Jimmy John’s Driver Led Race-High 142 Laps
Date: March 20, 2016
Event: Auto Club 400 (Round 5 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Auto Club Speedway (2-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 2nd/2nd (Running, completed 205 of 205 laps)
Point Standing: 1st with 195 points
Winner: Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports in Overtime (Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), dominated on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, but a late-race caution foiled his bid for a second-straight Sprint Cup win, and he finished runner-up in the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It was Harvick’s third top-five and fifth top-10 of 2016 and his sixth top-five and 11th top-10 in 23 career Sprint Cup Series starts at Auto Club Speedway.
Harvick started second and led nine times for 142 laps en route to his sixth top-five in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2-mile oval. It is the second-consecutive time he has started and finished in the second position at Auto Club Speedway. Harvick now has 140 top-fives in 543 career Sprint Cup starts.
The Bakersfield, California, native started on the bottom of the front row but took the lead immediately following the green flag. He remained at the front of the field until an unscheduled pit stop on lap 71 for a vibration. He brought the car in for new tires and fuel before returning to the racetrack on lap 72 in the 32nd position.
Harvick raced his way back and retook the lead at lap 86 as the rest of the field came to pit road for scheduled service. He remained in the lead until he returned to pit road on lap 106 for a four-tire stop and fuel. The caution flag flew immediately following the green-flag stop and allowed Harvick to restart from the lead on older tires.
The Sprint Cup points leader fell to the fifth position briefly following the restart and was starting to rally when the caution flew again on lap 122. The caution allowed Harvick to return to the same strategy as the leaders and restart on the front row following his stop on lap 131. He quickly regained the lead on the lap-137 restart and held it for the next 20 laps, until the caution flew again.
The 2014 Sprint Cup champion again took the lead on lap 166 and looked to be in position to cruise to an easy win. However, when the No. 18 cut a tire to bring out the final caution of the day, the field readied for an overtime finish. Harvick restarted on the bottom of the front row for the lap-203 restart, but Jimmie Johnson raced around him on the final two-lap shootout and crossed the finish line .772 of a second ahead of the No. 4 car.
“That was the worst (the No. 4) 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, who won the Sprint Cup race at Fontana in March 2011. “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.”
Harvick’s second-place finish led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.
Brian Vickers, interim driver of the No. 14 Janssen/Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation Chevrolet SS for SHR as he subs for the injured Tony Stewart, finished 13th. It was Vickers’ 16th career Sprint Cup start at Fontana and marked his best finish in three races with the No. 14 Chevrolet team.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for SHR, started 26th and finished 30th. It was his 23rd career Sprint Cup start at Fontana.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 TaxAct Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 38th after her racecar suffered heavy damage during an accident on lap 120 with Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne. It was Patrick’s 123rd career Sprint Cup start and her fourth at Fontana.
Johnson won the Auto Club 400 to score his 77th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his sixth at Fontana.
Harvick finished .772 of a second behind Johnson in the runner-up spot, while Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top-five. Chase Elliott, Carl Edwards, AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 33 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the 205-lap race.
With round five of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 195 points, 11 ahead of Johnson. Busch is seventh with 148 points, 47 out of first. Patrick is 29th with 72 points, 123 out of first. Vickers is 36th with 48 points, 147 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Martinsville 500 on Sunday, April 3, at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.
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