FONTANA, Calif. — Tony Stewart outdueled points leader Jimmie Johnson on a late restart and pulled away for his first career Sprint Cup win at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.
Stewart started 22nd after a rough qualifying day but was strong from the start of a lead-swapping 400-mile race. He vaulted five spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with his first win in 19 tries at California, but Johnson pushed his points cushion to 36 with six races left.
Clint Bowyer went around Johnson on the final lap to finish second in his first race without suspended crew chief Shane Wilson.
It wasn't such a good day for several other Chase drivers. Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards all had their Chase chances dented by engine troubles, and Matt Kenseth finished a disappointing 30th. Edwards finished 34th.
Stewart was well back in the Chase after running out of fuel while leading late at Loudon and struggling at Dover. He had a good showing last week at Kansas, finishing fourth, but still entered this weekend 10th in points, 127 behind Johnson.
After the so-so qualifying run, "Smoke" started working his way to the front and was fifth by the midpoint. He took the lead with 51 laps left and snagged it back after briefly falling behind to Juan Pablo Montoya.
In the lead again late, Stewart opted not to pit after an accident took out Chase driver Kurt Busch and pulled away from Johnson on the restart with two laps left. Bowyer passed Johnson but was nowhere close to Stewart at the end.
Johnson had made his now-expected surge to the top of the Chase standings, using a win at Dover and second last week at Kansas after a poor qualifying session to move past Denny Hamlin.
This one has a little different feel, though, the aura of invincibility gone from the No. 48 after an atypical up-and-down season. Nine drivers were within 101 points after Kansas, making it one of the tightest races Johnson has faced during his Cup-after-Cup run.
Still, he had won four of his previous six starts at Fontana, including the past three fall races, and started a solid eighth Sunday while many of those chasing him had trouble in Friday's qualifying.
Five of the first six spots on the grid were nabbed by non-Chasers and only Kenseth (third) and Biffle (seventh) were in the Top 10.
The good news is that Auto Club Speedway is nearly as wide as nearby Interstate 10, passing open even at four-wide. The Chasers took advantage, too, with seven of the top eight cars in the Chase by Lap 90.
Johnson was among the movers, up to fifth in the first three laps, second after 19 and into the lead on Lap 47 even after dealing with debris on his front grill that pushed his engine temperature to near 300 degrees. He stayed out front for a while, had his car fade to drop to 10th, then starting working his way back to the front again.
Johnson moved into second by passing Kasey Kahne with nine laps left but didn't have enough to keep up with Stewart on the restart or to hold off Bowyer. Still, he walks away with a bigger points lead.
Carl Edwards' 34th-place finish dropped him three spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He is now in 7th place, 162 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.