Jimmie Johnson Wins the Pepsi 500 in Fontana, Overtakes Martin as NASCAR Chase Leader
Jimmie Johnson was once again the class of the field at Fontana on Sunday.
Despite seven yellow-flag cautions and a huge red-flag wreck that parked the field with only 5 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson and his 48 team prevailed on restart after restart to win the 2009 Pepsi 500 and move into the lead in NASCAR's Chase standings. Having become the first NASCAR driver to win four Cup races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Johnson and the rest of the Lowe's 48 team are now gunning for what would be a record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
You can't help but admire the way Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the entire 48 team almost telepathically work out problems over the course of a season, the Chase and the end of every race. Juan Pablo Montoya in the Target 42 Chevy had a fast car and great pit stops. Denny Hamlin's FedEx 11 had the pole. Points leader Mark Martin's Number 5 ran in the Top 5 all day long. But even though Johnson's team had a few "gremlins" in the first two pit stops, they eventually got it right. On every restart, Johnson's 48 took less and less time to take the lead and it felt like "Good night, Fontana" every time the 48 car pulled into clean air.
Fortunately for NASCAR fans, the Chase for the Sprint Cup is still the most competitive ever in its six-year history even after Sunday's finish. Following the Pepsi 500 results, Mark Martin's Number 5 Poptarts/CarQuest Chevy has switched places with Hendrick teammate Johnson and now tails Johnson by a wafer-thin 12 points. Surprise wild card Juan Pablo Montoya in the 42 Target Chevy is still in the hunt in third place, trailing by 58 points. Montoya's fellow Indy Car enthusiast, Tony "Smoke" Stewart and the Old Spice/Office Depot 14, remains in fourth. Four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (and Johnson's somewhat "boss" -- as co-owner of the 48 car) Jeff Gordon's Pepsi/Dupont 24 Chevy rounds out the Top Five in Chase standings, at 105 points behind. Your results cutting your boss off in heavy traffic may vary.
The current Chase standings are a fitting testament to Hendrick Motorsports, which celebrated 25 years in NASCAR racing with Sunday's race.
Race teams have this week off. The 10-race Chase will resume with Race 5 on Saturday, October 17 with NASCAR's Banking 500 from Bank of America in Charlotte.