Johnson Cashes In With Daytona 500 Win

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson drove smartly and precisely to win the Daytona 500 for the second time. Taking command in the late going, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion displayed his talents in front of a large crowd and a national television audience on a cool day in Florida.

With the money on the line, Johnson did what he does best by taking the fastest road to the bank, cashing in and walking away with the glory and the riches that go with winning the Daytona 500. The capacity crowd was on its feet during the final 50 miles, cheering for their favorites and wondering whether or not mayhem would break out. Fortunately, it didn’t, much to the relief of everyone that had witnessed the conclusion of Saturday’s Nationwide Series wreck-fest.

For Johnson, he became the 10th driver to win multiple Daytona 500s. Also, he scored his 61st Sprint Cup triumph, and he did it in his 400th start.

Said the happy winner, “Plate racing is an awfully tough form of racing, and there’s lot of luck involved. Pack racing is a little different, as you can’t ride and wait for things to happen. You have to race all day long and fight for track position. This race car was so good. Chad Knaus and all of the Hendrick Motorsports team had me a fast car, and I could really stay up front all day long. I had a lot of confidence in the final few laps leading the train, so I knew just how fast the car was.

“We wanted to get this car to the 500. We knew it was the best car for us, and it certainly did its job. It is just awesome to win it. There’s no other way to describe it. To be the first to win in a Gen-6 car, and that car is a Chevy SS, just a very proud moment.”

Crew chief Chad Knaus was thrilled with the outcome. “As you know, I eat, sleep and breathe 48. Anytime I am taken away for that race car, I’m pretty sad,” he said. “A lot of effort went into this car. It feels great to win it.”

He said that the team spent some 35 consecutive days building the car, and he believed he spent 38 hours on it over a day’s time.

“This is the Super Bowl of racing,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “I remember the first one, and every one of them has been special. But we had a dry spell down here, and this is our seventh one. I was really happy to see our cars be able to run 1-2. It’s a great feeling.”

There was rain in the forecast but it never materialized, although it was very overcast and much cooler than a day ago. As a result of the low cloud ceiling, the high-flying U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds were unable to perform their signature flyover.

Early on, two and sometimes three lanes were in use but once the action settled down, single-file racing followed until the final 100 miles.

Running two lines at that point, Johnson and reigning champion Brad Keselowski ran by side-by-side for several laps before the Lowe’s Chevrolet driver went inside to take the lead on the 185th lap. They continued to battle hard with Keselowski bouncing back, only to lose the lead spot with nine laps to go.

Once Johnson took over, everyone fell in line behind him, and the pack ran single file until the final laps.

On the last lap, Mark Martin pushed Dale Earnhardt Jr. into second place, but neither had anything for Johnson as they sped toward the finish line.

Earnhardt desperately wanted the victory but seemed to accept the runner-up spot. He drove the National Guard Chevrolet, also fielded by Hendrick Motorsports.

“I couldn’t have done it without Mark helping me at the end,” the popular driver said. “As I came out of turn two on the last lap, I felt like we needed to make the move a little earlier than off of four. I kept backing up, backing up, trying not to let guys get racing behind us too much. Mark and I didn’t want to get hung up with those guys. Once we came off two, I mashed the gas, got a run on Danica (Patrick).

“I don’t know why those other guys didn’t pull down in front of me, but we had a pretty good run in three and four, but once we got there, we ran out of steam and didn’t have enough to get a run on Jimmie.”

Third place went to Martin in the Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. In finishing on the podium, he chalked up his 20th top-10 finish in 55 races at Daytona.

Said the veteran, “I had such a great car, and my guys just kept digging. We wanted to be in the middle of it with two laps to go, and there we were. I was in a position where I needed to be to pass a bunch of cars, so we did it. If things would have gotten crazy enough, maybe we could have got the big trophy.

“There are a number of drivers that didn’t get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot, so I feel extremely lucky for that opportunity.”

Keselowski took the Miller Lite Ford to fourth place and Ryan Newman bounced back from an early-race scrape to garner fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Greg Biffle, Regan Smith, Danica Patrick, McDowell and JJ Yeley.

For Smith, McDowell and Yeley, their showing was impressive, as they race for small teams with nominal resources.

Patrick’s eighth-place finish was not indicative of her race-long performance, as she ran in the top three and four for just about all but the closing laps. Starting on the pole, she did not lead the opening lap but did lead three times for five laps to become the first female to do so in the Daytona 500.

She also became the first female to score a top-10 finish; previously, Janet Guthrie managed an 11th place run in 1980.

“It was a good solid and steady day,” she stated. “I wish I would have led at the very beginning, but it was nice to lead later on, just to lead laps. My race was steady and I spent most of the day half throttle running behind people. The outside line was the nice place to be, and I didn’t feel like it was wise to drop low and try to figure out how to pass.

“One downside to running in that front group is that I never got to practice any passing. I never really tried anything. I would imagine that anyone would kick themselves and say what I should have done to give myself that opportunity for a win. I was thinking in the car, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I didn’t know what to do exactly. I feel like maybe it’s just my inexperience.”

Six caution flags slowed the race for 24 laps. Two multi-car accidents derailed the chances for star drivers Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

All three returned to action after repairs were made, and they ended up 41st, 42nd and 33rd, respectively.

Engine problems knocked Kyle Busch and teammate Matt Kenseth out of commission. Kenseth, the 2012 winner, looked to have one of the strongest cars as he led 86 laps before his day ended.

With one race down and 35 to go, the Sprint Car Series travels west to Phoenix for a race next weekend in the desert.

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