Driving like the superhero that adorned the hood of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson won the Auto Club 400 on Sunday in a thrilling green-white-checkered finish at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Johnson, piloting a car featuring a Superman paint scheme, passed Kevin Harvick on the next-to-last lap to secure the victory after it had looked earlier like Harvick would easily secure his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in a row.
Instead, Johnson scored the sixth victory of his career at the 2-mile track.
“Somebody get me my damn cape!” Johnson shouted into his team radio shortly after crossing the start-finish line.
Later, after a crewman actually handed him a Superman’s cape in Victory Lane, he laughed and told FOX Sports: “Man, this is cool. … I knew we had a great car. That caution fell at a bad time the run before (the green-white-checkered restart). I just didn’t have the tires to race with those guys then.
“But to have good tires on it at the end. Harvick and I got by, I guess Joey (Logano) on the restart and I had a great run off (Turn) 2, and that gave me a shot at this thing — which I didn’t expect to have, because Harvick had been so fast. But I cleared him and kind of got away.”
Harvick appeared to be cruising toward the checkered flag when Kyle Busch, who was running second, blew a right-front tire to bring out the caution flag and set up a green-white-checkered finish.
And then Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota beat Harvick off pit road, thanks to an incredible 10.6-second pit stop. Harvick came off second, despite a great pit stop of his own in 11.2 seconds. Both teams took on four tires and fuel.
Harvick initially beat Hamlin to the lead on the green-white-checkered restart. But then Johnson ran Harvick down and passed him on the next-to-last lap, earning the 77th victory of his storied career and his second of this season. He also won earlier at Atlanta and is the first two-time winner in the series this season.
Earlier, the race included a pair of hard crashes.
The first came with Kyle Larson slammed into the inside wall by Kyle Larson after his right-rear tire blew on Lap 48. The second hard crash came when Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet got into the No. 10 Chevy of Danica Patrick.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” Kahne said over his team radio. “I was just trying to side draft.”
Parick was not pleased. She showed her displeasure when she lifted her arms at Kahne as he drove by under caution.
Shortly thereafter, in the garage, she told FOX Sports: “I saw him chase me down the track and then the next thing I know I was getting spun up the track.”
Meanwhile, the battle up front was dominated most of the day by Harvick, who led a race-high 142 of the 205 laps. But in the end, Harvick finished second, followed by Hamlin, Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the top five.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s Hendrick teammate who drove the No. 88 Chevrolet featuring a Batman paint scheme, came home in 11th — ending a week-long, good-natured bout of verbal jousting with Johnson, who got in the final word by winning the race.
“We saved our best for last, for sure,” Johnson said. “I told everybody Superman would kick Batman’s butt, and it happened.”