Johnson wins, Earnhardt second in Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson captured his second career Daytona 500 victory on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway and scored the first points victory for the newly unveiled Chevrolet SS race car making its NASCAR Sprint Cup debut.
Johnson, who was making his 400th Sprint Cup start Sunday, becomes just the sixth driver to win at that milestone. The victory is Rick Hendrick’s seventh Daytona 500 win as a team owner.
As Johnson raced for the finish line and ultimately Victory Lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. improved his position to score the runner-up result and give Hendrick Motorsports its fourth one-two finish at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. This is the organization’s third one-two result in the Daytona 500 (February 1989 and February 1997).
Earnhardt’s runner-up finish also gives the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS his seventh second-place result at a restrictor-plate track. That mark ties Earnhardt for first all-time with Tony Stewart in that category.
Here is a look at how each Hendrick Motorsports team fared in the season-opening Daytona 500:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Recap: Kasey Kahne opened Sunday’s Daytona 500 – his 10th career start in The Great American Race – from the sixth position. Kahne quietly navigated the 2.5-mile superspeedway, listening to spotter Kevin Hamlin, and improved to run fourth within the first 11 circuits. When the caution flag was waved for debris on Lap 27, Kahne stopped for right-side tires, fuel and adjustments and picked up another spot exiting pit road to line up third for the restart. The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS followed teammate Jeff Gordon to the ensuing restart, but was caught up in a multi-car incident eight laps later. Kahne reported to pit road where the No. 5 team made initial repairs to the Farmers Insurance Chevy and sent him to the track running one lap down in 35th. Unfortunately, further damage surfaced as a result of the incident, and Kahne headed for the garage on Lap 38 so crew chief Kenny Francis and the No. 5 team could make additional repairs. Kahne was able to return to the track and was scored 36th.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Recap: Making his eighth front-row start, Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid Sunday from the outside pole position – his third in the Daytona 500. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS led the first 31 laps to move into ninth in the all-time laps led category at Daytona International Speedway. He held onto the lead despite gathering debris on the grille and reporting varied water temperatures. The caution flag was a welcome sign on Lap 27, and the driver of the No. 24 Chevy stopped for right-side tires, fuel and a grille cleaning. He left pit road in first, but couldn’t hold that position as the restart began. Gordon was running fourth when the multi-car incident unfolded on Lap 33 that collected teammate Kahne. Despite reporting a loose-handling condition in traffic, Gordon remained fourth 10 laps later. Another debris caution allowed Gordon to hit pit road for an extra splash of fuel, and he returned running seventh for the Lap 90 restart. At the halfway point, Gordon was stuck in traffic and reported that his water pressure crept up but he didn’t lose water. Traffic and being trapped on the bottom lane were frequent issues for Gordon as the laps ticked down under green-flag conditions at Daytona. With 33 laps to go, Gordon was running fifth behind teammate Jimmie Johnson in fourth. Six laps later and still under the green flag, Gordon stopped for fuel only. The fifth caution flag was waved on Lap 177, and Gordon lined up eighth for the restart. He survived another caution flag, but ultimately was collected in a last-lap incident and finished 20th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Recap: Chatter filled the radio as Jimmie Johnson started Sunday’s Daytona 500 in the ninth position and climbed into sixth after a two-tire pit stop under caution on Lap 27. Johnson, who was making his 400th Cup start, improved five more positions after the restart to take the lead on Lap 32. He paced the field for five circuits before a multi-car incident happened behind him in the tri-oval. After the incident, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS remained inside the top five, even through a second debris caution period on Lap 84. He enthusiastically reported to his team on Lap 95, “Think we’ve got a horse here guys; she’s running good!” Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus kept fuel mileage in mind as the race continued under green-flag conditions and were running 10th when a multi-car incident happened behind the No. 48 Chevy on Lap 138. With 33 laps to go, Johnson was running fourth, just ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon in fifth. Johnson opted to make a green-flag stop with 27 laps to go for fuel only. The fifth caution flag was waved on Lap 177, and Johnson lined up on the inside row for the Lap 181 restart at Daytona International Speedway and fell back without help as the outside pack built momentum. He battled his way into the lead, but struck the piece of debris that prompted NASCAR officials to issue a caution with eight laps remaining. The debris didn’t affect Johnson, and he lined up from the front row for the final restart, holding on to cross the finish line and record his second Daytona 500 crown.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled off the grid 19th in Sunday’s Daytona 500 and picked up six spots within the first five laps with spotter TJ Majors guiding the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS. Earnhardt reported a tight-handling condition on Lap 17 that his team had an opportunity to address when the caution flag was waved for debris on Lap 27. Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy took right-side tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment during the stop. When the field went back to green-flag racing, Earnhardt continued his forward march, cracking the top nine on Lap 79. The caution flag was waved for debris five laps later, and Earnhardt took more fuel and another wedge adjustment. The race ran under green-flag conditions until another multicar incident occurred on Lap 138. Prior to lining up seventh for the Lap 146 restart, Earnhardt discussed his late-race strategy with crew chief Steve Letarte. Earnhardt said he probably would try to run the bottom groove in an attempt to finish strong.
Earnhardt opted to stay out when green-flag stops began with 27 laps to go. He moved into second, chasing then-leader Regan Smith, before heading for pit road himself for a fuel stop. Earnhardt survived two more restarts and was running fourth with five laps to go, chasing then-leader and teammate Johnson. Earnhardt ultimately crossed the finish line second, marking his seventh career runner-up result at restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.