Kevin Harvick came from behind on Sunday afternoon in Southern California, passing Jimmie Johnson on the outside coming off the final corner of the last lap to win his first race of the year and first at the Auto Club Speedway. Leading only one lap on the day, Harvick was able to chase down Johnson and Kyle Busch, overtake them both and earn the win in dramatic style.
As Busch and Johnson battled for the lead with less than five laps to go, Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet closed the gap. With four laps remaining, Johnson’s spotter Earl Barban told his driver, “that 29 coming really hard about 10 (car lengths) back.”
A great run off of Turn 2 on the final lap brought got Harvick to the back bumper of Johnson for the lead. Pushing the No. 48 hard into the third corner, Harvick again went to the high side as Johnson bobbled in the middle groove. Able to stay in the gas, Harvick drove around Johnson exiting the corner, crossing over to the bottom side as the checkered flag flew.
“Awesome job guys, awesome job,” Harvick said after taking the win on the last lap pass.
“That just tells you about the competition of NASCAR,” said team owner Richard Childress. “I felt good about the restart with Kevin because I knew his car was fast on the long runs. I knew if they didn't get too far out in front of us, we'd have a shot. All we needed was for him to get side by side, start racing. He just made the right move going into three up there. Jimmie gave him enough room, he took advantage of it, won the race on that last lap.”
In last year’s race, Harvick closed on Johnson for the win in the final laps, but was could not secure the win. Unable to hold him off this time, Johnson understood it was unlikely Harvick would repeat the same mistake twice.
“He was catching me up there last year and got into the wall and slowed himself down, hurt his car and slowed himself down. This year he got it done,” Johnson said. “I think he was smarter from it and kind of knew how to run that line better. I think he was up there most of the day as well. He had a good rhythm going for the top.”
“I always was taught to race, just go fast enough to put yourself in position to be around at the end and make sure your car still has all the fenders and tires and everything still underneath it,” Harvick said. “When it's time to go, you have a little something left, your car is hopefully fresher than the guys around you.
“Probably somewhat of a bad habit that I have, but I guess it works out.”
While Harvick was able to put it together over the final laps, it all seemed to fall apart for race leader Kyle Busch. Holding the top spot from Lap 140, Busch first fell into the grasp of Johnson to lose the lead with two laps to go and then fell back to third as Harvick made his charge.
Leading a race-high 151 of the 200 laps, Busch was forced to settle with a third place finish after losing out on what could have been his second straight weekend sweep in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
“We gave the race away today, unfortunately,” Busch said. “We seem to be losing the handle a little bit two runs from the end and especially that last set of tires. We just didn’t quite have what it took in order to keep the front end under the car and then the back end under the car on the exits of the corner. I just couldn’t get the right speed that I needed. The guys did a great job this weekend.”
Losing out to Busch in Saturday’s Nationwide race, Harvick explained with a smile that he would rather “take third on Saturday and first on Sunday any day.”
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