Jimmie Johnson took the lead in Sunday’s Daytona 500 with 10-laps to go in the 200-lap race and stayed out front the rest of the way to claim his second win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opener.
“This Lowe’s Chrvrolet was so good,” Johnson said in victory lane. “I had a lot of confidence leading this train.”
Johnson ran near the front all race long and led a total of 17 laps. With the win, he became the 10th driver to have multiple Daytona 500 victories to his credit.
Hendrick Motorsports claimed the top-two spots in the finishing order, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing second for the third time in the last two years.
“Me and Mark (Martin) were just kind of sitting there, and I hoped he was thinking what I was thinking.”
Earnhardt got a push toward the front by Martin in the closing laps, moving Earnhardt to second on the final lap where he tucked in behind teammate Johnson.
Martin finished third, and Brad Keselowski was fourth after being involved in a wreck on lap 33. Despite damage to his car, he was able to remain up front and lead several laps after a cycle of green-flag pit stops got him up front with about 25 laps to go.
Ryan Newman was fifth, Greg Biffle sixth, Regan Smith eighth, and Danica Patrick finished eighth. Patrick’s finish was the highest-ever for a female in the Daytona 500, topping Janet Guthrie’s 11th-place finish in 1980.
Patrick, after making NASCAR history by being the first woman to start a Sprint Cup Series race from the pole, also made history by being the first woman to lead a green-flag lap in the Daytona 500.
Although Patrick led laps, they didn’t come at the start of the race, despite beginning the race from the pole.
Instead, it was Jeff Gordon who took the lead on the first lap. Gordon had an issue with debris on the grille of his car that eventually led to an overheating issue. Once Gordon fell back, Matt Kenseth looked to be en route to a dominating performance. Kenseth did keep his car up front for more laps than anyone, but a mechanical issue with 51 laps to go sent him to the garage.
“Just a boring end to a great day,” Kenseth said. “Obviously, we’re a force to be reckoned with this year.”
Then, just a couple of laps later, one of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Kyle Busch, retired from the race because of an unrelated engine problem.
“It’s frustrating when you come down here with such fast race cars,” Busch said.
Issues for Kenseth and Busch resulted in Denny Hamlin being JGR’s lone representative remaining in the race field. Hamlin ran near the front most of the way but got shuffled back and outside the top-10 by the end.
In the final 25 laps, the race turned into somewhat of a showdown between Johnson and Keselowski. Each one of them ran in front of a line of cars, themselves in somewhat of a drag race for the lead. After a debris caution with nine laps to go, Johnson finally won out on the restart.
Michael McDowell finished ninth and J.J. Yeley rounded out the top-10.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR