After a shaky start to the season, Jimmie Johnson is back on the brink of being one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' front-runners. With his home track looming on the schedule, another big move isn't out of the question.
Johnson and the rest of the Cup tour head west to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the site of some of the five-time champion's most meaningful victories, including his first Cup win in 2002. Three late-season triumphs at the 2-mile track were springboards to title runs from 2007 to 2009.
Last season, Johnson was a lap away from a sixth victory at the track, just a two-hour drive north of his hometown of El Cajon, Calif. But Kevin Harvick, another Golden State native, slipped by Johnson just before the checkered flag.
"I remember last year, we were very close to victory lane, about three-quarters of a mile away from the trophy, but Kevin Harvick found a way around the outside," Johnson said. "So, I know we'll go there and be very competitive this time."
If past successes are an indicator, Johnson will certainly be a factor in the Auto Club 400 (FOX; Sunday, 3 p.m. ET). He has finished no worse than third in eight of the last nine races there, and has led multiple laps during each race in that span. Over the course of his career, Johnson has a stellar average finish of 5.1 and has completed all 4,155 possible laps in his 17 starts.
The home-state swing is a welcome sight for Johnson, who opened the season with a second-lap crash in the Daytona 500 and a 25-point penalty that left him in negative numbers in the standings. Since then, he's logged three consecutive top-10 finishes and had the points penalty rescinded, leaving him 11th in the standings, just on the fringe of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason field.
A Johnson victory would also be the 200th for Hendrick Motorsports, which leads all teams with nine wins at the California track.