Jimmie Johnson Surpasses Dale Earnhardt Sr. On All-Time Wins List With Victory In Fontanaby Hunter Thomas March 20, 2016 0 comments
FONTANA, Calif. – Jimmie Johnson passed Kevin Harvick in the final laps of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway to earn his 77th career series victory.
With the win, Johnson has now surpassed Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the all-time series wins list. The victory is Johnson’s sixth at Auto Club Speedway. He started 19th in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Lowe’s/Superman Chevrolet and led 25 laps en route to his third top-10 finish of the season.
“There’s no guarantees about when you’re going to win and have success,” Johnson said. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to win 77 of these things, which blows my mind on its own. It’s easy to look at trends and say we win X a year, but at some point that stops, that stops for everybody. I don’t know when that point is for me. I certainly hope it’s not soon. I would love to get to Jeff (Gordon). But you never know.”
The overtime finish was set up by Kyle Busch blowing a tire in Turn 3, bringing out the caution on lap 200. On the restart, Kevin Harvick got a fantastic restart on the low lane with Jimmie Johnson pushing him. Denny Hamlin, who restarted up top didn’t get a good start, and that allowed for Harvick and Johnson to take off into Turn 1. By the time the field reached Turn 3, Johnson was already alongside of Harvick. Once out of Turn 4, Johnson solidified the lead and never looked back.
“An amazing pit stop on pit road got me right there in contention,” Johnson said. “An awesome start with the No. 4 and myself getting going. I got a great run off of Turn 2 down the back and at that point I thought I had a good shot at it. I cleared him in (Turns) 3 and 4 and just had to bring it back at that point. We had our best at the last there and really strong on the short run which wasn’t necessarily our strong suit earlier in the day. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) made some great adjustments there to get me tuned up for that dash at the end.”
Kevin Harvick entered the weekend coming off a victory at Phoenix International Raceway, and for the second weekend in a row, he led the most laps. However, on Sunday, he had to settle for a runner-up finish despite leading on nine occasions for 142 laps. Harvick has finished inside the top-10 in all five races so far this season. He now leads the championship point standings by 11 points over Johnson.
“That was the worst it has taken off on restarts, but we weren’t very good on restarts for four or five laps unless we were all by ourselves,” said Harvick, referring to the final restart of the day. “The No. 48 was able to hang with us and we just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to, just didn’t’ have the front tires turning and the back wouldn’t grip. Still a good day for us, just have to thank everybody from Jimmy John’s and Busch. We will keep at it.”
Finishing just behind Johnson and Harvick was Denny Hamlin. Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth and fifth. Rounding out the top-10 was rookie, Chase Elliott, along with Carl Edwards, AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray.
Once again, the low-downforce package created some incredible racing during the course of the race. Among eight leaders, there were 26 lead changes, and that was just upfront. Throughout the entire field on Sunday, there was side-by-side racing all day long.
“With the smaller rear spoiler on the car, it allows the air to change directions and get back down to the ground sooner,” Johnson said. “That’s allowing us to get closer to the car in front of us. There’s less turbulent air in the big packs when there’s 10, 15 cars in front of you. The air kicks off the spoiler. Before with that massive spoiler, it just kept throwing it higher and higher. Now the air gets kicked up, but comes back down quicker and it allows us to run closer to one another.
“When you take the downforce off the car, it’s not stuck as well or as deep in the track. The car has a lot of movement and sliding. For me, with my background, I love that. I grew up racing on the dirt, and I love to slide around.”
There were only six cautions for 33 laps on Sunday. With close racing comes wear and tear, as well as contact. During the afternoon, several drivers walked away from some incredibly hard hits.
Without a doubt, Kyle Larson had the scariest crash. On lap 49, he brought out the caution after a tire went down as he exited Turn 4. Larson slid down the backstretch and slammed hard into the inside wall. His car hit so hard that all four tires left the ground. Thankfully there was a SAFER Barrier that lessened the impact. Larson finished 39th.
“We were struggling all day,” Larson said. We were really bad. And just on that backstretch, my left rear tire got cut and spun me to the outside wall and then spun me back into the inside wall. By the time I could hit the brakes it must have ripped the brake line and I had no brakes. They just went to the floorboard. I couldn’t slow down and had a hard hit there; head-on. I’m okay. I’m thankful for SAFER barriers and thankful that I’m all right. That was definitely probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had in my career. I’m glad to be on my feet right here.”
Danica Patrick also took a hard hit on Sunday. On lap 122, she brought out the caution after Kasey Kahne turned her into the wall. Patrick’s car also left the ground, but she climbed from the carnage under her own power. Patrick finished 38th.
“We were on a restart and I had a run on him (Kasey Kahne) so I went down low,” Patrick said. “If you get too close to them then it will drag you both back. I was going low. I saw him chase me down the track and then the next thing I know I was getting spun up the track. I am I was passing him. He was behind me in the right rear. I don’t know what kind of day he was having. I just heard he was a lap down actually. I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down. It’s just unfortunate; he must be having a very tough time. I was having a pretty good recovery day, kind of like last weekend.”
After the race, Kahne and his crew chief, Keith Rodden and spotter, Kevin Hamlin were called to the NASCAR hauler. Following a 28th place finish, Kahne said, “I felt really bad because it was far from anything than just trying to hold my position.I’ve never had an issue with Danica at all. It was an avoidable accident in the middle of the straightaway that was far from anything but just trying to hold my position that I had just gained.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have next weekend off for Easter, but will be back in action on Sunday, April 3 for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Coverage for the race will broadcast live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 1 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images