Jimmie Johnson fended off a charging Kevin Harvick to claim his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup series win at his home race at Fontana, and the 48th of his career.
The reigning champion and Harvick in his Richard Childress Racing Chevy were head to head up front from the early going, after Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya, the first leader of the race until lap 30, started to fade with handling issues.
Harvick was hampered by a speeding penalty entering the pits close to the halfway point and had to go the back of the pack, dropping down to 26th place. However, he steadily made his way back to the front and challenged the leading Hendrick Motorsports Chevy until he brushed the wall exiting Turn 4 while in hot pursuit of the No. 48 car with a couple of laps remaining.
Johnson had struggled in the second half of the race with the handling of his car, but got his break when the caution came out with 25 laps to go after Brad Kieslowski spun at the exit of Turn 4. When the caution waved, Johnson was already in the pits for his final stop and just managed to remain on the lead lap as the pack slowed down. This translated into the lead of the race when the rest of the field pitted under the caution.
"The gift we got by being on pit road, I took advantage and we got this [car] running good," said Johnson. "I knew the 29 [Kevin Harvick] was going to be tough and he certainly caught me there and then he got in the wall off of Turn 4 or something there and that slowed him down. But just a great day all in all, and a lot of good racing from where I was sitting."
Both Harvick and his RCR teammate Burton did their best to prevent back-to-back wins from Johnson at Fontana from when the green flag waved for the last time with 20 laps to go. However, they had to settle for second and third at the end of the 500-mile race.
Rain threatened an early end to the event, but the storm just missed the track despite some sprinkles and a slight shower that had caused the caution flag to wave earlier on lap 194.
"We were making up ground and Jimmie [Johnson] saw that and he moved up and I just got tight," said Harvick, the new points leader. "I got the thing in the fence and just didn't want....I should have just let off. I kept driving it in to the wall and got tight after that. Should have never been there in the first place. I got myself in the back there with the speeding penalty. All in all a good day and fast cars."
Jeff Burton underlined a great day for RCR, a team recovering well from a poor 2009 when none of the squad's drivers made the Chase, all of them having been there in the previous two seasons. The 42-year-old led right up until the final caution and lost out to Harvick's team in the final stop.
A close battle with teammate Harvick seemed to help Johnson pull away in the closing stages, but running different lines, they eventually narrowed the gap to Johnson for the final 10 laps, until Harvick's brush with the wall within sight of the checkered flag.
Burton was also penalized for speeding in the pits at the same time as Harvick and was even quicker than him to make his way back to the front of the pack.
"We definitely got better as the race went on," said Burton. "I got caught speeding on pit road and had to start back in the back and rolled up through there really fast. That is when we knew our car was really good. There at the end, got a little loose. I didn't ask for the right thing under that caution."
Mark Martin rounded out a solid day with fourth place, while Joey Logano impressed with a fifth-place finish. Behind them Clint Bowyer was eighth, having run up front with his teammates until an untimely and early final stop put him a lap down.
Early leader Montoya, like Harvick and Burton, was penalized for speeding on pit entry on lap 94 and eventually retired with an engine failure while in the top-15. His retirement was the first for him for over a year.
Ryan Newman also retired for the same reason as the Colombian, his failure happening a few laps later and right after getting a bad restart, following the third caution of the day.
Polesitter Jamie McMurray didn't lead a single lap and was on his way to a top-10 finish, but a long final stop cost him a good result and he ended up in 17th place.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 250
2. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 250
3. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 250
4. Mark Martin Chevrolet 250
5. Joey Logano Toyota 250
6. Kurt Busch Dodge 250
7. Matt Kenseth Ford 250
8. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 250
9. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 250
10. Greg Biffle Ford 250
11. Scott Speed Toyota 250
12. Brian Vickers Toyota 250
13. Carl Edwards Ford 250
14. Kyle Busch Toyota 250
15. David Reutimann Toyota 250
16. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 250
17. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 250
18. Paul Menard Ford 250
19. Regan Smith Chevrolet 250
20. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 250
21. Brad Keselowski Dodge 250
22. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 250
23. David Ragan Ford 250
24. Elliott Sadler Ford 250
25. A.J. Allmendinger Ford 250
26. David Gilliland Ford 250
27. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 250
28. Max Papis Toyota 250
29. Denny Hamlin Toyota 248
30. Travis Kvapil Ford 248
31. Kevin Conway Ford 247
32. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 238
33. Robby Gordon Toyota 230
34. Kasey Kahne Ford 221
35. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 170
36. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 148
37. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 140
38. Boris Said Ford 67
39. Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 64
40. Joe Nemechek Toyota 48
41. Dave Blaney Toyota 43
42. Michael McDowell Toyota 40
43. Aric Almirola Chevrolet 34