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Jimmie Johnson and crew used every one of the 200 laps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 on Sunday to improve the handling of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS. Their efforts paid off late in the race as Johnson wheeled his machine from mid-pack to a 12th-place finish at his home track, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The finish also allowed him to keep his hold on third place in the season standings, just 16 points out of first, a spot now occupied by teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Johnson battled a tight racecar all day. Crew chief Chad Knaus called for numerous adjustments throughout the race to try to correct the issue. Johnson also tried various lines around the track, but the condition never quite went away. Knaus brought Johnson down pit road for four fresh Goodyears during several late-race cautions. The strategy paid off as Johnson rebounded from 23rd position, where he had been mired back in traffic for most of the race.
“It wasn’t the finish we wanted, but I’m proud of the way our guys never gave up, and we kept trying to make my Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevy better all day long,” said Johnson, who has finished on the lead lap in every race he has run at the track.
Kyle Busch won the Auto Club 400 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Fontana.
Earnhardt finished behind Busch in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution for a last-lap crash involving Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. Logano, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five, while Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 35 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.
With round five of 36 complete, Earnhardt holds the top spot in the championship standings with 199 points. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson remains in third with 183 points, 16 out of first. Kasey Kahne is next for Hendrick, in seventh with 159 points, 40 out of first. Jeff Gordon is 18th with 123 points, 76 out of first.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a rare weekend off for Easter before returning to action April 7 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the STP Gas Booster 500. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.