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Johnson, Gordon Pick Up Top-10s at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2004) – Jimmie Johnson led Hendrick Motorsports at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, earning his first top-five finish of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season with a fifth-place showing in the Daytona 500.

Driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, Johnson started sixth in the 43-car field and led 16 laps at Daytona, where he’s now earned three top-10 finishes in five Cup Series starts.

“We had a great car,” Johnson said.  “We led some (laps) and worked our way through the pack a couple of times.

“My hat’s off to this whole Lowe’s team.  This is a great start to the season for us to come out of here with a top-five.  We’ll go on to the next one and have some more fun.”

Team Lowe’s Racing begins the 2004 season just where it ended 2003—with a top-10 position in the point standings.  Johnson, currently fifth, has now spent 70 consecutive weeks in NASCAR’s Top 10.

Jeff Gordon continued his storied success at Daytona, putting a second Hendrick Motorsports team in the top 10 with an eighth-place finish in the No. 24 DuPont Chevy.

The four-time Cup Series champion, now seventh in points, has competed in 23 races at the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway, nabbing four victories and 12 top-10 results.

Kellogg’s Racing and driver Terry Labonte brought home a 20th-place finish on Sunday, extending the team’s run of consecutive races without a DNF (did not finish) to 43—currently the longest streak on the NEXTEL Cup circuit.

A two-time Cup Series champ, Labonte is now 19th in the driver standings after one of 36 points-paying events on the 2004 schedule.  He finished 10th overall last season.

Rookie Brian Vickers had a solid outing in his first-ever Daytona 500, working his way into the top 10 from his 35th-place starting position before being involved in an accident on Lap 71 involving at least a dozen teams.

The 20-year-old was taken to Daytona’s infield care center and released without injury.

“The No. 30 (Johnny Sauter) got loose or something and I checked up and got into Michael (Waltrip),” said Vickers, driver of the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Monte Carlo.  “I hate it for everybody—especially for this GMAC Chevy team.  I can’t thank them enough.”

Vickers, the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series champion, finished 39th overall.  He is officially 39th in the standings.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit the 1.017-mile North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., for the Subway 400 on Sunday, Feb. 22.

Broadcast live on FOX and MRN Radio, the race is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET green flag.

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