Johnson rockets to victory and clinches Chase spot

FONTANA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson overpowered the field Sunday night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, grabbing his third victory of the season.

The two-time reigning Cup champion was easily the class of the field in the Pepsi 500, leading 227 of the 250 laps on the 2-mile oval. He won the race at the former California Speedway for the second straight year and again gave notice to Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards — the two hottest drivers in the series coming into this race — that he remains a serious contender for a third straight title.

Runner-up Greg Biffle had the next best car throughout the race, but he couldn't keep up with Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet, finishing more than 2 seconds behind the winner.

"This race car was unbelievable," said Johnson, who has struggled at times this season, particularly on the bigger ovals. "We've been working hard to get it right ... and it's paid off. We clinched (a spot in the Chase for the championship) and we got 10 more bonus points, which is important.

"We've been doing all the right things," he added, grinning.

Time after time he built leads of between 5 and 12 seconds, only to see them erased by yellow flags. But it didn't faze Johnson, who just rebuilt the margin after the restarts.

On a pit stop on lap 162, during a caution period, Johnson took four tires and found himself in sixth on the restart, trailing five drivers who had each taken two tires.

After the restart on lap 166, Johnson was fourth after one lap, second after two trips around the 2-mile oval and back in the lead on lap 168.

"The car was really good, especially the first 15 or 20 laps," Johnson said. "When you have a car like that, it doesn't really matter where you are on the track."

Biffle just shook his head when asked how good Johnson was.

"He would get better as the run went anyway. But he had more grip up off the corners," Biffle said. "The 48 was a better car tonight. If it's not 18 (Busch) beating us, it's the 48."

Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 11th, and Jeff Burton, who was 17th, clinched spots in the Chase for the championship that will begin after next Saturday night's race. They joined Busch and Edwards who had previously locked up spots in the post-season.