After quiet week, Jimmie Johnson makes some noise winning Daytona 500
There wasn't a whole lot of attention paid to the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion last week. But when it counted most, Jimmie Johnson showed off his driving skills once again.
(Page 2 of 3)
The race itself, the debut for NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, was quite similar to all the other Cup races during Speedweeks in that the cars seemed to line up in a single-file parade along the top groove of the track. It made the 55th running of the Daytona 500 relatively uneventful.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
When the race was on the line, Johnson took off.
The driver known as "Five-time" raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizeable lead that nobody challenged over the final six laps.
Johnson and Keselowski went down to the wire last season in their race for the Sprint Cup title, with Johnson faltering in the final two races as Keselowski won his first Cup championship.
Although it was a bit of an upset that stuck with Johnson into the offseason, it gave him no extra motivation when he found himself racing with Keselowski late Sunday for the Daytona 500.
"As far as racing with Brad out there, you really lose sight of who is in what car," Johnson said. "It's just somebody between you and the trophy. It could have been anybody."
Once Johnson cleared Keselowski on the last restart he had a breakaway lead with Greg Biffle and Patrick behind him. But as the field closed in on the checkered flag, Earnhardt finally made his move, just too late and too far behind to get close enough to the lead.
Earnhardt wound up second for the third time in the last four years. But with all the crashes the Hendrick cars have endured in restrictor-plate races — teammate Kasey Kahne was in the first accident Sunday — team owner Rick Hendrick was just fine with the finish.
"We have a hard time finishing these races. Boy, to run 1-2, man, what a day," Hendrick said. Jeff Gordon, who was a contender early, faded late to 20th.
And Johnson considered himself lucky to be the one holding the trophy at the end.
"Man, it's like playing the lottery; everybody's got a ticket," he said. "I've struck out a lot at these tracks, left with torn-up race cars. Today we had a clean day."
Mark Martin was third in a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Keselowski, who overcame two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth in Penske Racing's new Ford. Ryan Newman was fifth in a Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing and was followed by Roush-Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, who was second on the last lap but was shuffled back with Patrick to finish sixth.
Patrick was clearly disappointed with her finish. When the race was on the line, she was schooled by Earnhardt, who made his last move and blocked any chance she had.
Still, Patrick became the first woman in history to lead laps in the 500 when she passed Michael Waltrip on a restart on Lap 90. She stayed on the point for two laps, then was shuffled back to third. She ended up leading five laps, another groundbreaking moment for Patrick, who as a rookie in 2005 became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and now is the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.