FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson will start from the back Sunday when he defends his Fontana title after a spin during practice wrecked his primary car.
And if anybody can rally from 37th position to the checkered flag, Johnson thinks he has a good shot on his home track.
Johnson elected not to participate in qualifying Friday, sending him to the back of the field in his backup car.
"We had a tough practice session, and mid-pack was probably going to be our goal anyway," Johnson said. "So here at a track that's really wide, with a lot of lanes, a long race, we'll just take our lumps and get the car right, and make sure we take advantage of the precious minutes that we have in Saturday's practice session, and go from there."
Johnson lost control on Turn 3 at the Auto Club Speedway's aged 2-mile asphalt, and he slid sideways at 180 mph while trying to stay out of the wall and avoiding Kurt Busch. The nose of Johnson's car dug into the infield dirt at Turn 4.
"I just lost it," Johnson said. "Looking back on it, I should have just locked it down and I could have stayed out of the grass, and we wouldn't be in this position."
Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, decided they would rather have time to prepare the backup car properly rather than rushing it into qualifying. If something happened to the backup car, Johnson would be forced to race teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s backup car at Fontana.
"I just felt it was wiser to get the car prepared correctly rather than qualify poorly," Knaus said. "I wasn't comfortable putting Jimmie in a position where he would have to hustle a car that he hasn't turned a lap in yet."
The seven-time NASCAR champion is the local favorite at Auto Club Speedway, where he won his first NASCAR race. Johnson is from El Cajon in the San Diego suburbs, 115 miles south of Fontana.
Johnson won at Fontana last year with a dramatic overtime victory over Kevin Harvick. He also pushed past Dale Earnhardt for seventh place in NASCAR history with his 77th career victory.
Qualifying isn't everything on the wide lanes and wide-open racing at Fontana. This NASCAR race has only been won from the front row twice — although Johnson did it both times.