Harvick runs down Johnson
After Kyle Busch dominated most of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, a late caution flag gave Harvick and Jimmie Johnson one more chance to catch Busch’s Toyota.
What followed was a thrilling finish as Johnson and Harvick passed Busch with three laps left and then Harvick swept past Johnson on the final lap to win for the first time in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.
In the same race a year ago, Harvick was running down Johnson for the win when Harvick pushed his Chevrolet too hard and scraped the outside wall, leaving Harvick with a second-place finish behind Johnson and a year’s worth of disappointment.
“Last year I made a mistake and gave the race way with two laps to go,” Harvick said. This time, he said, “my whole goal was to not give it away (again). Today we had a fast car and the circumstances played in our favor.”
Johnson, who was seeking a record sixth win at Fontana, settled for second and Busch was third. Three-time Fontana winner and Cambridge native Matt Kenseth finished fourth.
Busch led 151 of the race’s 200 laps and, with a record low number of caution periods, most of the 42 cars behind him largely were strung out in the type of single-file racing for which the two-mile Auto Club Speedway often is chided.
But all that changed with 14 laps remaining when the Toyota of former NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte hit the wall and brought out the final caution flag, bunching the field one more time.
In the race’s previous restarts, Busch’s car had shown the horsepower to quickly leave the pack behind. Not this time. Busch “got loose” and “took himself out of contention there at the end,” Harvick said.
Indeed, Busch scraped the wall himself on the final lap, and the finish was “real unfortunate and frustrating and disappointing, all in one, that we weren’t able to seal the deal,” Busch said. “It’s never over ’till it’s over; that’s why it’s called racing.”
On the final lap, Harvick pushed his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet right up to the bumper of Johnson’s Chevy on the back straightaway, then moved to the outside of Johnson to make the pass as they sped through the wide third and fourth turns to beat Johnson by less than 30 yards.
The race a year ago “taught me a lot about . . . patience, and the things I needed to do to beat a guy that doesn’t make mistakes,” Harvick said of Johnson.
Harvick, a Bakersfield, Calif., native, thus became the fifth winner in five Cup races this season. Busch won last week at Bristol, Tenn.
, and Johnson, a fellow Californian who is seeking an unprecedented sixth consecutive Cup championship, has yet to win.
Last updated: 4:39 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012