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Jimmie Johnson pounces on restart to win at Fontana

Jimmie Johnson does his Superman logo proud, flying to the front on a restart in overtime for his sixth Fontana victory.

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Jimmie Johnson does his Superman logo proud, flying to the front on a restart in overtime for his sixth Fontana victory.

FONTANA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson pulled away in overtime Sunday to beat Kevin Harvick for the Southern California native's record sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Fontana.

Johnson was third on the late restart in the Auto Club 400, but surged past leader Denny Hamlin while giving a little bump to Harvick. He side-drafted Harvick and easily got away for his 77th career victory, passing Dale Earnhardt Sr. for seventh in NASCAR history.

"We saved the best for last, for sure," Johnson said.

In the process he clinched a berth in the Chase for the Championship, assuming he starts all the remaining races. Drivers with one win could miss out if more than 15 drivers win within the season's first 26 races.

Johnson finished with his fastest lap of the race for his second win this season 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, forcing overtime. Hamlin got off pit road first for his first lead of the race, but Johnson's fresh tires gave him more speed.

"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 previous four races at his closest thing to a hometown track, one hour east of Los Angeles. His sixth victory increases his own career record.

Harvick was 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, of Bakersfield, 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. Martin Truex contended until late contact with Logano, who left Truex furious.

The combination of Auto Club Speedway's aged asphalt and a new low-downforce package led to the excellent entertainment value on the 2-mile oval that most drivers expected in the closest race to Hollywood. Fontana saw uncommonly close racing and multiple passes on one of the series' fastest tracks.

Johnson carried the Superman logo on his hood to promote the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice film. Johnson later knowingly grinned at the cheesiness as he and several crew members donned red capes.

Kyle Larson was unhurt after a frightening solo crash on Lap 48 sent his car flying. Danica Patrick hit the wall hard with 79 laps left after contact while passing Kasey Kahne, who was a lap down.

Tampa's Aric Almirola was 21st and is 13th in points.

Gearhead stats

Winner's average speed: 137.213 mph

Time of race: 2 hours, 59 minutes, 17 seconds

Margin of victory: 0.772 seconds

Caution flags: Six for 33 laps

Lead changes: 26 among eight drivers

Lap leaders: Harvick 1-28; Edwards 29-33; Harvick 34; Edwards 35-36; Harvick 37-52; Logano 53; Harvick 54-70; Truex 71-77; Johnson 78-82; Elliott 83; Kenseth 84-85; Harvick 86-105; Johnson 106-109; Truex 110; Harvick 111-113; Johnson 114-123; Truex 124-136; Harvick 137-157; Johnson 158-159; Edwards 160-161; Johnson 162-163; Logano 164-165; Harvick 166-200; Hamlin 201-202; Harvick 203; Johnson 204-205

Sprint Cup points

Through five of 36 races. The top 16 drivers, based on wins then points, will make the 10-race Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts Back

Kevin Harvick* 195—

Jimmie Johnson** 184 10

Carl Edwards 171 24

Denny Hamlin* 170 25

Kyle Busch 170 25

Joey Logano 165 30

Kurt Busch 148 47

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 145 50

Brad Keselowski* 142 53

Austin Dillon 139 56

* Wins

Up next

STP 500, 1 p.m. April 3, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway

TV/radio: FS1, 102.5-FM

Jimmie Johnson pounces on restart to win at Fontana 03/20/16 [Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2016 8:50pm]
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