Heading into Sunday’s Auto Club 400, two drivers in the field would be going to battle with each other in what would be dubbed the #HeroFaceOff in promotion of the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson each sported a superhero paint scheme, with Earnhardt carrying the Batman colors on his No. 88 Chevrolet and Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet adorned with the familiar red and blue colors of Superman.
“The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world: Son of Krypton versus Bat of Gotham!” said villain Lex Luthor in the trailer for the movie, but Sunday’s race turned into more of a one-sided affair rather than an epic superhero showdown.
Starting 19th, Johnson moved into the top-10 by lap 30 and continued his march through the field from that point, taking the lead for the first time at lap 78, where he would be a fixture for the remainder of the race.
Though Johnson seemed to have found his kryptonite in Kevin Harvick, who led a race-high 142 laps and looked to have the race in the bag, the final caution of the day gave Johnson and his No. 48 team one final shot at showcasing their superpowers.
Restarting third on the final restart, Johnson flew by Harvick and Denny Hamlin like they were standing still, leading the final two laps en route to his sixth win at Auto Club Speedway and his 77th career win, breaking his tie with the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. on the all-time wins list.
“Nothing like winning at home! Get me my dang cape!” @JimmieJohnson
— Team Lowe’s Racing (@LowesRacing) March 20, 2016
“Man, this is cool. First off all I ‘hi’ to my family at home, I can’t wait to see you guys. I knew we had great car and that caution fell at a bad time the run before. I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with those guys. To go there at the end and have good tires on the car, Harvick and I got by I guess Joey there at the start. I got a great run off of Turn 2 and I thought ‘man I’ve got a shot at this thing’. Which I didn’t expect to have, Harvick has been so fast. I cleared him and kind of got away. We saved our best for last for sure. I told everybody Superman kicked Batman’s butt and it happened. I’m very thankful for Lowe’s and the amazing relationship we have had over the years, Chevrolet, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, this is going to be a good time,” said Johnson.
As far as his #HeroFaceOff counterpart in the Batman colors, Earnhardt, Jr. struggled throughout the day on Sunday. After starting 27th, Earnhardt battled a tight handling car for the majority of the race before the team began to make some gains as the laps wound down.
Earnhardt made contact with Kurt Busch early in the race, causing some minor damage to his “Batmobile,” but would break into the top-10 by lap 110 and hovered in or near the top-10 for much of the remaining laps. The No. 88 car made it as high as eighth at lap 200, but lost a few positions in overtime to end the day in 11th.
“I thought we had a good car yesterday in practice and I was kind of looking forward to the race and then when we started we were real tight. The No. 41 came in front of me off of (Turn) 4 and I just couldn’t do anything. He was clear, but I couldn’t stop. I had so much momentum and that hurt the left-front real bad and bent the splitter. So, we fought that all day long. We changed a shock and helped the balance a little bit. We changed and changed and changed and worked on the car all day. We got it to where we could race a little bit. Then we were up in the top 10 pretty good and short pitted a little bit for that last run and that damn caution came out for a piece of debris in the middle of the cycle. That killed us,” said Earnhardt.
Image: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images