (and) he’s very aggressive for a couple laps.”
Denny Hamlin restarted in the lead on the outside of the front row and lamented that he didn’t get more of a shove from Logano (who is among the circuit’s best at restarts). Harvick, meanwhile, said his car took off as poorly as it had during the race, while Johnson’s car zoomed toward the front.
“My biggest concern was just clearing (Logano) and not losing speed down the backstretch,” Johnson said. “I was afraid if I didn’t clear (Logano), that outside lane would come and I would roll into turn three in fifth and have a really frustrating finish. When I heard, ‘Clear’ (of Logano), my spirits picked up. I’m like, ‘All right, cool, we’re in good shape.’ I jumped on the gas, drove on up next to the 4, and I thought, ‘Damn, we have a shot to win this.’ ”
Johnson led only the final two of 42 laps.
Harvick, meanwhile, led a race-high 142 laps – the 24th time he has led the most laps in 77 starts since he began driving the No. 4. He has won eight of those races.
The ’14 champion also led the most laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway but slipped to sixth in a race won by Johnson on the strength of solid strategy and a swift pit stop.
A rundown of the 1-2 finishes for Johnson and Harvick in Sprint Cup:
Date Track Winner
July 20, 2003 New Hampshire Johnson
Nov. 12, 2006 Phoenix Harvick
Feb. 21, 2010 Fontana Johnson
Feb. 28, 2010 Las Vegas Johnson
March 27, 2011 Fontana Harvick
June 3, 2012 Dover Johnson
May 25, 2014 Charlotte Johnson
June 15, 2014 Michigan Johnson
Nov. 2, 2014 Texas Johnson
March 1, 2015 Atlanta Johnson
April 11, 2015 Texas Johnson
May 9, 2015 Kansas Johnson
May 31, 2015 Dover Johnson
March 20, 2016 Fontana Johnson