FONTANA, Calif. – Jimmie Johnson slipped past leader Kyle Busch in the final three laps of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Auto Club Speedway and appeared poised for his sixth career victory at the two-mile racetrack. But the defending race winner couldn’t hold off a late-charging Kevin Harvick and crossed the finish line second on the final lap.
“I just couldn’t hold him off,” Johnson said afterward. “I knew he was coming. I could hear them telling me he was coming. If I could have gotten by the 18 a lap sooner, that might have been enough. But I was just loose all day. I was driving my butt off to keep the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet up front.
“We made our car better all day long, though. I’m glad it turned out to be a decent day.”
Johnson, who most recently won at the two-mile racetrack in February 2010, now has three top-three finishes this season and improves two spots to fifth in the driver standings. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates rounded out the top 20 in Sunday’s 400-mile event.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, improved from his 30th starting position to finish 12th. Earnhardt now ranks 12th in the driver standings.
"We’re a top-10 team," Earnhardt said of his team after the race. "We’re doing pretty good. I like the consistency. That’s something I’ve never really had. This is the most consistent I’ve ever been in my whole career. So that’s a good thing. I think the team’s pretty good. I’ve got to do a better job helping them put a car on the track for qualifying that’s going to get us in the top 15 for qualifying. You’re really not helping yourself starting races in 30th. We have really good race cars and don’t want to be doing that.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, finished 18th after starting Sunday’s 200-lap event 29th. Gordon ranks 16th in the standings.
Mark Martin lined up 10th in his No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet and finished 20th. He now trails points leader Kyle Busch by 40 points and ranks 14th in the driver standings.
The Sprint Cup Series next will race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Sunday, April 3. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m. ET.