FONTANA, Calif. – Before the green flag waved Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, Jimmie Johnson took prime position behind the pace car as the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field fanned out five-wide behind him in a respectful salute to the seven-time champion.
When the green flag waved to signal the beginning of the Auto Club 400, Johnson saw his wife Chandra and daughters Genevieve and Lydia doing the honors from his second-place starting position.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet responded with three stints in the lead for a total of ten laps. He spent the afternoon near the front of the field and finished seventh in what could be his last start at Fontana, given that Johnson is retiring from full-time Cup racing at the end of the season.
“This team is going in the right direction,” Johnson asserted after the race. “I know in my heart what I’m capable of and what this team is capable of. It’s just taken a little bit to get the right people in the right places and rebuild and get this Ally Chevy exactly where it needs to be. We just couldn’t adjust this car on the pits stops quite enough to get the ‘tight’ out of it.
“It was really competitive and racy at the start of a run, and then we would fade at the end. At the end, I thought I was going to blow a tire. I think I had cords on the fronts, and I thought I wasn’t going to finish the race. So to salvage a top-ten out of it and two ‘thirds’ in the stages… so we are headed in the right direction. I want to thank the fans here in California. There have been some great vibes all weekend.”