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Johnson Holds Off Harvick To Win At Auto Club

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 21 2010
Jimmie Johnson crosses the finish line at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson crosses the finish line first at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson survived a late-race charge by Kevin Harvick and won the Auto Club 500 Sunday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday.

The victory was the 48th of Johnson’s career. It tied him with Herb Thomas for 12th place on the all-time win list in Cup.

Johnson, gunning for his fifth consecutive championship, has now won five times at the track closest to his hometown of El Cajon.

“That is amazing,” he said when told about his Cup numbers. “I won my first race here and to come back and win my 48th…I can’t thank the fans enough for supporting our great sport and being behind us. It has just been a great nine years and I look forward to see what the future brings.”

Harvick finished second while his teammate at Richard Childress Racing, Jeff Burton, was third.

Harvick moved to the top of the series standings with his finish – a finish that appeared headed for victory.

“We were making up ground and Jimmie (Johnson) saw that and he moved up and I just got tight,” Harvick said. “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.”

Mark Martin, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, was fourth and Joey Logano was fifth in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“A top-five here feels like a win for me for as much as we improved at this race track,” Logano said. “The first time I came here was last year and we sucked. We ran 35th to 40th the whole time. Last time we came here we ran probably 20th to 25th and this time around we were within the top 10 and sneaked out a top-five there at the end. You got to be pleased with that. That was really cool.

“We worked really hard all day. Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) made awesome calls. The pit crew was amazing, we gained spots just about every time we came down pit road. I am really, really stoked about how we ran today. It feels like a win after what we had the first time we came here. To watch yourself improve that much, working with the team better, that feels really good.”

Luck was as important as speed to Johnson’s victory. He had entered the pits just before the final yellow flag of the day came with 27 laps to go. When he exited the pits, he did so on the lead lap.

When the rest of the field pitted during the caution, he inherited the lead and kept it. Twenty-one laps later, he had his first victory of the year.

“I figured if things cycled around, we were going to be in good shape and there is no doubt that situation gave us the race win today,” Johnson said. We got a little off probably about two-thirds through the race and we were trying to get things right. We had the car much better but had lost track position and had some really fast cars to deal with.

“The gift we got by being on pit road, I took advantage and we got this Kobalt Tools Chevrolet running good. I knew the No. 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.”

The race was threatened by rain most of the day. A light sprinkle did bring out a caution late in the race and also gave Scott Speed thoughts of winning his first race.

He was in the lead when the yellow waved. But when the rain did not pick up to the point where it was hard enough to stop the race, Speed had to pit for fuel. He wound up 11th.

“I swear, we almost pulled a Joey Logano there, as well,” Speed said, referring to the rain-shortened race Logano won at New Hampshire last year.  “I would have laughed my ass off if we would have won that race under rain like he did. We put ourselves in the best position every single time the rain was coming. Really, if you take the whole weekend, this weekend we really did close to 100 percent.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 21 2010
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