Jimmie Johnson charged past Kevin Harvick coming out of an overtime restart and pulled away from the field Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, becoming the first repeat winner of the 2016 season. Johnson’s margin of victory was three-quarters of a second over Harvick, giving Chevrolet a sweep of the top two spots. Denny Hamlin came home third with Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Junior completing the top five. Johnson started nineteenth and led just twenty-five laps, including the final two trips around the two- mile Southern California oval. Sunday’s race was extended five laps beyond its scheduled distance due to a late caution brought about when Kyle Busch shredded a right-front tire. That was the last thing Harvick wanted to see.
He had led nearly three-quarters of the laps run to that point and seemed well on his way to a second straight victory on NASCAR’s three-race swing through the western United States, having won last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Instead, Harvick settled for second place behind Johnson – who notched his seventy-seventh Cup Series win and sixth at Auto Club Speedway.
For Harvick, all was not lost as he claimed sole possession of the points lead. He entered the weekend tied for first place with Busch and exits with an eleven-point advantage over Johnson, who advances from third to second.
Busch finished twenty-fifth on Sunday, the first time in five races this year that he’s been outside the top five, and slipped to fifth in the regular-season standings … Sunday’s race included twenty-six lead changes among eight drivers. There were six cautions for thirty-three laps.