Nineteen years after Jimmie Johnson won his first ever NASCAR Cup Series race at California Speedway – now known as Auto Club Speedway – the seven-time champion heads back to the 2-mile track located just over 100 miles north of his hometown of El Cajon, California, for the final time as a full-time driver.
Since his premier series debut in 2002, Johnson has made 25 starts at the Southern California track and remarkably finished every lap – 5,706 to be exact. In that span, he has dominated nearly every aspect, setting the all-time record for laps led (980), wins (six), top fives (13), top 10s (17) and average finish (7.6).
After racing his way to the checkered flag in 2016, Johnson became the only driver in series history to win at Auto Club in his 20s, 30s and 40s.
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With the 2020 season off to a decent start after a top-five finish last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a happy homecoming might be the perfect recipe to propel Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team to their first trip to Victory Lane since 2017 at Dover International Speedway.
However, Johnson isn’t the only driver with sustained success at Auto Club searching for the first key win this season. In spite of Johnson’s career-long dominance in Fontana, Kyle Busch has unquestionably been the driver to beat at the oval in recent years.
Winner in three of the last six Auto Club events he has competed in, including last year’s Auto Club 400, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is red hot heading into this Sunday’s race. Busch carries six top fives in the last eight Fontana races, three consecutive finishes of eighth or better – both Cup Series highs – and, like Johnson, secured his first series win at the track driving for Rick Hendrick (2005).
Unlike Johnson’s bounce-back weekend at Las Vegas, an uncharacteristic opening pair of races has left the reigning champion sitting 27th in the current points standings and in search of his first finish inside the top 15. Though it is only the third of the 26-race regular-season slate, history has shown a solid run at Auto Club presents the perfect chance for Busch and company to get back to their winning ways.
While Johnson and Busch share a long history of accolades at the Fontana track, Kevin Harvick has been a consistent factor in nearly every West Coast race – making him a threat to win each time the series heads there. Harvick holds the longest active streak with a top 10 in each of the last eight West Coast races and an incredible 25 in the last 29. For the No. 48 and No. 18 to continue their dominant trends, the path to Victory Lane and title of “King of the West Coast” may be through No. 4.
Even after nearly two decades of dominance, Johnson has a chance to prove this season is not just a farewell tour but one that can end with a record-setting eighth Cup Series title. There may not be a better way to jumpstart his push for another championship than with a win where it all started – one final time.
Source: Racing Insights