Philadelphia, PA – When the Sprint Cup Series has come to mile racetrack have featured epic duels between the two California natives.
In February 2010, Johnson, who hails from nearby El Cajon, claimed his track- record-extending fifth win at California, but this one didn't come with ease. Harvick, a Bakersfield-native, chased down Johnson and battled him for the lead after a late-race restart, but Harvick scraped the wall with just four laps to go, allowing Johnson to drive away for the victory.
Harvick finished second in that race but got payback the following year when he passed Johnson for the lead between turns three and four on the final lap and then held off Johnson at the finish line by just 0.14 seconds for his first win at California.
"The last two years, the race has pretty much come down to us and the No. 48 team [Johnson]," Harvick said. "The year before I ran into the wall and last year we won. That was good to come back and rebound from the mistake from 2010 and being able to race with Jimmie was a lot of fun."
Johnson has finished no worse than ninth in the last nine races at California. He has also led a lap in each one of those events.
"I've been really successful at Auto Club Speedway," he said. "It's my home track. We got our first Sprint Cup career win there in 2002, so it's a special track to me. I definitely always see some friends and family while we are out there. I remember last year, we were very close to victory lane, about three- quarters of a mile away from the trophy, but Kevin Harvick found a way around the outside. So I know we'll go there and be very competitive this time."
Earlier this week, Hendrick Motorsports won its final appeal to have hefty penalties assessed by NASCAR to Johnson's No. 48 team overturned. The penalties stemmed from an illegal part (C-post) found on Johnson's Daytona 500 car during last month's opening-day inspection at Daytona International Speedway.
National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook rescinded the six-race suspension for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. Middlebrook also removed the loss of 25 points for driver Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon.
The addition of 25 points moved Johnson from 17th to 11th in the standings.
From 2004-10, the series competed at California twice during the season, but last year, the track lost its fall race to make way for a second date at Kansas Speedway. The race length at California was also trimmed from 500 miles to 400.
Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle heads to California as the points leader. Biffle began the season with third-place finishes in each of the first three races but placed 13th in last Sunday's 500-lapper at Bristol.
"Bristol didn't turn out quite the way we planned it, but we do feel better about our finish since we found something wrong with the car after the race," he said. "The right-front bump stop failed, so it was down on the splitter for the last 17-lap run. We wondered why we weren't going forward. We were going backward and unfortunately finished 13th but kept the point lead."
Biffle currently holds a nine-point advantage over Harvick, while Biffle's teammate and Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth, is 12 markers behind.
"We are looking forward to California," Biffle said. "We've got the best car to ever come out of the Roush Fenway shop. Our California car has the best downforce numbers. It's the lightest, badest, newest thing the guys can build. It's a good track for me."
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Auto Club 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, March 25. Race: Auto Club 400. Site: Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. Track: two-mile oval. Start time: 3:00 p.m.(et). Laps: 200. Miles: 400. 2011 Winner: Kevin Harvick. Television: FOX. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.