Jimmie Johnson wasn't about to let this one slip through his fingers. Johnson dominated the second half of the Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California but had to survive a couple of late race restarts and a threat from teammate...
Jimmie Johnson wasn't about to let this one slip through his fingers.
Johnson dominated the second half of the Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California but had to survive a couple of late race restarts and a threat from teammate Jeff Gordon to seal the win.
Johnson started third and took the lead for the first time when he passed pole sitter Denny Hamlin on lap 11. He locked up the extra bonus points for leading the most laps in the race and moved into first place in the Chase for the Championship standings, 12 points ahead of teammate Mark Martin.
"What an awesome car - what an awesome day," said Johnson, who won this race for the third straight year. "Those cautions at the end really had me nervous. I just didn't know what to do on the restarts. I knew once we had three or four laps I was in good shape but there at the end I didn't really have many laps. I'm glad I had a good start and got going."
Gordon took the lead from Johnson on the restart with 12 to go but Johnson got back around him just before the caution came out for the final time for a multi-car wreck with six laps to go. After a brief red flag, Johnson led Gordon, Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya to the green flag and pulled away for his fifth win of the season and second in the past three races.
"Obviously it's monumental," crew chief Chad Knaus said about the win. "To be able to come out here and run the way we did - I just couldn't be happier. It's great to be able to come out here - it's just awesome."
Johnson leads the point standings for the first time this season and is looking to set a NASCAR record by winning his fourth straight championship.
"We kept chipping away at it," Johnson said about the points lead. "Obviously there is a lot of racing left but we're in good shape. I'm just really happy about what's going on."
You can officially consider Gordon back in the Chase.
Gordon was seventh coming into the fourth race in the Chase. He has rallied from a 15th place finish in the first race of the Chase at Loudon with sixth and second place finishes before finishing second today.
"We were just trying to make it interesting," said Gordon, who has moved up to fifth in the championship standings with six races to go in the season and is in the hunt for his fifth series championship but first under this format.
"Nobody else seems to be able to do that to the 48 and we couldn't on that last run. We fought really hard all day and all weekend to get ourselves in that position. We had a couple of good restarts but they're in another category. We need to find out what we're missing."
Montoya started fourth and finished third. He held on to third place in the championship standings.
"It was fun," Montoya said. "We were really good when it was cloudy and when the sun came out we started sliding too much. We couldn't find the balance between how much grip I wanted in the corner and how much I wanted to put the power down. It got a little better but it was too late."
Martin finished fourth, his sixth top-five finish in the past seven races but just didn't have enough to challenge Johnson at the end of the race.
"We were real close," said Martin, who slipped to second in the standings. "We made progress with the race car and there was a time when we could go out front. We were right there."
Tony Stewart started 20th and went a lap down to the leaders after getting a speeding penalty while coming off pit road late in the race. He worked his way back on to the lead lap and finished fifth.
"This team never quits - it never has and never will," said Stewart, who is fourth in the standings. "It was a long day for sure. We got a couple of really lucky breaks that got us back there at the end. We had a good enough car to get back but we could not get going at the beginning of a run."
Chasers Carl Edwards (sixth) and Kurt Busch (eighth) also finished in the Top-10 while Kasey Kahne was having a solid day before getting caught up on both late race incidents. He finished 33rd.
Pole sitter Denny Hamlin led the first 10 laps and was back at the front of the field at the midway point of the race. He was tapped from behind on a late race restart and his car suffered heavy damage. He was relegated to a 37th place finish and dropped three spots in the standings to ninth.
Kyle Busch started the race but was suffering from flu symptoms and yielded his seat to David Gilliland during the first caution.