published Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Harvick wins NASCAR race at Fontana on final turn pass

FONTANA, Calif. — Kevin Harvick passed California king Jimmie Johnson on the final turn to win his first race of the season Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Kyle Busch had the dominant car most of the day and led coming out of a restart with nine laps left. Johnson, a five-time winner at Fontana, chased him down to go out front with three laps left, but Harvick moved in right behind him.

Harvick started to make his move to the outside on Turn 3 and completed the pass before hitting the final straightaway for his 15th career win. After starting 24th, he led just one of the 200 laps around the 2-mile oval.

Johnson finished second and Busch was third, spoiling his chance to pull off the NASCAR weekend sweep two weeks in a row.

Unlike Saturday’s Nationwide race, which featured lead changes seemingly every other lap, this one had drivers camped out front for long stretches before the final flourish. Part of it was the lack of cautions, the opening 75 laps coming under green to set a track record.

Overnight rain, which lingered as mist until a couple hours before the race, also played a role. Drivers who were able to get the setup right were able to get out front and stay there while everyone else tinkered.

Mostly, that meant Busch.

He swept the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races last week at Bristol, then opened with a Nationwide win in California, using a late two-tire pit stop to beat Carl Edwards and Harvick, who each took four tires.

Busch had a rough start to his Sprint Cup weekend, forced to a backup car after sliding into the wall on his first practice lap on Friday. He still managed to qualify eighth and moved into the race lead for the first time on Lap 22.

Busch lost the lead a few times on green-flag pit stops, but was back out front within a few laps and pulled away on each of the restarts to lead a race-high 151 laps.

He just didn’t have enough left after the other top eight cars stayed out on a late caution.

Johnson, who started 16th, made the first move, pulling back behind Busch after losing a race off the line on the final restart. Harvick, who needed a while to get to the front after the so-so qualifying run, also got past Busch and pulled right up on Johnson’s bumper, setting up his last-gasp pass.

Pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya never had much of a chance at winning his first oval race. A two-time winner on road courses, he led the first six laps, but wasn’t a factor after that, drifting deeper into the field before making a late charge to finish 10th.

Other than Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing had a forgetful day thanks to more engine problems.

Joey Logano qualified third, but had to start at the back of the pack after switching engines. He finished 25th. Denny Hamlin qualified second and led 15 laps early before dropping back quickly after engine problems hit around Lap 80. He had to go off at the race’s midpoint and never made it back.

JGR has now had engine problems in all five races this season.

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