Jimmie Johnson played the role of Superman at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Sunday, wearing a Suprman-themed firesuit and driving a No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that carried a Superman paint scheme in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. He performed like Superman, as well, in the final laps to claim the race win.
“I told everybody Superman kicked Batman’s butt, and it happened,” Johnson said.
HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was Batman in a two-car/two-driver promotion for the “Batman v. Superman” movie. Earnhardt, a.k.a. Batman, finished 11th.
The win made Johnson the first repeat winner of 2016 and gave him his 77th-career win, moving him past Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time wins list.
A tire issue for Kyle Busch with two laps to go in the scheduled 200-lap distance sent the race into overtime for a two-lap green-flag run to the finish. Denny Hamlin restarted with the race lead after getting off pit road first, with Kevin Harvick alongside on the front row in second. Johnson restarted third and Joey Logano fourth. When the race restarted, Johnson pushed Harvick out to the lead and took second for himself. When they got out in front of the field, Johnson passed Harvick to take the lead and then the win.
“To go there at the end and have good tires on the car, Harvick and I got by, I guess, Joey (Logano) there at the start,” Johnson said. “I got a great run off of turn two and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got a shot at this thing,’ which I didn’t expect to have. Harvick has been so fast. I cleared him and kind of got away. We saved our best for last, for sure.”
Harvick finished second after leading a race-high 142 laps. Hamlin overcame an early-race unscheduled pit stop, a radio problem and a pit-road speeding penalty to finish third.
“We just had a really good car today with our Jimmy John’s Chevrolet,” Harvick said. “It would just take us five or six laps to get going. That (final restart) was worst-case scenario for us.”
Logano finished fourth, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top-five.
Harvick led most of the first half of the race before he got slightly off sequence when he gave up the lead to pit for a vibration on lap 106. After Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. each led laps, Harvick returned to the lead with 64 laps to go.
With 45 laps remaining the yellow flag came out, just after Johnson, Carl Edwards and a few others made green-flag stops. Harvick hadn’t yet pitted, and after hitting pit road under yellow, he restarted sixth. Harvick quickly got up to fourth on the restart, and then with 34 to go, retook the lead.
Tire problems were an issue throughout the race, with the most dramatic tire problem sending Kyle Larson head-on into the inside retaining wall on lap 48.
“I was going down the backstretch, and I think it was my left-rear tire got cut,” Larson said. “It must have ripped the brake line, because I went to push the pedal, and it went straight to the floorboard. I couldn’t slow down. It was definitely a hard hit, there, probably one of the harder ones of my career.”
Not all six of the yellow flags were tire-related, though. Contact between Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick with 80 laps to go, sent Patrick into a spin and into the outside wall. The contact also garnered Kahne’s crew chief and spotter trips to the NASCAR trailer after the race.
Finishing sixth through 10th in the race were Chase Elliott, Edwards, A.J. Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray.
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