Auto Club 500 Recap: Johnson's Superman Persona Triumphs

Auto Club 500 Recap: Johnson's Superman Persona Triumphs

This article is part of our Race Summary series.

Jimmie Johnson's Superman sponsorship rang true as he overcame the dominant drivers in last Sunday's Auto Club 400 to become the first multiple-race winner of 2016. The No. 48's 25 laps led paled in comparison to Kevin Harvick's 142, but having the fastest car in the final miles is what makes all of the difference. Johnson played that game to perfection when he was able to field the fastest chassis at the perfect moment to seize the opportunity to take the win.

Harvick's domination on Sunday came to an end when then second-place Kyle Busch lost his second tire in as many days and clouted the wall to set up an overtime finish. Harvick led the field to the final restart, but it was Johnson who was able to make his tires grip best. Harvick admitted his car was not the best on restarts, and that proved to be the difference Sunday despite him running away from the field before that final caution. The circumstances produced NASCAR Sprint Cup's first multiple-race winner of 2016, and sets up a showdown in two week's time at Martinsville Speedway.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson - Johnson became the first two-time winner of 2016 last week at Auto Club Speedway. The win was his sixth at the track and puts him seventh on the all-time victories list for the series. A late restart was what enabled the No. 48 to get close enough to challenge Kevin Harvick, and that opportunity was all Johnson needed to capitalize

Jimmie Johnson's Superman sponsorship rang true as he overcame the dominant drivers in last Sunday's Auto Club 400 to become the first multiple-race winner of 2016. The No. 48's 25 laps led paled in comparison to Kevin Harvick's 142, but having the fastest car in the final miles is what makes all of the difference. Johnson played that game to perfection when he was able to field the fastest chassis at the perfect moment to seize the opportunity to take the win.

Harvick's domination on Sunday came to an end when then second-place Kyle Busch lost his second tire in as many days and clouted the wall to set up an overtime finish. Harvick led the field to the final restart, but it was Johnson who was able to make his tires grip best. Harvick admitted his car was not the best on restarts, and that proved to be the difference Sunday despite him running away from the field before that final caution. The circumstances produced NASCAR Sprint Cup's first multiple-race winner of 2016, and sets up a showdown in two week's time at Martinsville Speedway.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson - Johnson became the first two-time winner of 2016 last week at Auto Club Speedway. The win was his sixth at the track and puts him seventh on the all-time victories list for the series. A late restart was what enabled the No. 48 to get close enough to challenge Kevin Harvick, and that opportunity was all Johnson needed to capitalize on for the win. The No. 48 team hasn't been disappointing at all this season, and they will be working to carry this momentum all the way through the season. Johnson is an eight-time Martinsville Speedway winner, but hasn't fared as well recently. His last three finishes have all been outside of the top 10 with no laps led.

Kevin Harvick -
Were it not for Kyle Busch's late contact with the wall Harvick would have walked away with the win last Sunday. The No. 4 driver had more than a two-second lead on Busch when the last caution came out, and he led the most laps in the race. He wasn't the best car on restarts, though, and that proved to be his downfall. Harvick still had a strong finish, and his win two weeks ago in Phoenix puts him in solid contention for another championship. Harvick won at Martinsville in 2011, and has a pair of eighth-place finishes in his last two visits to the track. While he may not be the automatic favorite in two weeks he will certainly be a driver fantasy players have to consider playing.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin showed some life after his hangover from winning the season-opening Daytona 500. His back-to-back third-place finishes show that he has found the spark that left him after the big win in February. His two weeks of finishing outside of the top 15 are now past, and fantasy players can begin thinking of him as a legitimate contender. He was only able to lead two laps in Fontana, but he put himself in contention for the win in the final miles of both of the last two races on the schedule. He now looks ahead to Martinsville, where he won last season. He has five total wins at the short Virginia track, and will be one of the top choices for fantasy rosters in the next race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
After multiple seasons of underperformance Stenhouse has been off to a flyer in 2016. The driver is the Roush Fenway Racing teammate making the most of the offseason changes in the team and the chassis. Not only did he finish fifth in last week's Auto Club 400, but that was his third top-15 finish of the season and his second top-10. While Stenhouse isn't a top choice every week, he is starting to demonstrate the consistency that earns him a seat in the series. He currently sits in contention for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and has a real possibility of scoring his first top-10 at Martinsville in two weeks. Stenhouse has become a reliable third- or fourth-choice option for fantasy rosters and that doesn't change next week.

Chase Elliot -
Elliott's sixth-place finish in Fontana was his third top-10 of the season. That record is impressive for any rookie, not just for one that has the full backing of Hendrick Motorsports. His finishes put him within striking distance of a spot in the Chase, but will need to continue this form throughout the season to have a realistic chance of claiming one of those spots in his first attempt. Unlike most weeks, Elliott does have one Sprint Cup start at Martinsville. He started 25th and finished 38th in the spring race last year, and will certainly be expecting more this time around. Fantasy owners should take notice, but Elliott's best results may not be on tap until later in 2016.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch - Busch was the closest competitor to Harvick last week in California before a blown tire ended his shot at winning. The tire failure was his second in as many days, but Harvick was pulling away from him when Sunday's tire let go. It was a frustrating weekend for the defending champion who has yet to find Victory Lane in 2016. Busch's speed has not been in question, but again his demise came at the tail end of a race distance. The driver needs to solve the problems he encounters late in the run, which may mean a more conservative approach earlier in each stint. Still, Busch has been one of the top drivers each week so far this season, and should be a top choice again in Martinsville.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Close racing with Joey Logano caused Truex to slide up into the wall in Fontana. Truex was one of the faster cares all weekend, so the late issue was especially disappointing considering it could have eliminated yet anther top finish for the No. 78 team. The incident proves that such small encounters can truly impact a race weekend, and it will be important to see how he responds after the week off. Truex ended Sunday's race in 32nd position, which is entirely unrepresentative of the pace he showed throughout the weekend. He has never scored a top-5 finish at Martinsville, but does head into the next race with a pair of sixth-place finishes in his last two races there.

Kyle Larson -
A failed rear tire sent Larson spinning into the inside wall for a hard head-on impact in California. The crash was heavy, and forced Larson completely out of Sunday's race with no chance to return. The DNF was Larson's third finish outside of the top 20 in five races this season, which represents a tremendous drop off from expectations when he entered the series. The third-year driver hasn't started 2016 with the same panache we saw in his rookie year, and will need to find improvements if he hopes to have a chance to win. He has yet to finish in the top 10 at Martinsville, and will need a convincing turnaround in performance to be in contention to score one next week. Fantasy owners will want to take a wait-and-see approach in the next few weeks.

Danica Patrick -
Patrick collided with Kasey Kahne in a collision that sent her hard into the wall. The contact was heavy, and knocked her completely out of Sunday's race. Patrick's best finish so far this season was 19th two weeks ago in Phoenix, which is not good enough for someone in one of the top teams in this series. Patrick has struggled in 2016 and that isn't a big change from past seasons. She has just one top-10 Martinsville finish from the spring race in 2015. She needs a top result to stake her claim for a seat in this series next season, but right now it doesn't appear as though she is anywhere near claiming it.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

A.J. Allmendinger - Allmendinger's eighth-place finish last week in Fontana was one of the most impressive runs of the week. His pace in practice wasn't among the best, but things came together during the race distance. It was his first top-10 finish of 2016, and his first since finishing seventh at Pocono Raceway last August. Every now and again Allmendinger gets onto a streak of good finishes, and last week's Fontana result could be the first such streak in 2016. He will be expected to contend at the road course, but any ground he makes on the ovals is frosting on the cake. Allmendinger has three finishes of 11th or better in the last four Martinsville races and will work to build on that next week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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