FONTANA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson avoided a series of wrecks and won a three-lap shootout ahead of his teammate Jeff Gordon to take Sunday’s Pepsi 500 at California Speedway.
The last in a series of wrecks involving nine cars came on lap 244 of the 250-lap race. After a red flag period that allowed the race officials to clean up the track, the race went green on lap 247. Johnson was the leader, followed by Gordon, Mark Martin and Juan Montoya.Johnson gained a clear lead over Gordon going into turn one and from then on, it was all Jimmie Johnson.
“It was a solid day all along for us,” said Johnson. “It was an awesome car. Those cautions at the end really had me nervous. I didn’t know what to do on the restarts. The 24 would get me on some of them, the 42 was racy, and I knew if I could get three or four laps on them I would be okay. But there at the end I really didn’t have very many laps left, and I’m glad I got a good start and got going.”
Johnson is now the Chase points leader.
“We fought hard all day to get ourselves in that position at the end,” said Gordon. “We had a couple good restarts, but they (Johnson) are in another category. We’ve got to find out what we’re missing.”
Montoya led several laps but was no match for Johnson near the end.
“We were really good when it was cloudy,” said Montoya, who finished third. “I couldn’t really find the bottom groove and how much grip I needed. There at the end it cooled down, but it was too late.”
Mark Martin’s fourth-place finish dropped him from first to second in Chase points.
“We were real close,” said Martin. “I had a great race car, great adjustments, and there were times when I could go out front. The team is great, and I’m just proud of them.”
Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick were the remaining top-10 drivers.
Kasey Kahne was the victim of three different wrecks. The last one, which came on lap 244, knocked him out of the race.
Reed Sorenson was also involved in the lap 244 crash.
“I remember seeing the back end of the 39 car (Ryan Newman) sliding, and the next thing I saw was the wall,” said Sorenson.
From a practical standpoint, the Chase is down to five drivers: Johnson, Martin, Montoya, Stewart and Jeff Gordon.
Top 12 Chase contenders after 4 of 10; 1. Johnson-5,728, 2. Martin-5,716, 3. Montoya-5,670, 4. Stewart-5,644, 5. J. Gordon-5,623, 6. Kurt Busch-5,607, 7. Biffle-5,540, 8. Edwards-5,536, 9. Hamlin-5,509, 10. Newman-5,505, 11. Kahne-5,422, 12. Vickers-5,377.