Johnson claims win 48 at Fontana
|By Diego Mejia||Monday, February 22nd 2010, 01:43 GMT|
Jimmie Johnson fended off a charging Kevin Harvick to claim his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup series win at his home race at Fontana, and the 48th of his career.
The reigning champion and Harvick in his Richard Childress Racing Chevy were head-to-head up front from the early going, after Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya, the first leader of the race until lap 30, started to fade with handling issues.
Harvick was hampered by a speeding penalty entering the pits close to the halfway point and had to go the back of the pack, dropping down to 26th place.
However, he steadily made his way back to the front and challenged the leading Hendrick Motorsports Chevy until he brushed the wall exiting turn four while in hot pursuit of the #48 car with a couple of laps remaining.
Johnson had struggled in the second half of the race with the handling of his car, but got his break when the caution came out with 25 laps to go after Brad Kieslowski spun at the exit of turn four.
When the caution waved, Johnson was already in the pits for his final stop and just managed to remain on the lead lap as the pack slowed down. This translated into the lead of the race when the rest of the field pitted under the caution.
"The gift we got by being on pitroad, I took advantage and we got this [car] running good," said Johnson. "I knew the #29 [Kevin Harvick] was going to be tough and he certainly caught me there and then he got in the wall off of turn four or something there and that slowed him down.
"But just a great day all-in-all and a lot of good racing from where I was sitting."
Both Harvick and his RCR team-mate Burton did their best to prevent back-to-back wins from Johnson at Fontana from when the green flag waved for the last time with 20 laps to go. However, they had to settle for second and third at the end of the 500-mile race.
Rain threatened an early end to the event, but the storm just missed the track despite some sprinkles and a slight shower that had caused the caution flag to wave earlier on lap 194.
"We were making up ground and Jimmie [Johnson] saw that and he moved up and I just got tight," said Harvick, the new points leader. "I got the thing in the fence and just didn't want....I should have just let off.
"I kept driving it in to the wall and got tight after that. Should have never been there in the first place. I got myself in the back there with the speeding penalty. All in all a good day and fast cars."
Jeff Burton underlined a great day for RCR, a team recovering well from a poor 2009 when none of the squad's drivers made the Chase, all of them having been there in the previous two seasons. The 42-year-old led right up until the final caution and lost out to Harvick's team in the final stop.
A close battle with team-mate Harvick seemed to help Johnson pull away in the closing stages, but running different lines they eventually narrowed the gap to Johnson for the final ten laps, until Harvick's brush with the wall within sight of the chequered flag.
Burton was also penalised for speeding in the pits at the same time as Harvick and was even quicker than him to make his way back to the front of the pack.
"We definitely got better as the race went on," said Burton. "I got caught speeding on pitroad and had to start back in the back and rolled up through there really fast. That is when we knew our car was really good. There at the end, got a little loose. I didn't ask for the right thing under that caution."
Mark Martin rounded out a solid day with fourth place, while Joey Logano impressed with a fifth-place finish. Behind them Clint Bowyer was eighth, having run up front with his teammates until an untimely and early final stop put him a lap down.
Early leader Montoya, like Harvick and Burton, was penalised for speeding on pit entry on lap 94 and eventually retired with an engine failure while in the top-15. His retirement was the first for him for over a year.
Ryan Newman also retired for the same reason as the Colombian, his failure happening a few laps later and right after getting a bad restart, following the third caution of the day.
Polesitter Jamie McMurray didn't lead a single lap and was on his way to a top-ten finish, but a long final stop cost him a good result and he ended up in 17th place.
Pos Driver Car Laps 1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 250 2. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 250 3. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 250 4. Mark Martin Chevrolet 250 5. Joey Logano Toyota 250 6. Kurt Busch Dodge 250 7. Matt Kenseth Ford 250 8. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 250 9. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 250 10. Greg Biffle Ford 250 11. Scott Speed Toyota 250 12. Brian Vickers Toyota 250 13. Carl Edwards Ford 250 14. Kyle Busch Toyota 250 15. David Reutimann Toyota 250 16. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 250 17. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 250 18. Paul Menard Ford 250 19. Regan Smith Chevrolet 250 20. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 250 21. Brad Keselowski Dodge 250 22. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 250 23. David Ragan Ford 250 24. Elliott Sadler Ford 250 25. A.J. Allmendinger Ford 250 26. David Gilliland Ford 250 27. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 250 28. Max Papis Toyota 250 29. Denny Hamlin Toyota 248 30. Travis Kvapil Ford 248 31. Kevin Conway Ford 247 32. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 238 33. Robby Gordon Toyota 230 34. Kasey Kahne Ford 221 35. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 170 36. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 148 37. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 140 38. Boris Said Ford 67 39. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 64 40. Joe Nemechek Toyota 48 41. Dave Blaney Toyota 43 42. Michael McDowell Toyota 40 43. Aric Almirola Chevrolet 34