12 October 2009
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.”
Tagged as: Kyle Busch , David Gilliland , Sprint Cup , Jeff Gordon , Mark Martin , Tony Stewart , Juan-Pablo Montoya , Jimmie Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Richard Petty Motorsports , Hendrick Motorsports , Fontana , Auto Club Speedway , Pepsi 500
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