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Johnson dominates at Fontana to grab Chase lead

For months, three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson has been saying the addition of Auto Club Speedway to the Chase for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup was a gift to his No. 48 team.

In Sunday's Pepsi 500, he proved it – and grabbed the points lead from Mark Martin in the process. Johnson's win also left runner-up Jeff Gordon conceding that his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate is in a class by himself.

After the sun came out on lap 66 of 250, Johnson was unbeatable, and not even a succession of late re-starts could derail his effort. In a three-lap sprint to the finish that followed a massive wreck in Turn 1 on lap 245, Johnson pulled away from Gordon to win by 1.603 seconds. Ex-F1 star Juan-Pablo Montoya ran third, followed by Martin and Tony Stewart, who overcame a pit-road speeding penalty that cost him a lap.

Though he's now the all-time leader with four Cup wins at Fontana, Johnson said the race was anything but a 'gimme' – and the California native acknowledged that the appearance of the sun turned the track conditions in his favour.

“I try not to the have the mindset that we come back to a track that we've had success at and we're expected to run well,” he stressed. “You have to go out every week, and it's the same thing for this championship. Just because we've done well in the last three years doesn't mean that we're a shoo-in for the fourth. I've just got to stay focused on my job, go out and earn it each lap and see where things fall into place. We needed to run well to get points because, obviously, the 5 (Martin) and the 42 (Montoya) ran well.

“We did work on the car some, but I think it came to us. I think [the sun] made the track slick, and the lines I was running and the balance we had with the car really helped us. It really came in our direction.”

Johnson won off a re-start with three laps left, after the multi-car incident in Turn 1 – which took out all four Richard Petty Motorsports entries – forced NASCAR to red-flag the race for a track clean-up. The final three-lap segment followed a re-start just four laps earlier, after Kurt Busch bounced off the Turn 4 wall and collected fellow Chase drivers Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle on lap 239. Johnson was confident he had the strongest car, if he could just stay ahead on the re-starts.

“It's such a long straightaway, and the draft is so important that the guy who is on the second row really controls who's in the lead going into Turn 1,” the 34-year-old opined. “You almost have to get a bad re-start to allow the guy behind you to hit your bumper and push you along. I was doing it wrong, and finally on that last re-start I got it right. We had such a good car that, if somebody did pass me, I could get back by them in a couple of laps.”

Gordon couldn't agree more about the quality of Johnson's car.

“They're in another category,” the four-time Sprint Cup king reflected. “We've got to find out what we're missing. The only thing I felt bad about was that we finished second, and we're in a second-class category. We're good, but we're not good enough. We're doing everything we can to be good enough, but it's just not there. We've got to search and find something. We've got to be better than that.”




Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson is congratulated by team owner Rick Hendrick after winning the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California [pic credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, poses with the trophy in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jake Crum, driver of the #01 My Freedom Smokes Chevrolet, and Bryan Silas, driver of the #99 Bell Trucks America Inc. Chevrolet, are involved in an incident during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, and the rest of the field during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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Chris Buescher, drives the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford during the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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