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Gatorade Duels recap: Johnson wins

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 11, 2010) – Jimmie Johnson, the four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, opened the season on a positive note by winning the first Gatorade Duel on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

With the win, Johnson improves his starting position to third in Sunday’s Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet will line up behind his teammates Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who swept the front row during last weekend’s qualifying session.

Johnson started his Duel, the first 60-lap qualifying event, in a new No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet from the back of the field. He was involved in an accident during Wednesday’s practice session that forced the team to use a back-up car. When the green flag dropped on Thursday, he started working his way forward and led the last seven laps on his way to Victory Lane. He crossed the finish line ahead of teammates Jeff Gordon and Martin, who finished 10th and 21st, respectively.

Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, opened the first Duel from the pole position and led a race-high 28 laps before getting shuffled through the field.  The NASCAR veteran locked up the top starting spot during last weekend’s qualifying session, so he will start from the pole for the first time in the Daytona 500.

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, started seventh and followed Martin to the front of the field, leading five laps. Unfortunately, Gordon was involved in an accident with seven laps to go that ended his day. Gordon will use a back-up car in Sunday’s Daytona 500 and start from the back of the field, despite earning the 22nd-starting spot in Thursday’s Duel.

Earnhardt, the outside pole sitter for Sunday’s 500-mile event, opened the second qualifying race from the first starting spot. He led the first five laps before suffering damage to his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet. The No. 88 team repaired the damage, and Earnhardt returned to finish 21st.