February 24, 2013
Jimmie Johnson wins Daytona 500
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson became a two-time Daytona 500 champion on Sunday, beating current champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart for the win.
Historic pole sitter Danica Patrick finished eighth, and in the process became the first woman to lead a lap at stock car racing’s most important race.
But Johnson, who was able to avoid several big crashes and engine failures that took out many top competitors like Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, was still full value for taking the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports to victory lane.
He hung around the front of the field for most of the day and waited for his opportunity, which came after the final caution with seven laps to go when he battled with Keselowski’s No. 2 Penske Racing Ford, before finally taking the lead on the penultimate lap.
The win was Johnson’s 61st in his 400th Sprint Cup race in the No. 48 HMS Chevrolet.
He said any win is hard but it is especially so at restrictor plate tracks like Daytona.
“Plate racing is an awfully tough form of racing and there’s a lot of luck involved,” Johnson said. “You can’t ride and wait for thing to happen.
“You have to race all day long and fight for track position.”
He said he was always confident he could get to the front to challenge whoever was leading but he admitted he caught a big break by being on the outside in the final restart.
“I had a lot of confidence in the final few laps leading the train because I knew just how fast the car was,” Johnson said.
“I think it goes all the way back to when the caution came out and the fact that we were in the lead and gave me lane choice. The outside lane worked in most situations.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the No. 88 HMS Chevrolet with Mark Martin third in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
On the last restart it looked like Keselowski might be able to follow up his 2012 Sprint Cup championship with a Daytona win.
“We got real fortunate because we caught a big break when the yellow came out and we had just pitted,” Keselowski said. “That got us to the lead and then we caught a bad break when the yellow came out as we were battling with Jimmie.
“He was an inch in front of me when the yellow came out and that gave him the high line on the restart and there was nothing we could do. We weren’t strong enough to hold our own there on the bottom.”
As for Earnhardt, he came really close to his second Daytona 500 win, but just didn’t have enough.
“When we got to Jimmie we didn’t have enough steam,” Earnhardt said. “You had to be real patient and if you tried to pull out you would go to the back of the field.
“It was a lot of fun, I just had a great package, a couple of adjustments and man this car is going to be awesome.”
Stewart, meantime, failed again to win at the one of the few races he has failed at in his two-time championship career.
“The hell with the season, I wanted to win the Daytona 500,” he said. “We had a car that we could pass with today."
While this Daytona 500 was a throw back to single file racing of years gone by, it was also a throw back in terms of attendance.
After several years of dwindling crowds at the track that holds almost 170,000 , Sunday’s crowd was the biggest in almost a decade.
With two mechanical failures on Sunday -- the No. 18 of Kyle Busch and the No. 20 Matt Kenseth -- there has to be real concern at Joe Gibbs Racing over reliability of their engine program that caused them so much grief last season. ... When Edwards wrecked his No. 99 it was the fifth crash for him in just 10 days. It has to be some sort of record.
CHECK OUT THE LIVE FEED THAT RAN DURING THE RACE