Jimmie Johnson scored the second Daytona 500 win of his career on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, while Danica Patrick made an impressive full-time debut, backing up her pole with an eighth-place finish in the “Great American Race.”
Johnson held off a final-lap charge from his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who earned his third runner-up finish in the last four Daytona 500s. Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.
"Definitely a great start for the team," said Johnson following the win. "When we were sitting discussing things before the season started, we felt good about the 500, but we're really excited for everything after the 500. So very hopeful and excited that our 48 car will be really fast in Phoenix, Vegas, moving forward. I think it's going to be a very strong year for us."
Patrick, the first woman to earn a Sprint Cup Series pole, became the first woman to lead green flag laps in the Cup Series and the first woman to lead the Daytona 500 when she took the lead on Laps 90 and 91; she led a total of five laps in the race. Her eighth-place finish is the best finish by a woman in the Daytona 500. She also became the 13th driver to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
"You know, honestly when I say that I wanted to lead at some point, it was just because I was disappointed I didn't do it off the bat like I thought I should have," said Patrick post-race. "So it didn't really have to do with being a girl and leading. I think a stat that I found more interesting is only 13 people, including me now, have led Indy and Daytona. I thought that was a much cooler stat for me."
Many of the favorites were out of the race early, as a Lap 33 accident damaged nine cars, including Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart. Another nine-car accident on Lap 138 included 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and David Reutimann.
Joe Gibbs Racing had significant problems beginning at Lap 150, when Matt Kenseth developed a vibration in the drive train of his Camry; two laps later, Kyle Busch came to the pits with a blown engine. The third JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, came away with a 14th-place finish; Kenseth and Busch finished 37th and 34th, respectively.
"It's just frustrating," said Busch upon exit. "You come down here and you have such fast race cars. All the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing built us awesome pieces. We're running 1-2-3 there and it felt like we were dropping like flies."
With his win, Johnson became the sixth driver to win in his 400th start, joining Dale Earnhardt, Dave Marcis, David Pearson and Richard and Lee Petty in the feat.
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