NASCAR four-time Sprint Cup Champion, JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Hendrick Chevrolet,  took his first step towards another NASCAR championship by winning the Auto Club Speedway 500 Sunday, with a 1.524 second Margin of Victory. “Whoo Hoo, California Style!” he yelled into his radio while spinning doughnuts on the front straight.

Johnson led more laps than any other drivers, eight times for 101 laps. It’s his fifth win at Auto Club Speedway, and his forty-eighth victory in 293 starts. Johnson promised to take the trophy back to his owner, RICK HENDRICK, who wasn’t at the race.

Crew Chief CHAD KNAUS said “It’s all in the numbers, man. We’ve been saying that for years. We don’t believe a heck of a lot in luck. But, you know, if it’s out there, we’ll take it.”

Johnson said “We won our first race here and our forty-eighth. So it’s a really cool day and all in the numbers. Today fortune came our way. We hit pit road and the caution came out and gave us track position. I’m not going to lie, the fact that we were on pit road gave us track position and I drove my butt off.”

Johnson was dogged at the end by KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Harvick, also a California guy, led three times for 27 laps. Harvick said “They are good at lucky. They have a golden horse shoe shoved up their ass.”

Harvick leads the Drivers Championship points, nineteen points ahead of his teammate, CLINT BOWYER/No.33, who finished eighth. Their team owner, RICHARD CHILDRESS has the top two cars, and three of the top five in the Owner standings. Johnson is twelfth in the Driver points.

Third place was taken by Harvick’s teammate, JEFF BURTON/No.31, who led three times for 46 laps.

Fourth was Johnson’s teammate, MARK MARTIN/No.5 with JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in fifth – the only non-GM finisher in the top five.

Pole Sitter JAMIE McMURRAY//No.1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was caught by teammate JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.42 at the start. McMurray never led a lap and finished twelfth in the race. McMurray is fourth in the standings. Montoya retired with a blown engine. He led once for 29 laps.

The top (and only) Rookie was KEVIN CONWAY/No.37 Front Row Motorsports Ford, finishing thirty-first, three laps down.

Thirteen drivers swapped the lead 26 times. Although he led for a bit according to TV and the monitor, SAM HORNISH JR./No.77 Penske Racing Dodge wasn’t so credited in the results.

Twenty-three cars finished on the lead lap. Six cautions took 30 laps.

Six engines expired – three Chevy’s and three Toyota’s. Two cars lost rear gear, and two overheated.

The average race speed was 141.911 mph and the race ran 3 hrs, 31 mins, 24 secs.

Threatening weather hovered throughout the race, coming and going with the black clouds, and sprinkles on part of the track caused seven laps of caution two-thirds into the race. But it never really rained.

The reported attendance was 72,000. Several local journalists felt the number was generous.

Johnson was asked about his take on why the actual attendance might have been more sparse than usual. “Global warming. It’s too cold.”

Johnson continued “I don’t know what else we could do. There has been a lot of good racing. People aren’t watching TV as much any more. We put on a great show, our drivers are more accessible than any other sport, the fans get more bang for their buck.  I don’t know why.”

After all was said and done. NASCAR announced that Johnson’s car and Harvick’s engine would be taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center, but because of the next race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, they wouldn’t be expected in North Carolina until after that race.

The next Cup race is Sunday 28 February 2010 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.