"I wish we could just go out there and wear 'em out one day, just not have to worry about waiting until the last lap," Harvick said. "It does kind of seem we wait until the last moments to really get going. It's probably somewhat of a bad habit I have, but I guess it worked out."
Kyle Busch had the dominant car most of the day and led a race-high 151 laps, including off a restart with nine laps left. Johnson, a five-time Fontana winner, had the late burst, chasing down Busch for the lead with two laps left.
Harvick, as he always seems to, nailed the finish.
He had a rough start to the season, finishing 42nd at Daytona after a blown engine and hadn't been able to pull it together since despite having fast cars. His best finish was a fourth at Phoenix.
Harvick didn't have a particularly strong qualifying session at Fontana, either, to start 24th, and wasn't exactly ripping through the field once the race started.
What he did do was gradually work his way to the front, pulling up behind Johnson after getting past Busch.
Taking advantage of a small gap to the outside, Harvick made his move on Johnson going into Turn 3, then completed it coming around Turn 4. Ahead going down the last straightway, he finished off his becoming-a-trademark finish to take the checkers for the 15th time in his career.
Johnson looked as if he was going to notch his fourth win in six starts at California. He started 16th and worked his way toward the front, tracking Busch down for the late pass after losing a race off the line to him on the final restart. Johnson just couldn't hold off Harvick on those final two turns.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., two-time defending series champion Dario Franchitti won IndyCar's season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. Franchitti grabbed the lead early on and was hardly challenged. The Scottish driver was nearly perfect for 100 laps on the scenic, 1.8-mile street course, beating pole-sitter Will Power to the finish line by more than seven seconds.
Tony Kanaan held off Simona de Silvestro over the final few laps for third.
1. C. Edwards 187
2. R. Newman 178 9
3. Ku. Busch 177 10
4. Ky. Busch 176 11
5. J. Johnson 173 14
6. T. Stewart 170 17
7. P. Menard 164 23
8. J. Montoya 161 26
9. K. Harvick 157 30
10. M. Kenseth 157 30
11. K. Kahne 157 30
12. D. Earnhardt Jr. 156 31