FONTANA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson passed Kevin Harvick to pick up the checkered flag at the 20th running of the Auto Club 400. It was the second win of the season for the El Cajon native–putting him just 11 points behind leader Harvick.
“It’s special, very special,” Johnson said of winning in southern California, just a little over 100 miles from his hometown. “Many friends that I didn’t expect to see here his weekend, didn’t even know they were coming to the race, I ran into. It’s great to be close to home. The west coast has such a different vibe. I’ve been in the grind on the east coast for a lot of years. There’s just nothing like coming back to SoCal and chilling out.”
J.J. was dressed in a Superman costume as part of a promotion deal for the new film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wore a Batman costume. Both of their cars featured a special paint scheme to promote the movie, which opens in theaters this Friday.
No. 34 Chris Buescher slightly hit the turn two wall for the first caution of the race at lap 28. That lasted for a total of four laps before the race got back underway. Then, No. 42 Kyle Larson made a hard, head-on crash into the backstretch wall on lap 49. That was a 5-lap caution.
Trevor Bayne brought out the third caution of the day when he touched the turn one wall on lap 109.
On lap 122, Danica Patrick hit the wall and went spinning around in circles several times. It was the fourth caution of the race. Her right tire blew and then her car was smoking on the grass. She climbed out of the car quickly and was OK.
Kevin Harvick had the lead from laps 166 until the final lap. All was going well until Kyle Busch hit the wall in turn three causing a green-white-checker finish. That’s when Jimmie Johnson passed Kevin Harvick for the win.
“My goal was to clear the No. 22 and not lose speed during the backstretch,” Johnson said in a post-race press conference. “My spirits picked up and I thought, ‘We’re going to win this.’ On those two laps, the car was incredible. I went from optimistic to jumping up and down in the car. I’ve been fortunate to win 77 of these.”
The weather was sunny with a few clouds and a high temperature of 80 degrees. Winds reached 10-15 mph and didn’t really play a factor in the race.
“We like everything about this track except the backstretch,” said Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief. “He just drove it straight down the bottom around the No. 4 car. I don’t feel we’re running as strong as we need. A fairly easy race to call. Only thing to be cognitive about is right tire pressure.”
Austin Dillon won the Coors Light Pole award for the fastest qualifying time on Friday. He ended up finishing 24th today. Dillon won Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 in dramatic fashion with a final-lap pass.
“Great race. Jimmie did a great job,” said race fans Mike Jackson and Kathy Stephens. “Our crew did an awesome job. Go Superman! Yeah, it was the outcome we were hoping for. Absolutely. I definitely expected this one. This is my first time at this race track.”
Several Hollywood stars were in attendance for today’s race. Actor Eric Dane from TNT’s “The Last Ship” gave the command to start the engines. In addition, Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman performed the national anthem. Finally, the top five contestants from “American Idol” sang “God Bless America” during the pre-race ceremony.
Team Penske was honored for its 50th anniversary of auto racing. Roger Penske was one of the founders of this track back in 1997.
That’s a wrap for the 2016 edition of “#NASCARGoesWest.” The NASCAR Sprint Cup series take a week off to celebrate the Easter holiday. Then, the racing returns to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, April 3.