Closin' in Caly
Richard Childress Racing driver Kevin Harvick and his No. 29 car charged from six spots back of the lead off a caution restart with 10 of 200 laps remaining at Auto Club Speedway to pass Jimmie Johnson feet before the finish line and score a 0.144-of-a-second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
Harvick patiently waited out a two-way battle for the lead between Johnson and Kyle Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 before guiding the No. 29 around the No. 18 for second at the exit of Turn 2 with two laps remaining.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native stalked Johnson on the outside line for a majority of the final lap on the two-mile paved oval, drafted the No. 48 into Turn 3 and catapulted to the race lead off the exit of Turn 4.
Harvick, who led only one race lap, manufactured his first Sprint Cup victory in his home state and charted his third top-five and eighth top-10 series Auto Club Speedway finish in his 18th career Fontana start.
"We had them all beat last year here and we gave it away. (Crew Chief) Gil (Martin) made the right call (to stay out on the track on the final caution). When I saw those guys pit at the end I said, 'Man, we might be in deep trouble.' We held those guys off and our car just kept going.
"We had a lot of adversity we fought through (this season). We knew our cars were fast enough to win races, we just had to have the circumstances go right. Today, we had a fast car and the circumstances played in our favor," Harvick said.
Johnson was denied his sixth career Auto Club Speedway Sprint Cup victory, but did chalk up his 13th top-five and 14th top-10 series finish at the track in his 18th start there.
"It reminded me of last year's spring race, I just couldn't hold him off this time. I knew he was coming. If I could've got by the No. 18 a lap sooner it might've given me the margin I needed. The car was just way loose and I was driving my butt off to keep it up in front. It didn't pan out.
"I hate losing coming off of Turn 4 like that that, but we did everything we could today. We had a great race, made our car a lot better all day and did everything we could. I'm really proud about that," Johnson said. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch took third, Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth nailed down fourth and Stewart Haas Racing veteran Ryan Newman closed out the race top five.
Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards produced his fourth top-10 finish of the season with a sixth-place Fontana finish and moved from second to the lead in the Sprint Cup Series championship standings. He will hold a nine-point lead over Newman entering the series next event at Martinsville Speedway on April 3.
Newman moved from fourth to second in the championship hunt with his third top-five and fourth top-10 finish through five series events this season.
Martinsville race coverage is set for a 2:00 p.m., start on Motor Racing Network radio and Sirius/XM 128. FOX waves the green flag on its race coverage at 3:00 p.m.
The series makes its historic Kentucky Speedway debut with the July 9 "Quaker State 400" as part of a NASCAR tripleheader that addtionally spotlights a 225-mile July 7 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series battle and a 300-mile July 8 NASCAR Nationwide Series event.
Click the links that follow for tickets and camping.
Story by Mike Schmaltz