Johnson wins second straight at Daytona, Earnhardt finishes eighth
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson recorded his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday after leading a race-high 94 laps. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS is the second to complete the Daytona sweep since NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison did in 1982 and the fifth all-time. Johnson also gives Hendrick Motorsports its first season sweep at the 2.5-mile superspeedway since 1986 when Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond scored victories in the Daytona 500 and summer event, respectively.
Johnson was joined inside the top 10 by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Their Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon were involved in late-race incidents and were scored 32nd and 34th, respectively.
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 32nd.
Recap: Kasey Kahne opened Saturday’s race from the fourth position and was running second within the first 14 circuits. The driver of the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet SS maintained his footing inside the top 10 during the early going and helped push Jimmie Johnson to the lead by Lap 31. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates paced the pack for 38 of the next 39 laps. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 68, Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis opted for right-side tires and fuel during their pit stop. The decision meant the No. 5 Chevy SS lined up 20th for the restart, and Kahne began his march forward at the drop of the green flag at Lap 74. Despite the perils of pack racing, Kahne held steady once he cracked the top 10 on Lap 92. Kahne noted a tight-handling condition as the race unfolded, and Francis worked with the No. 5 team to address the issue. Kahne restarted seventh on Lap 132 and was running second three circuits later behind Johnson. The driver of the No. 5 Chevy SS continued his run in second until Lap 156 when a competitor moved suddenly to the bottom line and sent Kahne off the track and into the infield retaining wall. Kahne, who walked away from the incident, was scored with the 32nd-place result.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 34th.
Recap: Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid 23rd on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway and experimented with the bottom line early. Within 14 laps, the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS had picked up two spots and improved another four during a two-tire, fuel stop under caution on Lap 22. Gordon continued to work with the various lines on the 2.5-mile superspeedway and was running ninth when the caution flag was waved on Lap 69. Crew chief Alan Gustafson called Gordon down pit road during the yellow-flag period, and the No. 24 team picked up a spot on pit road to leave in eighth. Gordon shuffled around the running order as pack racing played out and attempted to make the middle line work with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson after restarting on Lap 77. Gordon joined his Hendrick Motorsports teammates inside the top 10 on Lap 94 and climbed as high as third when the caution flag was waved again on Lap 98. Gustafson called for right-side tires and fuel. Gordon was forced to the grass while leaving pit road during the late-race caution, but Gustafson told the driver of the No. 24 Chevy SS that his grille appeared clean, and he returned to the track to maintain third. With 11 laps to go, Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy SS sustained some contact. Damage from the incident proved to be too much for the No. 24 team to fix on pit road, and Gordon reported to the garage for a further assessment. He was scored 34th.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS
Race finish: First.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson, winner of the season-opening Daytona 500, started Saturday’s race eighth and survived the first eight laps of three-wide racing to maintain that position. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet SS marched his way to the front and took the lead, with help from Kasey Kahne, on Lap 31. Johnson reported that he preferred his car to run in clean air, noting that it would become tight and chatter on the bottom in traffic. Crew chief Chad Knaus worked with Johnson as the race unfolded, and Johnson appeared to be able to use whatever line he wanted, successfully defending his lead. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 69, Johnson was leading, followed by Kahne in second and their Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in ninth. By Lap 94, all four Hendrick Motorsports teammates were running inside the top 10. Johnson took right-side tires and fuel during a caution period on Lap 98 and resumed leading the field when the green flag dropped at Lap 104. With 31 laps to go, the caution flag was waved again, and this time the No. 48 team opted for fuel only. Johnson remained the leader through the ensuing restart, but his run was stalled when a multi-car incident with 11 laps to go ultimately brought out the red flag. When the field returned to green-flag racing, Johnson sped out to the lead followed by Kahne. Five laps later, the caution flag was waved for a spin by Kahne. Johnson once again took the lead on the restart and survived a late-race caution period to win his second straight points-paying event and third overall at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Eighth.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. shook off some debris early on the grille of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS as he rolled off the grid 16th. By the time the first caution flag was waved on Lap 23, Earnhardt had improved five positions although he reported he thought he had run over some debris. The report didn’t seem to affect Earnhardt, who cracked the top 10 by Lap 46 and the top five three laps later. With pack racing a strong suit for the seven-time restrictor-plate winner, Earnhardt attempted to make a middle line work with help from his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon after a Lap 77 restart. Pit strategy also played a role in Earnhardt’s position, and during a late-race caution period, crew chief Steve Letarte opted for four tires instead of none, which appeared to be the popular decision. Earnhardt lined up 17th for the Lap 132 restart and survived a multi-car incident with 11 laps to go to run ninth when NASCAR officials displayed the red flag. Earnhardt held steady when green-flag racing resumed and finished eighth.