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Johnson, Gordon finish Shootout inside top six

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon led Hendrick Motorsports by finishing inside the top six of Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, started 23rd in the season-opening exhibition event and improved throughout the 75-lap affair. He led seven laps during the final 50-lap segment before finishing fourth.

“It was a whole new game for sure,” Johnson said. “Interesting and fun to do something different. You can definitely tell the speeds are up so I am not sure what NASCAR’s opinions are going to be about all this. You had the three-four wide thing at the end of the race, and that is what the fans came here to see. Exciting night for sure.”

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, opened the Shootout from the 12th position. He led once before finishing sixth.

“It’s wild out there; it really is,” Gordon said. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and it’s just trying to get the right guy to either push or push you. Right there at the end we had the right guy I thought, but he kept hitting the rev-limiter and every time he did he fell off me. I was just having to back up to him and back up to him. We just couldn’t go anywhere. But we had a good, fast race car so I was excited about that.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, started from the pole position in Saturday’s event. He paced the field for four laps during the first 25-lap segment. He was involved in a multi-car accident on the backstretch within the first three laps of the second segment and finished 19th.

“I was just running along there,” Earnhardt explained afterward. “Me and Jimmie (Johnson) were trying to work together and get ready for our pit stop. We were hooked in the rear, the right rear quarter panel, and I was watching it.

“You know, when I saw this gold car coming at me and I thought I had it saved for a second but it’s hard to drive them that fast when they’re out of control. But it was fun. The racing might look kind of crazy but it was pretty fun. It’s a new style of racing for sure, and I was enjoying it. We were just waiting around and trying to line ourselves up for the pit stop, and it was just too many race cars going for the same piece of real estate there, but we’ll be all right.”

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, improved from his 20th position. He was running in the top 10 on Lap 36 and following Kyle Busch’s No. 18 car when Busch wiggled slightly. Martin, following the draft, was involved in an incident with the car in Turn 1 and retired to the garage. Martin was scored with a 17th-place finish.

“I just don’t know why or how that happened,” Martin said. “Kurt (Busch) and I ran the whole 25 laps hooked together and everything was perfect. Kyle and I got hooked on him, and we went into Turn 1 and his back end just started coming around and I don’t know if we needed to wait until the tires got hotter; maybe they were a little cold. I’m not sure. I can’t figure out why that happened. It was just a non-issue. Before that, we were able to run through the corners, and it wasn’t even a sweat. I hate it. We were doing good, and I was having a good time. Our GoDaddy.com Chevy was pretty strong.”

The Hendrick Motorsports teammates return to the 2.5-mile speedway Sunday for Daytona 500 qualifying, which will begin at 1 p.m. ET.

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