Fontana, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson somehow saved his fastest lap for last, and Southern California’s favorite racing son soared to another historic victory.
Johnson pulled away in overtime to beat Kevin Harvick on Sunday for his record sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Fontana.
With his 77th career victory, Johnson passed Dale Earnhardt for seventh place in NASCAR annals. And he did it in style: Johnson was third on the late restart, but he surged past leader Denny Hamlin while giving a little bump to Harvick before side-drafting and pulling away.
After showcasing his famed skills to snare another landmark win, the 40-year-old Johnson got a bit reflective when asked about his place in the sport.
“I feel like physically and mentally, I’m the best that I’ve ever been in my career,” the six-time series champion said. “I’m in the space I want to be in, which makes me want to stick around and do this for a lot of years. There’s no guarantees about when you’re going to win and have success, so I’ve been very, very fortunate to win 77 of these things, which blows my mind.”
Johnson finished with his fastest lap of the race to claim his second overtime win of the young season, adding Fontana to Atlanta. He has won three of his last eight races after a 20-race winless skid in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Harvick was in position to win for the second consecutive week before second-place Kyle Busch blew a tire with two laps to go. Hamlin got off pit road first for his first lead of the race, but Johnson’s fresh tires and cleverness gave him the speed needed to get ahead.
“I knew we had a great car, and the caution fell at a bad time,” Johnson said. “The run before, I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with those guys. I got a great run off of Turn 2, and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got a shot at this thing,’ which I didn’t expect to have. Harvick has been so fast.”
Johnson is from El Cajon, just outside San Diego. He won at Fontana in 2009 and 2010, but hadn’t finished higher than ninth in his last four races at his closest thing to a hometown track, one hour east of Los Angeles.
Harvick finished second to Johnson for the ninth consecutive time that the California natives have occupied the top two spots.
“That was the worst it’s taken off on the restarts,” Harvick said of the last lap. “But we weren’t good on the restarts for four or five laps unless we were by ourselves. We weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to. Just didn’t have the front tires turning, and then the back wouldn’t grip. Still a good day for us.”
Hamlin was third, followed by Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Martin Truex Jr. was in contention until late contact with Logano, who left Truex furious.
The combination of Auto Club Speedway’s aged asphalt and NASCAR’s new low-downforce package led to the excellent entertainment value that most drivers expected in the closest race to Hollywood. Fontana showcased uncommonly close racing and multiple passes on one of the series’ fastest tracks.
Nico Rosberg beat teammate Lewis Hamilton in Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes cars recovered from a slow start to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who took third.
The race was suspended for 20 minutes after a frightening high-speed collision between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez.
Brittany Force won her first NHRA Top Fuel event, beating Terry McMillen in the final at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
Robert Hight gave John Force Racing its first double victory by winning the Funny Car class.
But Brittany Force was the story. One of 16-time world champion John Force’s three racing daughters, Brittany was winless in her first seven Top Fuel finals. She ended the skid with some favorable matchups at one of the NHRA’s premier events.
The No. 5 qualifier, Force beat Morgan Lucas (12th), Tripp Tatum (13th), Dave Connolly (ninth) and McMillen (14th).
McMillen was racing in his first final in 151 events.