Photo by Michael Buckelew
FONTANA, Calif. -- Jimmie Johnson got a huge break on his last stop, getting on pit road only seconds before the caution flag came out, and held off a charging Kevin Harvick in the closing laps to win at California on Sunday.
After winning his unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship last season, Johnson started this season by finishing 35th at the Daytona 500.
Consider the drive for five under way.
With Harvick trying to get around him with just more than three laps to go, Johnson moved to block. Harvick scrapped the outside wall out of Turn 4 and lost his momentum, allowing Johnson to go on to his 48th career victory, and fifth in 15 races at his home track.
"There's no way of getting around how lucky they are," Harvick said.
Johnson pulled onto pit road for his final stop with 26 laps left, while behind him Brad Keselowski spun out in Turn 4. When everybody else finally got to pit under caution, that made Johnson the leader and he stayed there the rest of the way.
"Fortune came our way," Johnson said. "I'm not going to lie. The fact that we were on pit row gave us track position and I drove my butt off. "
Jeff Burton, who finished third, was on Johnson's bumper on the restart but never could get around him. He was eventually passed by his Richard Childress teammate Harvick.
Harvick cut the margin by more than six-tenths of a second in a matter of laps -- from .983 to .311. He was making his move at the end of lap 247 of 250 when he brushed against the wall.
Johnson had won the last three fall races at California, but Roush Fenway drivers had won the last five February races on the slick two-mile superspeedway before Sunday.
Johnson led eight times for 101 laps and won with an average speed of 141.911 mph. It was his fifth victory in the last 11 Sprint Cup races.
Despite not winning, it was another strong showing for the Richard Childress Racing trio, with Clint Bowyer's eight-place finish backing Harvick and Burton.
Richard Childress didn't win any races -- or even have a top-five finish -- last season with four full-time cars. All three drivers finished in the top 11 at the Daytona 500 last week before another strong showing in Southern California.
Mark Martin, Johnson's Hendrick teammate, finished fourth, followed by Joey Logano and Kurt Busch. Matt Kenseth started 20th and finished seventh with new crew chief Todd Parrott on his pit box, the best result for Roush Fenway.
Juan Pablo Montoya started in the front row beside polesitter and Earnhardt Ganassi teammate Jamie McMurray. Montoya had the lead by the end of the first lap and stayed there until Johnson went under him on the 30th lap.
Montoya was running 15th on lap 140 when the engine on his No. 42 Chevrolet blew up along the frontstretch.
Daytona 500 winner McMurray finished 17th.